A Hammam in Marrakech

 

Some consider a hammam to be the ultimate Moroccan experience.

A hammam is a steam bath where you wash yourself down, sweat out the dirt of the day and then scrub, with an optional massage afterwards.

Because I’d heard the scrubbing can be a bit too strong for fair sensitive skins like mine, I chose the massage-only option. I’d had a good scrub under the shower back at my riad.

My massage at La Maison Arabe in Marrakech (pictured above) was the most luxurious massage I’ve ever experienced. A big strong woman used scented oil to massage every inch of my body (apart from the privates) – around the stomach, around the breasts, all over the place. It was SOOO relaxing and very sensual.

‘In past centuries hammams were the only source of hot water in the medina. Traditionally they are built of mudbrick, lined with tadelakt (satiny hand-polished limestone plaster that traps moisture) and capped with a some with star-studded vents to let steam escape.’ – Lonely Planet

For many Moroccans hammams are as much a social occasion (particularly for women) as they are about bathing. In some of the public hammams non-Muslims are not accepted. Or you can go to a private hammam.

‘Public baths were first introduced to Morocco (and the rest of Africa) by the Romans and adapted to fit in with Islamic ablution rituals – foregoing the communal Roman bathing pool to use running water to wash under instead – after Islam gained a foothold across the region.’ – Lonely Planet

On my 5 day visit to Marrakech I stayed at Riad Daria in the Kasbah. A perfect calm retreat from the chaos of the souks. The souks are the medina’s market streets, criss-crossed with smaller streets lined with storerooms and cubby-hole-sized artisans’ studios.

riaddaria
Riad Daria in the Kasbah

Riad Daria is an authentic riad with a courtyard garden divided in four parts, with a fountain in the centre.

So here I am back in France on my month long writing-retreat-for-one after a short visit to Marrakech needing to concentrate on WIP again. Who knows? Maybe my trip to exotic Morocco will inspire me to write a book about loneliness, madness, love and existentalism like ‘The Sheltering Sky’ by Paul Bowles.

 

theshelteringsky

“How fragile we are under the sheltering sky. Behind the sheltering sky is a vast dark universe, and we’re just so small.”
― Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky

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“Paul Bowles masterpiece reminds me of some alternate, trippy, version of Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night, but instead we see the other side of the Mediterranean. Tangier and the deserts of North Africa take the place of the South of France. A different love triangle exposes different forms of loneliness, madness, love, and existential expats.

The thing I love about Bowles is he brings a composer’s mind to writing. His novel isn’t propelled forward by a strong plot (although it has plot) or attractive characters (none of the characters are very attractive), but the music of his language alone pushes and pulls, tugs and compels the reader page after page. It felt very much like I was floating limp and languid in Bowles prose as his hypnotic sentences washed over me and drifted me slowly toward the inevitable end.” – Darwin8u, Goodreads.

Hope you too get to travel to exotic places for inspiration and rejuvenation.

Around Midnight

painting of nude reclining woman on ceramic platter
Ceramic painting by Libby Sommer 2008

 

‘When are you open?’ Anny asks the woman on the telephone.

‘We have a party twice a day.  Every day.  Twelve thirty to four thirty and seven thirty to midnight.’

‘Oh.  Every day?  I thought it was Saturday nights only.’

‘No darling.  Every day.’

‘So what’s the setup?’

‘$120 for a couple.  Nothing if you come on your own.  What’s your position.  How would you come along?’

‘On my own.’

‘It would cost you nothing then.’

‘But what do you do?  I mean, I know what goes on there.’

‘You’ve been here before?’

‘No.  A friend told me about it.  What do you wear?  What’s the setup?’

‘It’s all up to you love.  If you fancy a gentleman you invite him into one of the rooms.’

‘What do you wear though?  My friend said something about robes.’

‘Towels. They’re towels love.  You wear whatever you like.  Normal clothes.’

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Work-Out

books on bedside table in front of painting of vase of flowers

FORTNIGHTLY SHORT STORY

Work-Out by Libby Sommer

first published in Quadrant

 

 

 

 

You run up the stairs to the gym avoiding the women and men from the previous class rushing down the stairs.  Keep to the left.  Give your membership card to the girl at the desk and then in through the turnstile.  Rummage for the $2 coin in your bag that works the locker.  Insert the money, leave the bag, take the towel and the bottle of water and the book to read then up the stairs to the third floor to the exercise bikes all the time hoping there’ll be a reclining bicycle free and not one of those awful uprights that hurt your bum.  Sit on the bike read your book, wipe the sweat off your face, drink from the bottle, look out the window to the workers erecting a block of apartments that are gradually blocking the view of the harbour. Warm up for 60 seconds on a low speed, then 20 minutes at a higher speed and a sixty second cool down.  Then into the main gym for the body power class.  Get a step, four platforms, a rubber mat and a long weights bar.  Two large discs, four small discs.  Stand up the front so you can see yourself in the mirror and in front of the fan.  Fight for this prime position. First the warm up, then legs, lunges, squats, chest, back, shoulders, legs, triceps, biceps, stomach.  Bend from the hips.  Clean and press.  Dead rows.   Wipe the sweat from your face, adjust the bar across your shoulders.  Knees over toes as you squat.  Straight back, stomach in to support the back, shoulders back, head up out of the neck.  Concentrate on the music, the instructor speaking, the fan in front of you.  Watch yourself in the mirror, the women beside you and behind.  Check out how old they are and if their weights are heavier or lighter.  Smell the sweat.  Swallow the water.  A quick stretch between tracks.  Calfs, quads, shoulders and back.  Lie down on the platform for the chest track.  Use your nipples as markers.  Down to the markers, up slowly.  One, two three up and then slowly down.  Vary the rhythm.

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