A tale of two hammams*

Les Bains de l'Alhambra à la Kasbah Marrakech

I give you a very good hammam, you will like very much.

Strip off and put on this tired robe. Now enter the dark room. I will take your robe and give you a tiny wet dishcloth to cover your privates. 

You will lie down on a concrete bench on vinyl tablecloths. I will pour hot water over you, scrub you vigorously with a plastic bristle brush until you almost bleed. Then I will vigorously rub salt into your open wounds. 

You lie down now. Listen to the sound of dripping water and smell the dank concrete while you wonder what torture awaits you next. 

Finally, I will return, continue the rough handling, dragging your naked body to an upright position, vigorously massaging shampoo into your scalp. You will bow your head in submission while I pour more jugs of tepid water from a plastic jug over you. All your pride is gone. 

And then it is done. 

Get up. Put on a robe. You pay now. You tell me it was very good. If you don’t tell your friends it was very good, you will get another. You want this? No? Ok. You go now. We are done. Leave. 

A few days later, our guide enthuses “It’s very good. Really. The best in Marrakech. The top. I make a booking for you.  You will love it.”   Still suffering PTSD from the last hammam, I fret about throwing good money after bad. At the last minute, we agree to go. Les Grandes Bains d’Alhambre has high expectations to meet.  

“Go up that lane.  The guy in the red hat is always there.  He will show you the way.”  Four different people leap to show us the right door.  There is no signage. 

After the initial, compulsory haggling we settle on a service and are ushered to our changing room.  A locker, fluffy robes, and even disposable boxers.  Then onto the hammam room.  

Hot but not too hot.  Beautiful green granite slabs, soft lighting. A pleasing scent.  Two African ladies (who we later find out have been doing this forever) warmly greet us, chat with us and guide us through the many steps.  Beautiful products. The right amount of pressure. No stinging. The right pacing.  No dripping water.  An ornamental vase for pouring water.  

Then out into a room of comfy couches for a sweetened Moroccan tea, a foot massage, and cucumber on the eyes. We leave happy.  I could get used to that. 

A terrible experience often helps us appreciate a good one more.

*A hammam or Turkish bath is a type of steam bath or a place of public bathing associated with the Islamic world. It is a prominent feature in the culture of the Muslim world and was inherited from the model of the Roman thermae. – Wikipedia


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