Turkish baths and Gold Smelting

Cemberlitas Hamami

Yesterday I spent several hours at the hamam… Turkish bath.  The one I visited was the “Historical Turkish bath” or the  “Cemberlitas Hamami” in the old part of the city.  Built in 1584 by the royal architect Sinan, the baths have separate bathing  areas for men and women.  I paid for the traditional bath experience, plus a 45 minute “Traditional Thai Massage”.  Last  time I went I got a one hour  “oil massage”.  Of the two, I preferred the Thai massage, but have to say it had very little  resemblance to the many Thai massages I got in Thailand… but I digress…  

After stopping at the entrance to order and pay for the services I wanted, I walked down the hall to the woman’s section.   There was a marble fountain in the center of the first room with benches around it, as well as low sofas around the edges  of the room.  This is the cooling down room.  I was handed a new wash mitt, a new black bikini bottom and a red cotton  tablecloth and instructed to go upstairs to change and put my belongings in a locker.  I put on the black bikini… a size “M”.  I  have not attempted to squeeze into anything labeled “M” in a very LONG time!  Much of me stuck OUT of the bikini, but the  main purpose seemed to be to cover the most personal area only, so I was “covered”, so to speak.  The red table cloth was  to use as a wrap…. to cover the parts not covered by the black bikini, but once inside the bath, topless was the fashion.   

The bath was under a large dome.  The dome itself was studded with round glass portholes that let the light in.  In the  center of the area is a low, round marble table.  I am bad at estimating sizes, but it was at least 20 feet across.  That was  the “belly stone”, and where you are scrubbed.  Around the edges of the room were low marble basins and faucets.  The  idea is to get your skin warm, wet and soft before you are seen by the scrubbing girls on the belly stone.  There were also  two hot pools to help get you softened up.  I stepped into the pool room first.  Both pools were different temperatures.  The  larger was slightly cooler, the smaller was as warm as a hot tub.  I tried them both out… probably in the wrong order, and  when I was too hot, I went to a basin along the wall and filled it with lukewarm water.  The idea is to sit and scoop bowls of  cooler water onto yourself… gradually making it warmer as you go along.   

After about an hour, I was invited onto the belly stone by one of the scrubbing girls.  All of the “girls” were mature women…  none were terribly attractive in their scrub “uniform” of the same small sized black bikini’s that we all wore and a black bra.   My girl was a sweet woman named Lucia who was about my body size and shape.  Lucia did not bother with the bra top…  and let me just say that of all the scrubbing women… she could have used a bra the most!  She worked on me in just her  skimpy black bikini bottoms.  We laid my red tablecloth out on the belly stone and me on the tablecloth.  She took my scrub  mitt , made of raw silk that is quite scratchy rather than smooth… and rubbed my raw skin.  No soap, just a rather harsh  scrubbing.  I could see large globs of dead skin being rubbed off of me.  Next came the soap scrubbing.  She directed me  this way and that… “Turn over, lady.  Sit up, lady.  This way, lady”.  She scrubbed me up and down.  In addition to your  own scrub mitt, they use a cotton pillow case (well, that’s what it looks like).  They soak the pillow case in soapy water,  then fill it with air and push the air through the cloth…. creating an avalanche of bubbles.  With the soapy water and suds  she gently rubbed me (almost) all over.  Taking each limb one by one, rubbing my tummy and my neck.  There was a little  bit of massage action in the whole thing, but mostly it was about washing.   

“Come on, lady”, and she dragged me over to one of the basins and made a ritual of washing my hair and rubbing my  scalp.  The soap was a clean, fresh olive oil scent.   

When she was done with me, she walked me arm-in-arm back into the cooling room where I enjoyed a glass of Turkish tea  before climbing up to the third floor for a “Traditional Thai Massage”.  As I say… this was nothing like the Thai massages I  got in Thailand, but it was a fairly good massage… the students at Miller-Motte College in Greenville do a much better job,  but I expect more from the students (who are always trying to impress their instructors).  For such a commercial operation,  this was pretty good!  When the masseuse was done I was slathered in oil (true Thai massages are usually done fully  clothed and don’t employ oil at all) so I was shown to a shower room so I could shower off the oil.  I felt warm and fresh  and clean as I returned to the cool down room.  More Turkish tea while wrapped in a large Turkish towel…very relaxing!  I  can tell I will be spending a lot of time at the baths!

A couple of days ago I finally made it to the gold han in the Grand Bazaar.  I had a book that described interesting walking  tours around the Grand Bazaar area and one of the highlighted merchants was a gold smelter named Erdal.  He works on  the second floor of this han… hans were shelters built along the trade routes, roughly spaced a day’s travel apart, to safely  and conveniently house the merchants, their goods and their animals.  In Istanbul, there were many hans surrounding the  bazaar to accommodate the traders and often the traders grouped together by trade, thus something like “the gold han”  was formed.  Gradually the bazaar spread out and took over the various hans.

