The Capo and the Turkish Bathhouse

Turkey 22

545251_10200105709347162_639330992_nThe Capo and the Bathhouse

Catalino didn’t walk down the street, he strutted.  Swaggering gracefully but powerfully, like a mafia don dandy from another era. His skin was brown, his hair a streaking, oily coal-blue and his eyes were a burning black. It only added to his vaguely menacing appearance that his eyes were set so deep into his skull. His Gypsy style looked to me basically Mexican–gaudily-laced jeans and dress shirts,  a large silver belt buckle that said something about “vaqueros y mujeres”. 

He preferred the name “Il Capo”, the name for the guards in the Nazi concentration camps. He’d been in and out of prison his whole life. Originally from a small village in Romania, he’d managed to find a way to Norway with his female companion, Sylvia, whom he ignored or ridiculed.  He didn’t mind the prison stays in Norway certainly when compared to those back in Romania. To my knowledge he wasn’t a violent criminal, but like many Roma, was a man ordained by fate to petty crimes and general thievery. Perhaps he could find a manual laboring job but would the Vikings bother to trust him? Seeing the man from first from forty yards away, there was no denying he was a member of this shunned tribe. 

Isa the artist had brought them to Turkey in the hopes that the couple would feel more comfortable, more at home among a people who didn’t look dramatically different, whose culture they might connect to. Catalino communicated to me in a gestured Romanian-Italian while I responded in a more heavily gestured Mexican-Italian. Catalino was annoyed by my then-slumped and morose appearance. He would sometimes grab my shoulders and pull them back, to encourage my spine to fully elongate.

Due to sudden romantic and employment complications, Isa recommended I take myself and the dear Capo for our first visit to the hamam, the Turkish bathhouse. The Turkish bathhouse evolved from the Roman bathhouse, however the modern hamam is hardly the equivalent to whatever the Romans were doing 2,000 years ago.

The local bathhouse was connected to a mosque. We paid the small fee, were handed towels and shown to our changing rooms. I stripped and wrapped one towel around my waist and another on my shoulders, my white slippers neatly hugging my feet. Catalino and I were guided to the sauna, shoved in, door closed. We sweated outrageously for ten minutes. The sauna was like a Lakota sweat lodge. An older, mustachioed bathhouse attendant opened the door and guided us to a raised, stone table-like structure in the middle of the room. There was a large window on the ceiling allowing the yellow light of the sun to come down. Before modern times the window would’ve just been a large hole.  There was perhaps six bathhouse attendants, all shirtless, towels wrapped firmly around their waste, white slippers on feet. All but one younger man were fat in a sturdy way, body coated in hair, usually balding with the moderate mustache hugging the upper lip. Just what I had imagined.

We were instructed to lie on the raised structure, face down, side by side. The Capo had already begun to demonstrate hesitation. I could hear him speaking to me in my head, in accented English “what the fuck have you brought me to, man?”. I got the young attendant, while Cat got a particularly hairy older one. The blonde man began to massage me. My arms and legs are stretched. Moderate touch slowly turned to forceful pushing and holding within a short time. “Kick-box” he kept repeating. More circular, strong rubbing. He got onto the table, then basically sat on top of me. I glanced over at Catalino who was staring at me wide-eyed. The hairy Turk was completely on top of the poor Gyspy now, wrapping his legs around Cat’s, the large body crushing into his back. Catalino looked alarmed. I wasn’t sure if he was being crushed or feared he might just start enjoying this sweaty sadism too much. The blonde grabbed my arms and pulled them back hard while he continued on sit top of my me. My head and upper body went into the air, his crotch grinding into my ass. Forceful touch turned to massage that hinted at violence. I had never gotten a Turkish massage, not from a man at least. It was beyond a deep tissue massage, or painful : this was a real man’s massage.  I glanced back at Catalino. His head was buried into the stone now, body still clenched. “Kick-box, Ame-r-ee-ca”, I heard again as the blonde’s skinny hands were pushing into my neck and shoulder blades. 

After our  extended punishment we were directed to stand up and taken to a fountain on the side of the wall and told to crouch. There was water flowing in three temperatures: very hot, lukewarm and ice fucking cold. The attendant, crouching beside me filled a bowl of the ice cold and dumped it over my head. The rush of the water was like jumping into the Pacific. Feeling slightly violated due to his crotch-to-my-ass-grinding, I looked up at him and said in English “a warning woulda been nice”. He eyed me once then refilled the bowl and dumped the lukewarm water over my head. “Re-lax” he soothed in Turkish, then slapped me lightly on the shoulder. He moved to the hot option and my body rejoiced as the fire water went down my back. “Evet, evet, Keek-box”. He moved back and forth through the three options. I suddenly found myself truly relaxed, my mind calm : grateful and happy. I glanced over at Catalino who was experiencing the same dousing. He looked lifeless, his body folded into the ground. He finally looked up, nodding at me, relieved. He knew it would be over soon.

