The 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.