Sunday, December 6, 2009

Crushed noses at Al Pasha - $30

The middle east is famous for Hammams, but surprisingly Amman has only one. Al Pasha is a turkish style bath house that provides a steam, scrub down, hot bath, and a massage. If you are amongst the lucky ones (like me), you got a crushed nose thrown in for free.

My back had been aching for two weeks since my trip to London and I did everything I could to get the knot out. I even had Elodie drop WWF style smashing elbows on the offending spot to loosen it up but it didn't really get me anywhere. I finally threw in the towel and resigned to go to 'the Pasha' to get myself fixed up.

The place resembles some big Arabian tent filled with old collectibles picked up by an eccentric old man who likes to horde his treasures and twist his mustache all day while lying down on his side while being propped up by an elbow with his shisha pipe in his hand. It doesn't seem like a place for a hot bath, but who am I to criticize?

Next is the front desk. Every time you have to reserve a service or book a tennis court, there is that front deskman experience here. You have a guy who works there and is employed by the company. He's got 2-3 buddies there too. You however get the feeling that they don't work there. They are playing backgammon, eating, smoking shisha, or drinking tea. You announce your prompt arrival. They stop what they are doing and look rather annoyed at you for breaking their concentration. They then point you where to go and hand you off to someone else. Playing backgammon, eating, smoking shisha or drinking tea re-commences and your on your way.

The first step in a turkish bath is to take a hot shower. Yipeee.. unlimited hot shower. My shower at home requires me to heat the water boiler 30 minutes in advance in order to get a ten minute hot shower. Everytime the hot water goes out on me, you would swear you heard the blood curdling screams of a little ten year old girl emanating from the bathroom. So what if the water smelled like well water and the pile of hair on the floor indicated that some guy with a receding hairline got pissed off and decided to just pull it all out right then and there. It was unlimited hot water and I wouldn't let anything take that moment of joy away from me.

After about 15 minutes, I was escorted to the hot steam room. Passing through the curtains, you enter what seems to be a malfunctioning disneyland attraction. A dark room with kaleidoscope colored glass ceiling sets the tone for the staging room where only the brave can venture to the next level up the steps. A dark hissing from an overworked steam machine god seems to blow angrily at anyone who dares to approach. I was like the first guinea pig in Indiana Jones movies where they send some poor hapless native to check out a booby trap, only to get his head chopped off or stabbed by a hundred poison darts. Well, since I was the booby, I ventured into the second stage room where the ominous steam god rested. Suddenly lava hot water droplets from the ceiling crashed on my neck causing me to jump and stand up....and just like the poor hapless native guinea pig in Indian Jones movies, I got my head chopped off. A cloud of "fry you to death vapor" just floating 4 ft above the groundfloor burned the crapola out of my scalp and fried my ear like a deep fried wonton wrapper (this probably explains why there is hair all over the floor. Others before me probably ran back to the showers and it probably all just kind of fell out from there. I did not see ears on the floor so I will have to rethink this theory some more). OWCH. So like a hapless coward I retreat to the staging room and decide to sit there since it is well below the vapor cloud. By this time, the attendant brings me a tall glass of hibiscus juice with crushed ice and I'm thinking 'do I drink this or pour it over my head?'

OK. I get called out. Its time for a scrub. Finally, some action. There is something particular about the staff that works inside of the hammam. They are all this breed of stocky, burly, strong, hairy men. Super friendly, but I somehow I get the sense that they are hired to manhandle the customers and get them scrubbed and washed as efficiently and as quickly as possible.

I am escorted to a small room with a marble countertop built into the wall. One side of it is open to allow water to drain while the other three sides are sectioned off by a wall. The problem is that its not exactly flat and as manhandler #1 starts to rinse it off with warm water, I notice the water starts to pool up on my marble countertop. I am asked to jump on top and lie on my back in this small layer of water and mandhandler #1 begins to scrub the sh*t out of my skin with a wet rag. This is a process where they take the dead skin cells off in order to promote the growth of healthy new skin. Manhandler #1 then takes my hand, puts in on my chest and I feel something that feels like a large mass of rubber from pencil erasings. "Today's skin" he says to me as I am totally grossed out by the fact that he made me feel all my dead skin rolls. In true manhandler fashion, he just flips me over and takes off more of 'today's skin.' So I'm on my belly, looking down at this water film and I get to see this soup of all of my dead skin floating around me. Just as I am thoroughly grossed out he flips me over again and commences to wash me with a loofah pad and aromatic soap. Ok, much better I suppose, but I'm still grossed out.

I get a bucket of warm water dumped on me to rinse and I am promptly moved on next to Manhandler #2 for my massage. I tell him that I have a tightness in upper back and I would appreciate his help in getting the knots out. "No problem. I take very GOOD care of you." Manhandler #2 was even bigger... with a long mullet and hands that can crack a walnut.. He was really going to work on my tight muscles. Right around the time when i was on my back and he was massaging my THIGHS he asked me where I am from. I said "America..where are you from?"

"I am from Iraq" - followed by a short uncomfortable pause.

Did I mention he could crack a walnut with those hands?

The coup de grĂ¢ce was my final back massage where he pressed and pinched and pounded all those nasty little knots in my back with the force of those huge arms of his. I lay face down in a towel and he moved to the front of the massage table next to my head to push downwards on my shoulder and shoulder blades. I forgot to mention that manhandler #2 also has a huge beer gut and while he was pushing down on my shoulders he was basically burying his belly fat into the back of my head, crushing my nose and cutting off my air supply.

At the end of it all, I got a hot shower, burnt scalp, skin soup, and a crushed nose.. all for $30. I think I got my moneys worth.


  1. i JUST picked up a guidebook on Istanbul bc it was just a dollar, and I JUST read about these turkish baths. This description should be in a guide book. hilarious, and very descriptive. only you, francesco, only you.

  2. hi frank it's you know who's friend from the slug days (we met once or twice) and as a fellow korean-american i'm going to say you should be used to the bath-time-skin-shedding routine. i met my grandma could manhandle you better than manhandler #2. wow. jordan. this is rad.