“Evet, evet, Ame-r-ee-ca. Fee-neesh”. I stood up. He nodded at me proudly and offered his hand. His grip was firm for a Turkish handshake, his blue eyes looking straight into mine. I turned and began my way up to change, my Romanian friend in tow. As I stepped out of the dressing room, a man who didn’t attend to either one of us stood on the steps, asking for further fees. A year before I would’ve paid him something, today I ignored him. I thanked the other men and called Cat down the stairs. I stepped out the door and felt the summer wind on my neck. My body was clean, my muscles relaxed, my mind without any care or frustration. It was obviously the most effective massage I’d ever had. I felt temporarily cleansed. 

  Catalino looked over at me. His dark face still held a lingering look of alarm and violation. “Multo bene, eh?” I asked him. He shook his head, mildly disturbed at mere the suggestion. I guess they did it differently in Romania. 

Vietnamka and the Proper Way for a Man to Light his Cigarette.

yanko-6 Bulgaria

8. The Vietnamka and the Proper Way for a Man to Light his Cigarette:

An enormous green army truck ambled up the drive way. Gray skies, drizzle, around 8:30 in the morning. I held a cup of nescafe in my hand and a cigarette in my lips, leaning against the doorway of my cabin, less than ten feet from the road. I thought to myself “What the fuck are we doing with this?”. Lecho, Yanko and Ivan were coming from the house in the opposite direction. The truck stopped at the gate close to the cabin.

A taller, long-nosed man in his 40’s climbed out of the vehicle. He was wearing a black leather cap and black wool jacket. Yanko and Lecho greeted him. Krassi was coming down the hill, beginning to bark his orders from 20 meters away. The man acknowledged me and held up my coffee mug back. Lecho and Yanko glanced over. The door was open and Naomi was lying in the bed naked in full view. I left the door open a few more seconds and then stood in it, blocking any view without making anything obvious. Part of me was proud to show the boys the pretty girl I put my cock into at night but the better part of me knew the tasteful action. Naomi was stirring. Yanko was motioning for me to come towards him.  I grabbed my jacket from the chair and shut the door, throwing my cigarette into the wet stones below me.

Yanko spoke some English. I was trying to pick up on Bulgarian. With effort, we managed to communicate decently. There was an understanding of some kind. “What the hell is this?” I asked him. He grinned and in his thick accent informed me, “dis… Vietnamka. Russian Army use. Now we have for work.” Ignorant and confused, I asked “Vietnamka? Why not Afghanistanka?”. Yanko drank a bit more from his coffee, understanding, “za-shto Russiya in Vietnam as well,”. Right. Supplies were sent somehow. “Well, what are we using it for?”. The young Roma man from the east of Bulgaria smiled and responsed “to-day, we cut down many trrrees.” “Gde?” I asked, confusing Russian with Bulgarian. He turned around and pointed at the mountain in the distance, clouds hiding the top. “Tam. Tazi PLA-NEE-NA,”. He paused, then remembering his word, shouted “MOUN-TAIN!” Yes, real organic farming.

Naomi opened the door to the cabin, now dressed and waved at Yanko and us. All the men paused to stare at her. “Do-bray ootra” she called out happily to the group, the men repeating it back slowly as if under some trance. She walked up the hill towards the main house. I watched her, then glanced at Yanko, still watching her walk away. I jabbed him slightly in the in the arm. He smiled and looked down at the ground.

“Mnogo krasivi”. Very beautiful.

The truck turned around and we all loaded up. Yanko, Lecho and I sat in back. We stopped to pick up another man a kilometre down the road; a short, round, elf-like man, barely five feet tall with very thick hands and a bulbous, round nose. His face was red, his eyes tiny. He waved at us and loaded into the front with the driver and Ivan. Soon we veered off the gravel road, onto a steep muddy path that lead up through the trees. The truck didn’t really fit but the man driving was unphased. Occasionally branches or limbs would block our path, but with enough gas power the Vietnamka was able to rip the trees to pieces. The drizzle had turned to rain now. As we climbed on we would occasionally get stuck, or begin to slide to the side or in reverse. Control was maintained within a time that kept the truck from flipping into the forest, killing us all.

