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Pure pleasure by A. Dumas

All day long, Finot had been hinting that he had a surprise for me that evening. Now I was hardly in the mood for any festivity, but I was in Finot’s hands and left all the arrangements to him. As we took our seats in his carriage I heard him instruct his coachmen to drive to the baths.


"What?" I exclaimed. "You think it would surprise me to take a bath?"

"But this is a Persian bath," he replied. "Have you ever had one?"


I had to agree that if there was any special virtue in a Persian bath I knew nothing about it, so we drove on through the dark streets, up and down such steep slopes that I expected to be thrown out at any moment. Fortunately for me, we came upon a heard of camels lying in the roadway and had to pick our way between them at a walking pace. How strange those animals seem, seen at close quarters in the dark! There was not a single light anywhere, and it took us aquarter of an hour to pass them, for not one of them would move aside.


Five minutes later we halted at the door of the baths. Finot had reserved a private room for us, and a Persian in a pointed cap led us through a gallery overhanging a precipice into a hall crowded with naked bathers. I could hardly believe my eyes! They were all women!


"Tuesday is 'Ladies' Day' here," Finot remarked. "That is why I decided to bring you this evening. When I arrange a surprise for a friend I like to make it as complete as I can."


There must have been fifty women standing, talking or resting on couches, and I noticed with a certain humiliation that our passage through their midst did not seem to perturb them in the slightest. Two or three of them (not young or pretty ones, alas!) snatched up their little towel from the spot where it lay and used it to cover their face, but the others hardly noticed us. Through the steam swirling round them they looked to me like so many frightful witches.

It would have been tactless to linger (in any case I had no desire to do so), and we followed our guide to the private rooms beyond. The first was a vestibule with three benches, where we undressed and were each given a small towel—doubtless to hide our faces with, if any women came in. Then we went over to the second room.

I confess I had to come straight out again, for I thought my lungs would burst in that hot, steamy air, but after standing in the doorway for a while I grew more accustomed to it and managed to go inside. The stark simplicity of that inner room was almost biblical. It was all of bare stone and contained three stone troughs full of water so hot that at first I could not even put my finger in the coolest of them. Finot, more experienced than I, plunged into the hottest and stayed there with every appearance of pleasure until I gradually worked my way through the other troughs and could lie beside him.


Suddenly, when I least expected it, two attendants seized me, laid me out on a wooden bench and began to crack every single joint in my body, one after the other. Though I felt no discomfort I was convinced they were all dislocated, and half expected that at any moment these silent Persians would fold me up like a towel and pop me away in a cupboard. Then one of them held me still while the other positively danced up and down my whole body. He must have weighed a hundred and twenty pounds or more, but he seemed as light as a butterfly. A great sense of freedom and well- being permeated me. All my tiredness had gone and I felt strong enough to lift a mountain.


At last I was taken back to the vestibule, where Finot was already lying at ease on one of the wooden benches that were now spread with snow-white sheets. We were offered pipes—hookahs and chibouques and to complete our pleasure one of the attendants brought in a kind of guitar and played to us softly, so sweetly, that the pipes soon slipped from our fingers and we fell fast asleep. It was a delightful experience, and as long as I stayed in Tiflis I went to the Persian baths three or four times a week.


Alexandre Dumas, Adventures in Caucasia, translated by A. E. Murch