Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Day at Hammam Pacha

Friday, Judith and I spoiled ourselves by spending the morning and afternoon visiting the Hammam Pacha right in the 6ème by our dorm. (“Hammam” is the Turkish word that the French continue to use to refer to Turkish baths.) When I was in France in 2009 for my research, I went with a girlfriend for my first ever visit to a Turkish bath at a hammam in Arles. I haven’t found anything that’s exactly like it in the States, but it’s essentially a spa.

You start with a shower using savon noir (black soap) and then spend around an hour alternating between a “lukewarm” room and either the sauna or the steam room.

Steam room! (Photos of the hammam borrowed from its website)

Next, using an exfoliating glove, one of the ladies rubs down your entire body to get rid of any dead skin (the amount of dead skin that comes off never ceases to surprise me).

After rinsing off, you can continue alternating between the various rooms, or relaxing in the jacuzzi as well. From there, you get to pick what treatments you get extra. Judith and I opted for the package that included a 15-minute oil massage and a facial. It was a-mazing. I still have a cough, but the tea they gave us really seemed to help my throat quite a bit as well. Kind of expensive overall, but I’m so glad we did it.

The jacuzzi, located in the "lukewarm" room.

The "Rest" room, where we got our facials

Me, back at the dorm after my first facial, sans makeup. I'm a pretty big fan of this! So exfoliated!

Now, to tie this into one of the many themes blog (of course): body image. I’ve never been to a spa in the States, believe it or not, but, in France, the hammam is either gender-specific (like the Hammam Pacha) or gender-restricted based on day/time/etc. (like the Hammam Chiffa in Arles). Thus, most women choose to either wear only their bikini bottoms or to go nude completely while lounging in the various rooms and relaxing. This can be incredibly intimidating, especially as an American, since French women are “known to be beautiful” (I put this in quotation marks because it’s really just a stereotype). In fact, before we went, Judith said a friend of hers who used to live in Paris warned her to “be prepared to have her self-esteem shredded” by going into the hammam.

Interestingly enough, this was not at all the case for me (nor Judith, I believe). Everyone there was there to relax and take care of their own bodies, not to look around and critique and judge others. Honestly, there were all types of women there, all of who were, in my opinion, just normal women—no supermodels at this hammam, ladies! It was actually really empowering to see so many different body types and to see so many confident women—I actually left feeling better about myself rather than having my "self-esteem shredded." Interesting, I feel.

Anyway, I totally recommend it. If you're ever in Paris and want a splurge check it out. If not, who doesn't need some good R&R every once and a while?

Question of the day: Have any of you been to American spas? What was the body vibe you got there? Empowering or more of the "shredding" nature?