The Sultan’s Bathwater

Do you like baths? I mean, as opposed to showers. I love them. Spending quite a few nights of the year in hotels, it’s always a pleasant surprise when I am assigned a room complete with a tub. The recommendations on my website also include, whenever I find them, good spas. I once spent two days in Budapest and visited five different spas, being in one by far the youngest (and I fear, healthiest) in another playing chess with the locals on floating boards.

The Sultan's Bathwater...

The Sultan’s Bathwater…

When I return late from guiding a group it often happens that I run a bath. However as the hour is then often past that of witching, on more than one occasion have I fallen asleep whilst doing so. A few times I’ve been ‘saved’ by those (or that) little holes which allow excess water to drain safely anywhere but the floor. You know the ones – the ones not to get a toe stuck in, but which for some reason are so tempting to try. I don’t suppose you’ve ever wondered how they came into being? (I can’t say I had) Well one October day I was wandering up to the Alhambra when I saw what looked like a spring gushing out from a hole in its walls and I found out…

Once upon a time there ruled in the famous Red Palace, The Alhambra high above the then Moorish city of Granada, a Sultan who amongst all the luxuries his position afforded him loved above all three things; his beautiful golden slippers, his food and above all – his bath. The story goes that sometimes when he emerged from his bath he would call whichever ambassadors happened to be waiting to see him that day and in order to test them would prepare, laid out on the floor, a tea spoon, a tea cup (you know those beautiful glass ones they use in North Africa) and a small bucket.

Please, Empty My Bath...

Please, Empty My Bath…

He would tell them he’d listen only to one appeal – that of whomever could empty his bath fastest. Then as they generally lay about on the floor scrapping over the bucket, to his great amusement he would step past them, reach down into his bath and simply pull the plug. The joke never failed to make him laugh. Done laughing, he would send them on their way.

Back to the story; emerging from his bed chambers in the mornings the Sultan would parade through his splendid Palace in his slippers, they say made from the purest of gold thread. These balgha, as they are called can still be seen all over North Africa today. Traditionally they are heelless, but the Sultan who wished to remind people of his status (as if one might ever forget) had heels added.

The Sultan's Slippers...

The Sultan’s Slippers…

As decorum dictates he used both a summer and a winter pair. During these promenades as an aspiring courtier, the done thing was to whisper (making sure of course it caught the Sultan’s ear) ones admiration of this remarkable footwear.

He made sure the walks were never any great distance, for soon it would be time for another of his favourite ways to spend his days; eating. This he enjoyed so much, his banquets were renowned throughout his kingdom and guests fortunate enough to be invited could be expected not to be ‘released’ until late into the night. His guests would sit on cushions laid on the floor on low divans. Servants would place on their knees a large white napkin to be used to clean the lips only. One had to remember to use only ones left hand for handling breads because the Moors belief that the left hand is unclean and the right hand should be used for handling other foods. No forks or knives; only two fingers and the right thumb could be used and never should one touch ones lips when eating no matter how greasy things got.

Could We Invent A Fork Perhaps?

Could We Invent A Fork Perhaps?

After gorging for hours on soups, whole roasted lamb (mechour), more lamb, this time with sauce, pastillas stuffed with shrimp, sweetbread, tripe, olives and of course cuscús and all eaten with ones hands you can imagine how greasy things did indeed get. That meant finally the Sultan could retire to his bath. Now anyone knows that if you eat all day long, you expand. In his youth the Sultan had been very handsome indeed. Some say a great warrior. In his minds eye, this he was still. Commenting on his expanding waistline was an offence punishable by death as more than one unfortunate, ignorant ambassador had discovered.

The Sultan kept at his court, in that great Moorish tradition, a famous scientist. Now in order to maintain the peace, once the deadly vanity of the Sultan became known, this scientist had already ordered all the mirrors in the Alhambra adjusted in such a way as to reflect always a most slim and proper Sultan (much in the same way one sees at funfairs today, though then generally with the opposite effect). In addition, he had ordered the court tailors to adjust the clothes of the Sultan ever so slightly as he took his bath each night. In this way it was hoped, he might never notice his weight and heads could be spared.

Filling The Bath...

Filling The Bath…

But come bath time, there was a problem. The Sultan, though vain, was well educated. He had heard of Archimedes. Each night as he parked his golden slippers next to his bath and submerged his ever vaster frame in the warm waters, more water would inevitably splash out which had the double effect of making him furious at his growing size and at the same time soaking his beautiful, precious slippers. Often, out of frustration, the servant closest to hand would find his employment violently terminated right there on the spot. A solution had to be found. At first it seemed simple; fill the bath less and less each night. This had worked for a month or so, but the Sultan before getting in noticed – as one would – that the bath was only half full. Blaming this on the laziness of his servants, it resulted in the ‘loss’ of another couple.

