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Checking In

Innkeeper grants guests a happy fate in Bath, Maine

Email|Print| Text size + By Sarah Schweitzer
Globe Staff / July 29, 2007

BATH, Maine -- If a rule of thumb for bed-and-breakfasts is that floral blossoms burst from bedspreads and wallpapers, Kismet Inn departs from practice, radically.

"I do what I like," said Shadi Towfighi, the inn's owner, as she led me on a tour during my recent stay in the turreted Victorian that fronts the town green. Solid, bold colors burst from the walls: fire engine red in the library, hyacinth in the sitting room. Decor was an unfussy mix of old and new, traditional and eclectic. In the living room, an aged brass lamp refurbished with neon green adornments stood next to antique chairs reupholstered in mint green and a wooden coffee table with a lavender beaded tapestry under glass.

Somehow it all blended, as if by pattern. Where, I asked, had she drawn inspiration?

"Never hire a designer," Towfighi said. "They know styles that they learned in school. They don't know what is in your heart!"

She said the colors were ones she had grown up with. The furniture was antiques she had bought impulsively, or pieces she had commissioned, like the hand-carved beds in the bedrooms.

Towfighi, who is 50, speaks with a lilting accent that can be rather mesmerizing. It took me a while to realize that she had not mentioned her birthplace. Finally, I asked.

"I am from Iran," Towfighi ventured hesitantly.

Her eyes scanned mine, as if searching for a reaction. "I don't tell people where I am from until they arrive," she said. "You don't know how people will react."

When we resumed our tour, a fuller picture emerged. The tapestry under glass in the sitting room had belonged, she said, to her mother, who had used it, in traditional Iranian fashion, for covering clothing in an armoire. In the dining room, she pointed to a much larger yellow tapestry on the wall in a gilded frame. It had come, Towfighi said, from her mother's dowry, when she married a wealthy landowner's son.

Doorways were shaped into Persian-style arches. Rooms were named for Iranian landmarks; mine was Zagros, for a mountain range. The room's curtains were made from embroidered Iranian cloth; a Persian rug from Tabriz lay at the foot of my bed. The bathroom had been specially designed to hold a deep tub where Towfighi could perform a traditional Iranian rite, known as full body exfoliation, or Kiseh Keshee. (The process is usually performed by the country's poorest classes, and when Towfighi told her husband she was doing the procedure herself, he was appalled.)

I opted for the exfoliation, with some trepidation. It sounded rather intense. It was.

At 4:30 p.m., I began a one-hour soak in the 3-foot-deep, sage green tiled bath. As steam swirled overhead, Towfighi used a cloth of woven goat's hair and rubbed it with a solid mass of sheep's fat and sand. She firmly scrubbed my skin for some 40 minutes, and then used pumice on my feet. She departed, leaving a bottle of almond oil for me to spread on my skin. In a fluffy white robe, I sat on my yellow couch and sipped black iced tea spiced with cardamom and nibbled almond cookies.

I felt calm and exquisitely clean.

Over a dinner on the porch -- mixed greens and seeds in a light vinaigrette, quinoa pasta with squash, fresh ginger, and garlic, and a bowl of spinach and sheep's milk yogurt (made with organic and locally produced ingredients) -- Towfighi joined me and, at my urging, told more stories of Iran.

Towfighi said she grew up comfortably in Iran. When she was 13, her mother died and Towfighi was sent to live with a sister in London. In 1975, she moved to the States and married a fellow Iranian who became a dentist. They settled on Long Island, then moved to Queens. In 2004, after a stint studying international relations at The New School in Manhattan, Towfighi bought the Bath house, which had been built in 1886 by a lumber company magnate. She opened for business in February 2006.

The inn has just five rooms. Which is plenty, she said. More than 10 guests would make her feel torn and force her to rush. Towfighi wanted the inn to reflect her comforts, which include organic food and natural products, and also her native country's culture.

Guests the night of my stay included an Iranian immigrant, a Washington lawyer who did not know Towfighi's origins until arriving at the inn. After sunset, we gathered in the living room around the "tapestry" table. We sipped tea from short glasses and ate cinnamon-and-walnut pastries. We chatted late into the night about nuances of Iranian rules of cordiality, ecology, and family.

The next day, Towfighi told me the evening had been just as she had hoped many nights at the inn would be.

"I liked the intimacy. We all sat and got to know each other. This is what I wanted. Not rushed," she said.

Sarah Schweitzer can be reached at schweitzer@globe.com.

If You Go

Kismet Inn
44 Summer St., Bath, Maine
207-443-3399
kismetinnmaine.com

What we liked most: Experiencing the customs of a faraway land.

What we liked least: The inn's slightly confusing website.

What surprised us: That I knew so little about Iran.

You know you're at Kismet Inn when . . . you find yourself slowing down, if only for a moment.

Rates: Doubles, all including breakfast: $200, $255 with deep-soaking tub or steam shower, $315 with one-hour yoga session; $200 full body exfoliation.

Directions: Bath is 140 miles or about 2 1/2 hours from Boston. Take Interstate 95 north into Maine. Merge onto I-295 north toward Portland. Take the US Route 1 exit toward Coastal Route/Brunswick/Bath. Stay straight to head onto US-1 north. Take the exit for downtown Bath. Take first left onto Centre Street, a left onto Front Street, and another left onto Summer Street. Kismet Inn will be on your left.

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