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Thursday, 9 February 2012

At the Hammam


For the last three weeks I have been lost in a fug of cold and consumed by a cough which makes me sound like a spluttering old jalopy trying to get its engine started.  I’ve tried everything: acupuncture (multiple needles in chest), overdosing on Vitamin C (am now slightly more orange looking than I was three weeks ago) and early nights (but still can’t get up in the morning).   Nothing seems to be able to shift the lingering residues of my lady flu.  Yesterday as I caught sight of my reflection in the car window, and the huge baggage under my eyes, I thought ‘ Right, that’s it.  I cannot continue to look and feel like the living dead. I have to try something new.’

So today, I went to a Hammam. And yes, I am posting this from West London, not Marrakech.  I’ve never been to a Hammam before so this was a completely new experience for me.  A discreet little place has recently opened down the road, to rave PR reviews. (I’m a PR person’s dream, really I am.) As I read about the La Sultane De Saba Moroccan Hammam Ritual (try saying that with your mouthful), it’s claims of being immune boosting were of instant appeal. Yes, I thought, boost me and my battered immune system, and whilst you’re at it, warm me and warm me some more, I’m fed up of feeling chilled to the core.  One phone call and a short walk later, there I was.

What an experience. The place was dimly lit with scented candles.  It felt warm and exotic.  Instantly I was transported from the grime of London to hot, foreign climbs.  The owner asked me a few medical questions, and then asked me to remove my clothes and put on some disposable underwear and a towelling robe. (I hate those disposable knickers. They don’t give good enough coverage in my view). Anyway, disposable panties on, I was then ready, and we walked through the opaque glass door, into the Hammam.

Mosaic tiles glistened all around me in the warm heat.  She said; “remove the robe”. I said; “You do know I’ve got no top on under here”. What a ridiculous thing to say. I don’t even know why I said it, as obviously, she knew.  I guess I'd been taken by surprise. I thought ‘Hmmm. She’s going to see my breasts. Possibly for the whole of the next hour.’  She said;  “We Moroccans don’t mind about these things, unless you do? Do you mind?” I thought; do I mind?  Looking around me it looked like it was going to be quite difficult to have the treatment without bearing the breasts.  “Erm, well no, I guess not.” Goodbye robe, goodbye modesty.

I was instructed to lie down on the warm mosaic slab in front of me. It was so hot I could barely lie on it at first, but after a few seconds my body got used to it. It felt  warm and wonderful, as though my body was thawing, the warmth permeating my skin and heading right to the core of me.  My head lay on a scented pillow filled with little beads, like a miniature beanbag.  To my side, there were scented amber and rosewood candles flickering in a niche in the wall. The air smelt of menthol. I could feel my nostrils clearing, and soon I felt I was breathing more easily and my inner Darth Vader was disappearing.

I was rubbed all over with soap containing eucalyptus and peppermint.  Not a hard bar but soft liquid soap, like oil.  Black soap.   I lay there on the warm slab as she rubbed it all over me including my chest and breasts.  Some people might not have liked it, or felt embarrased, but I have to say it did not seem odd in that way, in that environment, not at all.  Then warm water was thrown over me as the soap was rinsed away.  "Turn onto your front"... more delicious smelling slippery soap being massaged into me, followed by more lovely warm, hot water. 

There was an interlude. I was left alone. I lay on my warm tiled bed in the peace and quiet, like a lizard on a rock enjoying sunshine.  Bliss. Pure Bliss.  I dozed.  Then she was back, wielding a giant exfoliating mitt, and before I knew it I was being scrubbed with immense purpose and vigour.  As I lay there she said,  “Look at all this dead skin.”  I peered over my shoulder, to see grey shredded skin all over me.  Was my skin really that colour? (Note to self. Try to exfoliate back occasionally.) “Oh sorry” I mumbled, “Not at all” she said, “This is most satisfying”. Ah well, it was good to know that removing my scales made someone’s day.  I put my head back down on the scented pillow and relaxed into the warm tiles as she continued scrubbing, and wondered how much of me there would be left at the end.  Maybe I should have weighed myself beforehand. Given the amount of dead skin leaving my body surely I’d come out lighter?

Another scrub (possibly a mud scrub?) some more soap, and then I was told to sit up with my back against the hot wall and was literally doused in water from head to toe again and again.  A beginners error; I was wearing mascara, so we had to stop whilst that was removed (unless of course, I was happy to leave looking like Alice Cooper caught in a rainstorm.)  Yet more scrubbing and more soaping followed. I lost track of it all, the different lotions, potions and their intoxicating heady, smells. I lost myself in the warmth of the small, inviting room as every inch of me, from the top of my head to the soles of my feet, including my breasts and virtually all of my bottom were rubbed and scrubbed. The ritual lasted about 30 minutes and then I was told to remove the wet knickers and re-robe.   In the antechamber outside, music played softly and there was dim candlelight.  I was instructed to lie on a heated massage bed, more warmth rose up from beneath me.  For half an hour I was massaged with melted shea butter and fragranced oils, strange menthol type vapours still drifting up into my nose, releasing and reviving.  I did not want the experience to end.

Afterwards, understanding the meaning of ‘squeaky clean’, I made my way out to the candlelit seating area and drank fresh mint tea from a little glass etched with a gold fretwork design.  I don’t normally like mint tea, whether it was the surroundings, or my newly relaxed self I don’t know, but today it tasted fresh and delicious.

It’s claimed that the Hammam ritual rejuvenates, eliminates toxins and stimulates circulation.  In Morocco, it is customary to visit the Hammam once a week. Oh, if only.  It is too early to say yet whether it will be a cure-all for my ailments, but without question, I do feel re-energised and re-invigorated. Has my experience given me a little bit of my groove back? I think so.

I'm linking this post up to #GroovyMums blog hop at Kate on Thin Ice.  You can read more about it here.


10 comments:

  1. Oh wow..... that sounds amazing!!!

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  2. Sounds so very different and how brave of you to try such a new experience. Seems we are all getting naked this week lol.
    Good to have you back with us. Your writing is superb.

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  3. This sounds amazing, I must see there is one near me! Your writing had me spluttering my tea out, very funny!

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  4. I've got a horrid head cold at the moment and this post really cheered me up. I really felt like I was there having this treatment. What a sensual experience. I bet you felt brilliant afterwards. Your days out whether browsing in an antiques shop, dinner with your OH or a luxuriuos massage always sound so wonderful - that's down to your writing aswell, of course.

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    1. Sorry to hear you're feeling rubblish. Get to a Hammam! I can honestly say that 2 days on I feel SO much better.

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  5. Breast-baring aside, this sounds fab. There's a Hammam in Zurich but I haven't been brave enough to try it. Will give it a bit more thought now. Hope you're still feeling the benefits. x

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    1. Yes, give it a try and let me know how you get on!

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  6. OMG this sounds utterly heavenly. You took me to the Hammam with you and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I imagine they'd get a good kilo or two of dead skin off me - mental note to rub back tomorrow (thanks for that). The breast-baring is very familiar to me - I've had mine out twice in India and after the initial shock of being rubbed on the boobs by someone other than your husband it doesn't feel too strange, does it?! Hope you're feeling better. In fact, I want to know. Are you feeling better? x

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    1. Yes, I most certainly am! Thank you for reading and your fabulous comment.

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  7. Wow that sounds amazing i wish it was near me. I am recovering from a chest infection and cannot shift the cough keeps me up every night too. I know what you mean about the eye bags and i dare not look in a mirror last time i scared myself, i hope it was just the light but i swear im more blue then grey lol
    hope your feeling better and get the chance to go back again xx

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