Friday, February 24, 2006

This Ain't Your Mamma's Shvitz

The NYTimes has a fun review comparing two new hotels here in my little 'hood - the posh Asian-inspired Setai and the free-spirited Andre Balazs-owned Standard. Example of great journalism: when the reporter admits to calculating the amount of water per minute streaming through the Setai's $900/night shower - 12 gallons.

I've had the privilege of patronizing the Standard's co-ed hamam/spa courtesy of my dear friend Rachel (thanks Rache!) and it was a simultaneously wholesome and Dionysian experience. True, there were plenty of sweaty, supple (this was post-yoga class), young Miamians frolicking through the group shower rooms and steam baths, and yes there was wine and figs to be consumed while sitting on the hot marble slabs where topless women were being massaged by sarong-wearing masseuse, BUT there was also lots of talk about vegan diets, electric cars, and organic exfoliators and absolutely NO funny business to be had anywhere throughout the steamy corridors, as if everyone was trying their best to deny the sexual atmosphere.

I was actually disappointed that the hamam room was co-ed, not because I'm anti-speedo (just the opposite!), but because I think it detracts from the ancient tradition of hamam/group bathing. When I lived in Istanbul (you can read about it here), where going to the hamam is as old as kabobs, I was struck by the female bonding going on in the steambaths. It was like being in an oriental version of "Sisters," where women of all generations - tourists and locals alike - chatted, relaxed, and were scrubbed down rigorously by thick-armed Turkish women who sang
in unison as they did their work. And the most romantic aspect of the experience was knowing your mate was being scrubbed down on the other side of the marble wall and reuniting afterwards feeling refreshed, clean, and ready to take on the rest of the day. Or in the case of my man, his looking bewildered and relieved to be done with the experience he described as "not not-traumatic." I guess they don't sing on the men's side.

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