On Sundays in Paris so much is closed that my go-to activity is walking. That works great when the weather is as beautiful as it has been this April, but this past week has been non-stop rain. So instead of my usual Sunday promenade, I went to a Hammam, a traditional Turkish bathhouse. The Great Mosque of Paris includes not only the mosque itself and an adjacent café, but also a hammam. I’ve been to the beautiful mosque and eaten in the café, both of which take you to a place far, far away from Paris, but I’d never ventured inside the (rather hidden) door marked by an arrow label “Hammam.” What better time to try then on a rainy Sunday morning?
I arrived just when the hammam was opening at 11 this morning and, seeing no one around, hesitantly pushed open the inconspicuous door, squeezed behind the pastry counter of the mosque’s café. Once inside, I chose the package for my visit: entrance fee, black soap, scrubbing, 10 minute massage, and a mint tea. After stripping out of my clothes (and my modesty), I went to the steam rooms and let every drop of negative energy sweat out of my body.
I can understand how for some people sitting in a blistering, humid room full of almost completely naked women might be uncomfortable, but once you realize that no one cares what anyone else is doing, you can just relax and let yourself go.
Despite being called a bathhouse, there wasn’t actually much bathing going on. In fact, only one room had an actual bath, although it was really more of a pool of cold water in the hottest room of the hammam.
After my two hour detox, I stepped outside into the crisp air and drizzling rain with steam still rising off my body, feeling refreshed, and walked across the street to Jardin des Plantes to enjoy the North African nut pastries that I couldn’t refuse.
Back at home, I showered, dressed, and was soon ready to head back out, this time with my new roommate, for the next stop on this rainy May Sunday: La Closerie des Lilas. Most people imagine of Café de Flore or Les Deux Magots when thinking of classic Parisian cafés, especially the ones where major 20th century artists and writers used to flock, but the one Hemingway wrote about most in A Moveable Feast was La Closerie des Lilas. So there is where I flocked to this afternoon. Surrounded by history and the sound of rain, I studied the differences between quitte à + infinitif, à moins que + subjonctif, and si tant est que + subjonctif over my citron pressé chaud.
But just when you think you understand Paris, she has a way of surprising you, and the sun came out just in time to set. I left La Closerie des Lilas with my new camera in hand and my new roommate by my side, and strolled through Jardin du Luxembourg, enjoying watching others enjoying the sun. Goodnight rainy Sunday…