Keep your hands dry, we are blessed to be sharing the first issue of Hamam Magazine, available now in our shop! Hamam is a quarterly magazine dedicated to the art and culture of bathing.
Last week we were lucky to chat with the founders of Hamam, Steve and Ekin. Check out our interview below and get inspired by some serious bathers.
Ekin + Steve! I am so excited to be chatting with you, tell us first a little about your history in bathing.
EB: I grew up in Turkey, where hamam culture is really common, but I did not get into communal bathing until I moved to New York. The winters killed me and I needed a way to warm up, so a friend suggested I check out the Russian and Turkish baths in the East Village. I soon became a regular and went almost every day for 3 years. I met the most interesting people in my life in the sauna - writers, healers, orthodox rabbis, fellow artists. These people became my community. When I moved to San Francisco, I started going to Archimedes Banya where I trained as a platza master and learned the healing ways of the steam. That’s also where I met Steve.
SW: About 5 years ago, I was working entirely too hard at a startup studio in San Francisco. I met Tim Ferriss at my company’s holiday party and he suggested I go to the russian baths to unwind. I began making russian steam bathing my weekly ritual as my own personal practice of letting go. Wherever I traveled, I would seek out bathing spots - London, Helsinki, Mexico City - because it made me feel a sense of comfort no matter where I was. Before all that, I traveled the world in a nuclear submarine with the US Navy, however long showers were frowned upon because we had to limit our water consumption.
Platza! Tell me more about the tradition, Ekin.
A platza is a whole body treatment in a Russian steam sauna in which a venik (the russian word for broom) made from oak, birch, eucalyptus, or other plants is used to push steam onto the body to open the pores, clean the skin, and stimulate circulation. Many of my clients never had a platza before and describe the experience as life-altering. Some people have very intimate emotional experiences and I am very grateful to have been a part of their healing process.
Steve! What’s it like to take a shower deep under the ocean in a nuclear submarine?
Well it’s certainly not the most luxurious bathing experience. We distill seawater every day to make clean water for the crew and to operate the nuclear reactor. Keeping the uranium core covered with water unfortunately takes precedence over personal hygiene, so everyone is required to ration shower time. The facility is no bigger than a phone booth, so it’s not as if you want to hang in there for long. This means a quick spray to wet the body, then you turn the water off to shampoo and suds up. Water back on for a quick rinse and your total self care is completed in less than 90 seconds. A selfishly long shower session was known as “taking a Hollywood”, and would earn the over-indulgent bather a good ribbing regardless of rank.
Let’s talk more about Hamam. When did the notion of creating a magazine like Hamam hit you?
EB: I wanted to do a creative project to shed light on the interesting people I was working with in the banya. I was thinking about something like “Humans of New York” for the bathhouse. The content ideas kept flowing when Steve introduced me to WET Magazine - an avant garde publication founded by Leonard Koren in the late 70s. I thought a magazine would be the perfect medium to spread bathing art and culture, especially because most bathing spots don’t allow electronics. They’re a great place to read.
So now that it’s born into the world, what is Hamam magazine?
EB: HAMAM is a quarterly print publication that celebrates the art and culture of bathing. We consider bathing one of the many practices of letting go and each issue features artist projects, essays, photo essays, interviews, poems, and short stories from contributors all over the world. We like to think of HAMAM as more than just a magazine - it is as an object of letting go that you can hold in your hand.
You chose the theme of Dedication, why did you choose that theme for your first issue and what was that process like?
SW: We didn’t know anything about creating a magazine when we started HAMAM. But Ekin had a clear vision of the types of works she wanted to curate and when she shared her idea with her artist and writer friends, they wanted to get involved. The title for the debut issue came about when we finished and had a chance to step back and think about the theme that connected each section. Our contributors all had such tangible dedication to their work and in the beginning of the magazine we published our manifesto - A Declaration of Letting Go - dedicating the magazine to those with “open hearts, creative & big ideas”. It made sense to call the first issue “Dedication”.
Are there any stories in this first issue that you are particularly excited to share?
EB: It’s hard for me to pick, because I believe there is something exciting for anyone who sits with HAMAM. We had so much fun interviewing Tad Fettig, a filmmaker who traveled to Mongolia to make a documentary about the buddhist tradition of sky burials. I don’t want to give it away, but it is such a powerful example of letting go. We also introduce a recurring section where we feature bathing recipes and remedies. The first installment is written and illustrated by YeRin Kim, a korean artist who shares the details of the perfect scrub.
Bathing can be communal or personal, but the pandemic has really put a damper on bathing with others. How has it affected your own bathing rituals?
SW: Unfortunately, many indoor bathing spots have stayed closed during the pandemic. We left San Francisco in May for a road trip to be closer to nature and managed to find a few great natural hot springs to soak in. We settled in Taos, New Mexico a few months ago and we’re building a sauna in the backyard - just in time for the winter.
As knowledgeable bathers, what is something that people could bring to their own routine to help them get more out of it—to truly let go?
EB: You should bring a copy of HAMAM to help you let go! In all seriousness, when it comes to creating your bathing routine, it’s more important to leave things behind. Whatever you do, give yourself the time and space to transform in some small way. Bathing is a ritualistic act that does more than just wash the body - it cleanses the soul.
All imagery courtesy of the folks at Hamam.