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Paris in the raw

by sue n 

Posted: 08 March 2004
Word Count: 738
Summary: Naked in the Paris Mosque - not quite how I'd imagined my weekend in Paris

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Paris in the Raw

7.30am Ely, 10.30am Waterloo, 2.00pm lunch in Montmartre, 6.30pm stark naked in the Paris Mosque. This wasn't quite how I'd envisaged spending Saturday evening, when my friend Chris invited me to accompany her to Paris for the weekend. I gave her carte blanche to plan our itinerary and when she suggested that we should try the 'hammam' or Turkish baths I just nodded, keeping to myself that I hadn't thought to bring my bikini to Paris in February.
We arrived at the mosque, found the entrance to the 'hammam', confirmed that Saturday was indeed ladies night, booked a meal at the Turkish restaurant upstairs for 8.30 and walked into the unknown. I breathed a sigh of relief as we were able to hire a towelling robe. The baths are made up of a series of three rooms, the first a pleasantly warm large rotunda, lavishly decorated in purple and gold where naked and semi naked women sat on cushions on a circular platform, sipping sweet green tea. Others, glistening with oil, were stretched out on tables being gently massaged by strong-armed, dark-haired women. The next room was hotter and women doused themselves with water from buckets and rubbed on a brown substance from little pots.
We had to walk through these two areas to reach the crowded locker room. Saturday night at the 'hammam' is obviously a popular option amongst French women. We emerged in our robes but they had to be abandoned in the third room, the main sauna. The searing heat emptied the lungs and the pores and only by sitting still was it possible to breathe. I soon gave up any effort to hold in the extra Christmas kilos that stubbornly clung to my stomach but Chris covered her Caesarean scars, not wanting to put off the young women from producing the next generation for France. A neighbour let us share her bucket of cold water to douse our faces and explained that the pots of brown glue were communal and a form of soap.
All the hues of skin colour were present, from pasty white Northern European through the various shades of Mediterranean and North African brown, giving no clues to whether any of the women were actually Muslim. The majority of bathers were beautiful French girls, most modestly wearing either the bottom or both halves of a bikini. I remembered how my children innocently frolicked naked until that inevitable day arrived when they began to lock the bathroom door and squeal in indignation if I entered their bedroom while they were changing. Is it the exposure of childbirth or an acceptance of one's body as being just what it is, for better or for worse, that enables us to shed the excruciating embarrassment of nakedness? Incongruously it usually happens when our bodies are past that peak of perfection that many of these French mademoiselles embodied.
Unfortunately all the masseurs were busy but we bought tickets for a 'gommage' or body scrub. I queued in an area where three women were at work. One tenderly and thoroughly kneaded her lady with an abrasive mitten, another sang softly while she worked, the third gave a rather perfunctory once over before hosing the table and mitten ready for the next, getting through twice as many as the others. Even without counting the queue, I knew which one was to scrub me, and sure enough, I had no sooner laid down, begun to enjoy the sensation of old dead skin been rubbed away than I was prodded to turn over and ten seconds later it was over. As I went to shower, I looked enviously at the woman who had been three in front of me in the queue still being sung to.
Chris and I then sat in the first hall with a cup of green mint tea. Relaxed, full of clean pores and well-being, I admired the Arabic décor and high domed ceiling. We explored some stairs that led onto a balcony around the dome with an array of small side rooms used by masseurs. Leaning over the rail, looking down on a vision of naked women reclining, chatting or undergoing massage, I thought 'Why has no French Impressionist painted this scene?' Perhaps they have and I will see it when Chris and I spend the second day of our Paris weekend in the more conventional pursuit of touring art galleries.

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Comments by other Members

roovacrag at 19:41 on 08 March 2004  Report this post
awwwwwwww. How lovely.
I liked this,well written and verry explicate.

Account Closed at 22:01 on 08 March 2004  Report this post
Lovely description, Sue - well done. I have been to this hammam but not for a long time and especially remember the scrubbing and the lovely clean feeling after. Also, as the mosque is in the middle of Paris, it is perticularly beautiful and well looked after.

Are you sure about the spelling of gomache? In French it's written gommage.

ps Isn't the Eurostar wonderful?!

sue n at 22:40 on 08 March 2004  Report this post
Thanks Alice and Elspeth - you are right about the spelling. It is now corrected along with a couple of other phrases, not noticed in my rush to be in print.
Yes the Eurostar is wonderful - to sit on a train with a good book for 2hrs 20 mins, alighting in the very heart of Paris.
How do the French make even the humble omelette taste so good?

Richard Brown at 13:05 on 09 March 2004  Report this post
Sue, this is beautifully done - more satisfying than a French omelette. (How do they make it taste so good? I believe it's something to do with the entire ambience. Put precisely the same piece of food in another context and I'm sure it wouldn't taste so good) I love the opening of the piece - very attention-grabbing! I love also the bits of description - you set the scene very well indeed. I noticed only one minor blemish. About 8 lines from the end you write 'I had no sooner lay down...' which (am I right?) perhaps should be 'I had no sooner laid down...'.
I hope you feel inspired to give us an evocative picture of the ensuing day...

jimbob72 at 16:59 on 10 March 2004  Report this post
Very good indeed Sue. The section where you contemplate the bashfulness of puberty was excellent. If I have one minor quibble it's the second sentence which needs breaking up, at least with some commas. Planning to submit?


sue n at 20:05 on 10 March 2004  Report this post
Richard, I stand corrected.
James,slight alteration to 2nd sentence. Is it enough? I wish I knew where to submit this to. Any ideas anyone? I recently tried a woman's magazine with another article but it wasn't accepted.
Meanwhile it is on with revision no.299 of the book.This has to be the year to be published as I can't even plan a holiday as my daughter wants to do some hideously expensive drama course. The things we do for art!
Big sigh from Sue

sue n at 22:33 on 07 April 2004  Report this post
Thanks Smith
Mslexia is new to me - I have been trying to find a copy, not succeeded yet.

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