These were desperate times. Bath time became, for the courtiers the most dreaded of times and they would hope and pray that the Sultan would – even by his standards – overeat and fall asleep prior to his bath. Just when all seemed lost, the scientist came up with an idea. During the height of the banquet as the bathwater was being warmed he gained access to the chamber where the great tub stood. On the side that faced the wall, where the light barely struck he drilled three small holes – just above where the waterline would be and attached a tube that stretched to just outside the Palace walls. Then all anyone could do was wait and hope…

Not A Drop Was Spilled...

Not A Drop Was Spilled…

Late late, the Sultan, bigger than ever, emerged after an especially large feast. He parked his golden slippers on the carpet next to his bath – right in the firing line of any overspill – and handed his robes to his servant (who was doing his utmost not to shake). He carefully examined his bath – by now he knew the ‘tricks’ and wanted to make sure no one was up to them. Then slowly slowly, as he liked his water almost scolding, he lowered himself down. And as he did so, the water rose and reached the holes where – Eureka! it started to make its journey in the opposite direction from the slippers out, down the pipe and beyond the palace walls where it poured out (much to the confusion of the few passers by). When the Sultan emerged after his soak, the mirrors still showed a magnificently slim Sultan, the clothes fitted perfectly and his golden slippers were bone dry.

Then all there was left to do, as the Sultan lived out his days, growing ever larger was to just occasionally enlarge the three holes ever so slightly to cope with a larger flow of water. They say, after that night, all servants lived out their days and the Palace became once more a happy place. All thanks to three little holes…

The End

This is another story the inspiration for which came to me in an instant, much like that of the Last Moorish Princess of Andalusia. When visiting Granada (now only an hour from where I live) I never fail to take the old path up to the Alhambra from the River Darro below (it’s my favourite approach). More often than not, even during times when the city is flooded by tourists, this route is a means to a tranquil, sometimes solitary even, magnificent, if steep, approach to the splendid Palace.

As the path snakes and winds its way up, one is almost within touching distance of the red walls of the Palace which rise up from their red earth foundations (which give their name to the Alhambra – or Red Palace) and as one turns the corner just over halfway up, there is a hole in the wall – go see for yourself – from where water pours out, in a constant, gushing, almost projectile fashion.

Take The Northern Route Up...

Take The Northern Route Up…

The second I saw it, I had this idea that it looked like someone had just jumped into a giant bathtub hidden somewhere deep in the belly of the Palace. So, pen and paper out – and The Sultans’ Bathwater was born.

My father just told me that my grandmother whom I never met, would have been 105 today, so I’d like to dedicate this tale to her… Happy Birthday.

Oh, what really is the story behind that stream? I do not know – like the square, windowless palace of Makar Rasa in my last tale – I am not sure I ever want to find out. As for the origin of the holes in bath tubs? I guess you can google it…

~ by 2ndcupoftea on January 24, 2015.

10 Responses to “The Sultan’s Bathwater”

  1. Once again, Thomas, I thoroughly enjoyed the break I took to read your post. Thank you!

    • Anna, thanks again for always reading. It is much much appreciated… Many hugs and see you on the Road somewhere no doubt 😉

  2. I heartily agree with Anna. Thanks Thomas.

  3. Thomas – Thank you for yet another wonderful story that makes us smile. Keep them coming! Dave and I are now very curious about the area you are calling home….it’s been add it to our list of places we must visit.

    • Ah yes – come and stay! Andalusia is just wonderful. I didn’t really know it, but am discovering just how great each day… thought of you the other day as I brought home an old vine from a walk (now decorating my staircase) and wondered what magic Dave might create with it 😉 Thanks for reading…

  4. A delightful bedtime story! Goodnight Thomas. Have a wonderful day ahead.

    • I am so happy people seem to have liked it 😉 Maybe I should stick to fairytales? Hugs from Spain…

  5. When I´m home I go up that route every day on my run, I know just the spot you mean, now every time I go past that cascading water I shall smile and think of the Sultan up above in his bath! Happy Birthday to your grandmother, what a lovely birthday tribute, a great story, sure she would be very proud. Pablo and I look forward to sharing some more hidden corners with you of this magical part of the world we are so lucky to call home.

    • Wow – getting your approval as a real ‘Granadian’ is such praise indeed 😉 Thank you. That’s a tough hill to run up – impressive. Really looking forward to seeing you both soon and yes, what a place we live in! Hasta pronto…

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