Friday, March 26, 2010

Mr. Twain Visits the Turkish Baths- 1869


This April 21st marks the centennial of Mark Twain's death at the age of 74 at his home in  Redding,  Connecticut. 

In so many ways, Twain's sensibilities on a variety of issues, as well as his life,  represent a bridge of past and present.

The passage below is from Mark Twain's book, "Innocents  Abroad," which details his tour of Europe and the Near East. I have taken an excerpt which describes his visit to a hamam in Istanbul. It amazes me how, despite the years that have passed, the description is still quite accurate today.

They now gave me a pair of wooden clogs—benches in miniature, with leather straps over them to confine my feet (which they would have done, only I do not wear No. 13s.)
These things dangled uncomfortably by the straps when I lifted up my feet, and came down in awkward and unexpected places when I put them on the floor again, and sometimes turned sideways and wrenched my ankles out of joint. However, it was all Oriental luxury, and I did what I could to enjoy it...
..  This prison was filled with hot air. When I had got warmed up sufficiently to prepare me for a still warmer temperature, they took me where it was—into a marble room, wet, slippery and steamy, and laid me out on a raised platform in the centre. It was very warm. Presently my man sat me down by a tank of hot water, drenched me well, gloved his hand with a coarse mitten, and began to polish me all over with it. I began to smell disagreeably. The more he polished the worse I smelt. It was alarming. I said to him:
"I perceive that I am pretty far gone. It is plain that I ought to be buried without any unnecessary delay. Perhaps you had better go after my friends at once, because the weather is warm, and I can not 'keep' long."
..After a while he brought a basin, some soap, and something that seemed to be the tail of a horse. He made up a prodigious quantity of soap-suds, deluged me with them from head to foot, without warning me to shut my eyes, and then swabbed me viciously with the horse-tail. Then he left me there, a snowy statue of lather, and went away.
When I got tired of waiting I went and hunted him up. He was propped against the wall, in another room, asleep. I woke him. He was not disconcerted. He took me back and flooded me with hot water, then turbaned my head, swathed me with dry table-cloths, and conducted me to a latticed chicken-coop in one of the galleries, and pointed to one of those Arkansas beds.
One time in Kusadasi, at a more "touristy" type of hamam, I waited for nearly an hour for somebody to come and fetch me to let me know I was finished. If I hadn't stepped out, sheepishly poking my head from my cabin, I might still be there, drinking apple tea and wondering what was going to happen next.
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