Monday, August 27, 2007

Hammam in Paris

Today I enjoyed a birthday present from Isaac.

On my birthday, almost a month ago, he took me to C5, the resto at the Michael Lee Chin crystal. There he gave me a lovely card (hand-drawn of course) with information on a hammam in Paris! Oh, and a few euros tucked inside for a "Forfait Detente." I left it until late in my stay in Paris because I hadn't had the time to go before. And guess what? It is ONE BLOCK from my front door. Isaac is a genius!

This is what happened.

You don't need an appointment as I found out when I called. So I strolled in, close to 6 pm, and the lady at the counter got me set up, kindly speaking to me in French, lentement.

I whipped off my clothes (bathing suit underneath). Then I descended into the lower level. There were showers like in a high school gym class. Women walked around, casual and naked. I'd been given a little plastic container full of "savon noir." It smelled sweet and earthy and had the texture of hair wax. I rubbed it all over myself. I then went into the sauna. Note: I was convinced at the time that I'd been told to leave it on for 30 minutes but I've since slowly realized that it's just soap - I was supposed to wash it off. Oh well!

After the sauna, I laid out on a slab of heated marble. It was the Sleepmaker. There is no way that you could not fall asleep on this thing. I felt weird being asleep in public, what with the fact that I was wet, almost naked, covered in "savon noir" and glistening like an oily dumpling. Didn't matter. There was no fighting it.

I dozed until they called my number ("Soixante quatre!") at which point I hurried across the tile floor to the area where a duo of sassy young women in bikinis were practically shouting their conversation to each other in Turkish. They were very matter of fact, turning to me to give me instructions in brusque French, but only for as long as they had to before they could launch back into their engrossing conversation. They should have been snapping bubble gum.

They must spend their whole day wet in their bikinis. That would drive me crazy.

The first thing my scrub lady did as I lay down on my tummy was snap my underwear up my bum. Ey! I wasn't expecting that. What a full-bottom (and one-piece! the shame!) North American prude. The scrub lady then went at my skin with a rough orange mitt like she was washing down a dirty car or cow. It was kind of funny, kind of alarming. I wanted to know if I could keep the orange mitt after the scrub but it occurred to me as she was attacked my bare tummy. I was concentrating very hard on staying still and I knew that if I tried to say anything, I might explode with laughter or my head would pop off like a Barbie's, so I kept my mouth shut. In the end, you do get to keep the mitt.

When I got up off the table, the skin that had come off me was in cardboard-coloured pellets the size of pet food - really big. Good work, sassy scrub lady!

Then I went for a dip in the cool pool.

After, I headed upstairs for a perfect little glass cup of sweet mint tea with a sticky honey cookie. I actually licked the paper it came in.

Then, the piece de resistance: massage. Kady is a soft-spoken and friendly tall African lady, thin but athletically built. She took me into a darkened, red room. We chatted a little, about where we were from (she moved here from Guinea when she was 10). Her fingertips are extremely strong. She could be a concert pianist or knot rugs. And from the very beginning, I was instant jelly. When she started to massage my scalp, in my mind I rejoiced. "No way! Scalp massage is the best!" I yelled to myself, in my own mind. She used a deliciously scented jasmine and almond oil mixture which had me smelling my own arms for the entire, one-block walk home.

The best part is, I mentioned how much I love the outfits that African women wear around the streets of Paris. Kady said that she would bring me some! I was confused. Surely she didn't mean that she was going to give me African clothes just because I casually mentioned that I like them? But it's true! We arranged to meet again tomorrow. I'm going to drop by and she said that she would bring me something. At first I demurred, saying it was too kind of her, but she insisted and said she didn't need them all. Can you believe it? She is even nicer than the guy who lugged my huge suitcase all the way up 3 flights of stairs at the metro.

Merci Isaac! What an amazing birthday present.


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