Erdal smelting my gold

I knew Erdal’s place was on the second floor, so I climbed the steps and as soon as I found someone upstairs I pointed to  Erdal’s picture in my book.  They brought me right to the guy’s door!  He was busy with a client at the moment, so I pointed  to my book, he smiled a big huge smile and showed his current client his picture in my book.  His client was a middle aged,  nondescript man with a large “book bag” type briefcase holding a good-sized Tupperware container of gold scrap (it turns  out that wasn’t his only container).  I was invited to stick around while I watched Erdal first smelt down a container of scrap  silver into a nice sized bar, then three containers of the scrap gold the client had.  I’m just guessing, but based on what  Erdal later told me MY gold was worth, the guy was probably carrying around a hundred thousand dollars worth of gold in  those plastic containers!  Bless his nondescript little heart!   When he was done, they wrapped the gold and silver bars in a  few pages of yesterday’s newspaper and Mr. Nondescript was on his way!  He must have had an “account” because no  payment exchanged hands.   

Now, Erdal didn’t actually speak any English, but he obviously was a happy guy and we got along just fine in sign language.   I showed him my little Altoid’s tin of old gold… two of my husband’s old class rings, his wedding band, plus a cuff bracelet  that he loved (so he never wore it… he was strange that way), and a fancy gold bracelet-watch that I had bought (used)  back in the days when I actually dressed up.  He happily took it all from me… double checking that I really wanted to “scrap”  the watch, which was in great shape.  I did, I never wear it and I had asked the local watch expert in Greenville if the thing  was worth anything more as a watch than as gold, he assured me it was an inexpensive watch movement and not valuable.   

Erdal dumped it all into his small sized crucible… and it looked so pitifully inadequate compared to Mr. Nondescript’s!  He  placed the crucible inside his little forge/furnace, laid coal around it and fired up the blower.  The gold melted amidst the  flames… I kept thinking of the Elvish flames that forged the “One Ring”.    After is was good and glowing red, he sprinkled a  little of one kind of powdered chemical into the bowl and stirred with a metal rod.  When he felt it was the right moment, he  sprinkled another chemical on it and quickly took some tongs and lifted a big glob of “slag” off the top and laid it next to the  furnace.  A little more melting and stirring and it was ready to pour.  I had indicated that I would like him to pour me a rod  of gold, rather than a bar.  He was happy to accommodate me.  The rod mold was oiled up and filled with molten metal.   Very quickly it cooled enough to be flipped out of the mold.  It was then  dumped into a vat of water he kept under the sink.   In a minute he retrieved it from there and dumped it into another vat… the second vat may have had a mild acid solution.   He pulled it out of there and used a wire brush to brush off some scale on the surface and then rinsed it in fresh water.  He  then dried it on an old shirt that seemed to be kept behind the door just for the purpose.   

I was surprised by how much gold was there!  I had not expected it to yield that much!  Using sign language once again, I  asked him to run the rod through his machine to make the rod longer and thinner… again I was surprised about how far it  stretched!  He alternated between stretching the piece and laying it on a metal surface and heating the resulting coil with a  torch… I’m not sure what that did for it.   

When I was satisfied it was about the thickness I wanted it to be to make into bangle bracelets, our sign language  understanding broke down…. so I called my landlord to interpret for us.  I wanted to know if Erdal had a recommendation  of a jeweler friend who could make the bracelets for me, what I owed him for his work, and how much the gold might be  worth.   

The answer to how much I owed him was 15TL… about $8.22.  I had at first thought he had said 50TL (or about $27.38)  which I would have thought was MORE than fair, but no… I only owed him 15TL!  And that included the two glasses of Turkish tea that the tea merchant had brought me (usually 1TL each) while I watched Erdal work.  Apparently no serious business can be conducted without a glass of tea!  I suspect that (even though I watched the whole process) some of my gold would have, by necessity, been left behind.  That wad of slag, for instance, probably will be further refined at a later date and there may have been some trace gold left on the equipment… and at the price of gold, it all adds up.  I’m sure he makes a fair living.

The answer to a recommendation of a jeweler wasn’t as simple.  He really recommended that I take it home… he wasn’t willing to stake HIS reputation on someone else that could conceivably rip me off.  So, okay… I’ll bring it home.   

The answer to how much it was worth, was not so simple either.  The smelting process separates the precious metal from  the rest of the stuff that was removed as that glob of slag he took off the top.  But what is left is not necessarily 100% gold.   Silver, for instance, doesn’t get removed with the slag.  So, depending on what alloys were used in the gold that I gave him,  the resulting bar may have been anywhere from 18K to 24K.  So, I asked him to weigh it and assume it was 18K, just for  argument’s sake.  Well… I wasn’t expecting his answer.  I shoved the metal coil into my purse and I assure you I was more  careful with the purse on the way home than I was on the way there!  I had not realized gold had appreciated QUITE that  much since I last bought anything of value!  lol!   

Otherwise, I am thoroughly enjoying Istanbul!

Life’s a trip!

Here’s a link to my Istanbul Photo Album http://summerthor.phanfare.com/5735584