A woman reads a magazine in a hot tub wearing a swimsuit
Artist and editor Ekin Balcıoğlu reading Hamam magazine. Courtesy Hamam

Artist and Editor Ekin Balcıoğlu Thinks You Should Read in the Bath

The editor-in-chief of “Hamam,” a new magazine about the culture of bathing, never sets foot in a hot spring without a book.
By Kathryn O’Shea-Evans
December 5, 2020
4 minute read

This year has driven many of us to create a de facto home spa—steeping in long, leisurely baths for solace. One such bath-lover: Ekin Balcıoğlu, a Taos, New Mexico–based artist and the founder and editor-in-chief of Hamam, a new quarterly print publication about the culture of bathing that will release its second issue later this month. Hamam, while bursting with originality, has parallels to Wet magazine, the subversive, now-defunct cult classic founded in 1976 by Leonard Koren (who was the guest on Ep. 78 of our At a Distance podcast) that explored pleasure and play through a loosely water-themed lens.

For Balcıoğlu, the act of washing our bodies is a primary concern. “When I was living in New York, I went to Russian and Turkish baths in the East Village almost every day for three years,” she says. Balcıoğlu later worked as a master of venik platza—an age-old Russian massage technique that involves striking guests with bundles of leaves—and creative director of San Francisco’s Russian bathhouse, Archimedes Banya. She launched Hamam earlier this year, because she “wanted to do something inside this community.” We recently spoke with Balcıoğlu about her media diet. Here, she details what she’s reading, watching, and listening to now, both in and out of the tub.

How do you start your mornings?

I wake up around 5:30 a.m. and listen to a guided meditation [from the organization Cultivating Emotional Balance] led by Tibetan Buddhist teacher Alan Wallace while lying down in bed. Alan is incredible—he changed my life. He made me realize things that I kind of knew about, but never put into words. I meditate on loving kindness, compassion, and tonglen [the practice of awakening compassion]. During this time my cat usually sleeps next to me, and when the mediation ends, I give him kisses.

Any daily go-to reads?

Right now I’m working on the third issue of Hamam, so I spend most of my day researching and reading about artists, poets, and writers in the British Journal of Photography and Aperture Magazine, and on the Poetry Foundation’s website.

What are some of your favorite newsletters?

I’m not a big subscriber because I don’t like emails. But I love [author and photographer] Mikkel Aaland’s newsletter [It’s All an Adventure]. He’s one of the sauna pioneers and wrote the 1978 book Sweat. He’s one of the regular contributors to our magazine. In his newsletters, he talks about different bathing cultures, such as his time in Japan sweating with monks in a tent, or bathing culture in ancient Rome and Greece and how it’s connected to culture now.

What are you watching or reading for fun?

I never watch TV, and I’m very particular when it comes to movies. I love festival films and old films, like ones from 1950s Japan. Tokyo Story, [directed] by Yasujirō Ozu, is one of my favorites. I love how genuine it feels and how minimal it is.

I’m reading The Dharma Bums by [Jack] Kerouac. I followed his footsteps this summer in the Pacific Northwest. I’m also reading Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West by Hampton Sides.

What media, if any, do you like to consume in the bath?

I love listening to music, including classical music, jazz, and opera. If I’m going into a hot spring, I always bring a book. I want to encourage people to read in the bath: We’re considering printing a future issue of Hamam on waterproof paper.