We passed through a long-clearing, again following the pattern of sliding to one side for several feet, reversing, stopping, sliding backwards, stopping and jolting forwards once again. We eventually found our site. I glanced behind me at the long road down. In the yellow open field it looked like someone had done donuts.

The driver’s name was Rumen. I liked his demeanor and his black leather cap. A straight, middle-aged family man could never pull that hat off back in America. Yanko told me he was from the village as well, “dobre chovek”, he reassured me, a good man. Rumen and Ivan went up the hill to begin cutting. They would slice the trees up and roll them down the hill to us. Rumen carefully gripped his chainsaw and climbed up the hill. Ivan followed behind, with a chainsaw in one hand and a two liter bottle of Zagorka beer in the other.

Their cutting began with our gathering soon to follow. I could see Rumen cutting carefully, aware of what was around him. Ivan managed to cut with one hand and drink his Zagorka with the other. Occasionally he would turn away from the tree while still cutting, yelling at Yanko down below. Chainsaws do occasionally bounce back at you. The hardened old man at least looked like he knew what he was doing.

The logs were wet and heavy. Me, Yanko and the hardworking, kind elf loaded one after another. They were piling up. Half hidden in the fog, Rumen stopped his cutting and yelled down at us four or five sentences in Bulgarian. I didn’t understand and didn’t pay much attention. He looked over at me and then Yanko. The cutting began again. Another log was stuck in front of me and I began to pull it out of the mud. I heard a tumble and glanced up. There was an enormous tree rolling alarmingly fast in my direction. I managed to jump up right in time, as the over-sized log rolled under my feet and down the mountain. Amused, I yelled “Za-shto, Roumen? ZA-SHTO???”. (Why Roumen? Why?).

He looked down and called out more sentences in Bulgarian that I didn’t understand, worried and confused at my inaction in the face of a clear warning. Yanko called up “Toy ne razbirii dobre Bulgarski!”. (He doesn’t understand Bulgarian very well). In Bulgarian, the conversation between the two parties continued. “What?” shouted Roumen. “Da, he’s American, not Bulgarian,” Yanko informed him. A short pause. “American???” shouted Rumen back down.  His voice, incredulous, blew through the forest. “Then what the hell is he doing here?!?”. Yanko translated and we laughed at each other, which seemed to relax Rumen who eventually laughed himself. The cutting and gathering began again and wouldn’t stop until lunchtime.

The rain had stopped. The sun was peaking out of the white-purple clouds. We sat on logs in a semi-circle It was twenty past noon when Naomi showed up with pizza for everyone. We each ate our own pizza. Naomi giggled and pranced around. Yanko, Ivan, and the elf man enjoyed the show. Rumen tried not to, while the old Letcho just shook his head and grinned at me. Before leaving Naomi made sure to give Letcho a kiss on the cheek. Letcho turned even redder than normal. I kissed her good-bye and she waved to all as she frolicked down the hill. Rumen taking a sip of water studied my face. He tilted his head down the hill and in Bulgarian let out, “Oh. . .That’s why you’re here,”. The elf man finished his pizza, stuffing it into his fleshy face.

————————————————————————————————————

By four we’d filled the giant Vietnamka. That would be enough for today. Yanko, the elf-man, and I got to sit on top of the logs in back. The truck labored into the clearing. Although the rain had stopped and the sun was shining, the mud was still ample. As the truck shifted and slid to the left and then the right, I began to position myself half way onto the very back of the truck. If the truck was to flip over I could just fall backwards. I comforted myself with these thoughts as the truck tilted and groaned down the incline.

As we found more stable ground, I pulled out a cigarette and lit a match. It failed to light and I tried again.  No success. Yanko moved over at me confused at my actions. He took the cigarettes and matches into his hands and opined “Look, in Bulgaria, man light cigarette like this,”. He took the match and with his wrist tight and palm facing downwards, struck a solid, straight bold line across the matchbook. “TA-KA”. He lit his cigarette. “Woman”, he continued, “light cigarette like this”. He held his wrist limply, flipping it forward, three fingers upwards as he completed his strike of the matchbook. “Ta-ka. Ti Razberash? Understand”. “Da, da”, I shook my head. “Now you, “ he said as he handed me back the book and smokes.

I took a match and cigarette and repeated as directed : wrist firm, solid striking motion downward. The fire moved from match to cigarette. “Perfect, da, da,” Yanko called out. “Like real Bulgarian man. Strong man.”. I enjoyed my cigarette and Yanko looked up the hill behind us. Then a branch came out of nowhere and smashed us in the face. yanko-3