Artist in Yemen

I will be in Sana'a, Yemen, May 27-July 10 2006. I'll be working on my Arabic language skills and painting every day, walking around asking questions about food and gardens and perfume and incense. I'll be studying and living at the Center for Arabic Language and Eastern Studies(CALES)in the Old City of Sana'a. Although I usually paint in reverse on glass, in Sana'a I'll be working in watercolor and mixed media on paper.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Friday at the Hammam

This being the sabbath, and a long overdue day of rest, and since I've been trying to shake a flu, I decided the best thing to do would be to go at last to check out the hammam. Maybe I could sweat out the flu.
Hammams in Old Sana'a are always attached to a mosque. The ones in the Old City are old! I invited the two other women who live in my house (Christina and Marika, both German) to come with me because it's such a nice social experience. Marika had been to this hammam (Hammam Saba) before. I have been to hammams in Syria, and to the one at the Paris Mosque with my sister Lizzy, but still wasn't quite sure what to expect.
We stepped down below street level, to the foyer, and changed into modest clothes that kept us pretty covered up, but that could be drenched.
The hammam itself was beautiful, I loved it. It felt very ancient, with black volcanic stone pavers on the floor, black volcanic stone arches and quoins, black stone water basins and bathing seats, and white walls. Small translucent holes in the domes let in a little light so everything is illuminated and shadowed at once. It was not at all spacious or squeaky clean. Most foreigners won't go; they say it's dirty. It doesn't feel so to me. It is wet and soapy, and there is henna flowing off women's hair across the floor and in the gutters at the edges of the rooms. It is very body, but not dirty.
I think it's the ultimate feminine architecture: It's underground, it's dark; round rooms lead into round rooms that lead into other round rooms; it's wet and humid, you have to duck under small archways. And from the street, the domed roofs with look like breasts.
We scrubbed and sweated for a couple of hours, and when I got home I glugged a liter of orange juice and felt free from my flu.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don't go back to sleep. You must ask for what you really want. Don't go back to sleep. People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch. The door is round and open. Don't go back to sleep. -Jelaluddin Rumi