Bathing in Public
You know, I can’t recall if I’ve written about my trips to the bathhouse before. So, let’s throw caution to the wind and write about them—maybe again!
*Warning, this post might get a little on the TMI side of things!*
When I first came to Georgia four years ago, I had a litany of things to do. I was with my buddy Jay; brave friend that he is, he agreed to accompany me on my Caucasian jaunt. Near the top of the Tbilisi list was a visit to the famous sulfur baths. Pushkin and Alexandre Dumas lauded them and their curative and restorative properties are renowned! Besides, a little price checking led us to the realization that they are wonderfully inexpensive!
We showed up at the bathhouse and asked for details on what to do and how we should proceed. We decided to rent a private room and hire the guy for the scrub and massage. It was an excellent decision. The first part, though, was the awkward part. Jay and I are good friends, but we had never been naked together. We found ourselves in the little foyer of our bathroom, clutching giant linen sheets and sitting on a leather couch thinking, “So, now what?” Only thing to do was to get naked and hop in the tub. So we did.
It wasn’t really that awkward, actually. You just chill in a way-too-hot marble tub of sulfurous water until the old man shows up. Then he lays you on a slab of marble and works you over with a rough mitt and then follows the scrub up with the massage. It’s incredibly painful, but relaxing. The worst part is watching rolls of dirt and dead skin slough off as little gray worms. You don’t know how truly dirty you are until you’ve had an old Georgian man scrub you down.
Exhausted, we ate a giant khatchapuri afterwards and promised ourselves we’d come back the next weekend. Which we did.
A year later, as a TLG volunteer, I led a self-excursion to the baths with some friends! Again we rented private rooms, split along gender lines. Several times that year friends and I returned to the baths to get revitalized and invigorated. With smooth, smooth skin and bruised ribs, we always chased the bath with a nice adjaruli khatchapuri. It doesn’t get much better than that!
More recently, when I’ve gone to the baths I haven’t wanted to pony up for the private room. Usually I am alone or visiting the baths with a group of women. Take last September, for example! Jenni, Morgan, and I tried to go to the baths. I had no problem. Paid my 3 lari entrance fee and my 20 for the scrub and massage, and had a splendid old time (even if they did trick me into having tea for a fee!). Jenni and Morgan, on the other hand, discovered that there isn’t really a public bath for the women. Just public showers with a bunch of naked ladies and no scrubs or massages to be had. They weren’t ready to shell out 50 lari for a room, so they waited outside. A bust!
Recently, though, we had more success at the baths. My mom came to visit me in Georgia (More on that soon) and told me she really wanted to try out the baths. She was really nervous about it and I was a bit apprehensive myself. After all, I didn’t think she’d want to pay for a private room by herself and I knew from September that the public one was no good for ladies. Luckily, Tamuna was on hand and desperately wanted to go as well. So we brought her along!
This time, there wasn’t any awkwardness for me. I was just chilling by myself with a bunch of old naked dudes who are shaving, shampooing, etc. Lots of people come to the baths just to bathe. There was a Japanese tourist/businessman who was having a hard time handling the temperature in there and almost fainted, but nothing else really going on. It took a long time for my scrubber to show up though.
When he finally did, we went through the same old rigmarole: Where are you from? What do you do? How do you like Georgia? What’s your favorite food? Do you want a Georgian wife?
This time, though, the questions took a sudden departure as the masseur remarked, “America, huh? New York?” “No. Boston.” He paused thoughtfully, “There’s a lot of Jews in America, right?” “Yeah, sure, I guess. But I’m not Jewish.” He paused his scrubbing and glanced down at me, raising an eyebrow. He didn’t believe me. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
Meanwhile, Mom and Tamuna were bonding over the craziness of sharing a bath and then having a large topless Georgian lady come and give them full-body massages. Not your everyday experience, for sure! Well, not for most of us, anyway.
Massages finished, we reunited for a delicious adjaruli khatchapuri and khinkali and swapped stories of our funny bathtimes. Mom was relieved to have Tamuna there to translate, though most of the masseuse’s communiques in the form of grunts and hand gestures. So next time you’re in Tbilisi feeling dirty and looking for something to do, head over to the bathhouse. It really is quite an unforgettable adventure!