Tuesday, January 24, 2006


One thing I have discovered living in Europe is that during the cold damp winter, visiting a sauna or hammam can do wonders to revive and blow away the feeling of lethargy, as well as dry winter skin. Yesterday I decided to visit the hammam that is just down the street. Although I had visited other hammams in Paris, this one has the advantage of being right in my neighborhood and plus it is about half the cost of other hammams in Paris. When I got there I realized it's because it is the real thing: mainly only North African women beginning sentences in Arabic and finishing them in French. Since it was the middle of the day, there was just me and two round Moroccan women in the steam room. They were very convivial and laughed loudly. I heard once that the hammam traditionally holds an almost sacred place for women in some Islamic countries as this is the one place where they can speak alone with one another without the veil. One of the women offered to scrub my back with my exfoliating glove as I was alone and could not reach. Another one offered me an orange.

Then came time for my treatment. I was shown into a steam room with a table in the center, and a woman with a thick accent I could barely understand took a dixie cup filled with a black gel-like soap called savon noir. It is supposed to draw out impurities in your skin and is used all over hammams in North Africa. Then she began to scrub me all over with an exfoliating sponge. I mean, she was really scrubbing, more than I had ever scrubbed in my whole life, really pushing down with that thing. I was slightly wincing in pain and thought for a moment I would sit up and blood would run down my arms. In fact when I did sit up and she continued to scrub my legs, I noticed little gray peels of dead upper epidermal layer. Oh. My. God.

She instructed me to rinse off the dead skin in the shower, and when I came out she slathered me in this mud substance. It smelled like cloves and cinnamon, and it burned slightly on my new baby skin. As I stood there waiting for the mask to sink in to work its effects, the two Morroccan women were looking to see my reaction. "C'est le vrai Maroc", one of them said to me, pointing at the burning mud.

Afterwards I rinsed it off, and went upstairs to nap on one of the wooden sofas with big oriental pillows. The room had oriental rugs, fake plants, lavish silk curtains, soundproof ceilings, a coke machine and a little boom box set to an Arabic radio station. The woman came back in a little while and led me into another room for my massage with essential oils. My skin is now so soft and shiny I can literally see my reflection in my shins. I was offered sweet mint tea and North African pastries on my way out, which I sadly had to decline because I am on an after-holidays January regime. However, I was proud of myself for actually declining.

Might make this a weekly endeavor, who knows....


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