Friday, September 3, 2010

Oil Spill a la Francaise

For the last few weeks my upper body has been pretty tight, and I’ve had a lot of headaches, so I decided I’d get a massage in Tours. Martine new of a place and she made an appointment for a “California Massage” for me since my French isn’t that good yet. The night before the appointment I somehow managed to completely screw up my neck while sleeping. I’m not sure what I did. All I remember is feeling a big crunch in my neck, and then I couldn’t move it. So evidemment, I was in a lot of pain when I woke up (and still couldn’t move my neck). I was, however, relieved that I had the massage later that day, so I just needed to make it through class.

Class was bearable but painful, and by the time I finished and started walking to my appointment my head was stuck tilted about 25 degrees to the right side. I made it to the location, Esthetic City, checked in, and waited a few minutes in a bright red chair that resembled a giant hand. A young woman called me back who was maybe 18. She turned out to be the “masseuse”. She led me into a tiny room that was almost completely dark and started giving me instructions. I picked out the words “clothes”, “door”, and “table”, after which she pointed to a small plastic wrapped package about the size of a tea bag on the table. I realized the package was paper underwear commonly provided in spas. So then I clarified... “Okay, you want all of my clothes on the back of the door and you want me on the table?”...”Yes”. Then I noticed there were only a few towels laid across the table, no sheets or blankets to snuggle under like in the States. So I pointed at the towels and asked “Do you want me under these?”...”No, on top of.” “And do you want me face up or face down?”...”Whatever you want. You’ll turn over half way through.” So now I understood. The woman wanted me butt naked except for some flimsy paper underwear on top of the massage table with nothing to cover me. I’m accustomed to the massages back in the States where you’re naked, but it’s like you and the masseuse pretend you’re not naked by moving around the blankets to uncover the area being worked on. Anyways, when in Rome, right? She left me to undress, and I couldn’t help but start laughing as I unwrapped the paper undies.

I figured I’d ease myself into this experience and start face down. As I laid there waiting her return, I suddenly had a flash that maybe I hadn’t understood and the woman was about to return to find me totally naked lying on the table like some bizarre sci-fi movie. Fortunately, it turned out that I had understood correctly. I figured all this was really no big deal if it meant fixing my neck, which I hadn’t had the chance to tell her about yet. I also thought it weird that the table didn’t have the special face pillow attached at the end, so I had to gingerly lay my face down turned to the right which was the only direction it would move at that point. After she returned, I was waiting for her to go through the usual questions of what areas I wanted her to focus on, did I have any injuries, did anything hurt right now, etc? But no, she immediately started dripping cold oil all over my body. I didn’t have the nerve to attempt to explain in my broken French, but I soon realized it wouldn’t have made a difference if I had.

She started by lightly running her hands up and down the length of my body smoothing out the oil. I assumed this was an initial movement just to help me relax. It took a little while as she had probably poured about a gallon of oil onto my skin. She had also turned on some music which sounded like waves crashing on a beach. I thought, “Well at least that’s normal. Waves are relaxing.” I was soon oily enough that I could’ve been roasted on a spit. I remember thinking, “Okay, the real massage is going to start any second now...” But no, the “masseuse” continued to just lightly move her hands up and down my skin - sometimes left to right and then right to left, and occasionally even in circles when she really wanted to be daring. The music had also changed for the worse, of course. A saxophone had begun to play on top of the crashing waves which resembled Kenny G a bit too much for my taste. It then transformed into some sort of 80s sci-fi movie soundtrack (which actually seemed fitting for the situation) and then morphed into a cheesy piano ballad making me feel like I was a character in a bad romance novel. All I could think was, “Oh shit. I can’t believe I’m about to spend 65 Euros on this. At least, I don’t have to tip in France!” Now and then I heard her yawning. I thought, “Yeah, I know. I would be bored too if I had to do what you’re doing for an hour.” I think I even heard her burp once.

After 30 minutes of this invigorating experience she asked me to turn over. Don’t forget, I was totally naked (except for the paper underwear)! I reminded myself that it’s totally normal to walk around topless on a French beach, so why should it be so bizarre to do the same in a private room with a masseuse? I kept my eyes closed which helped me pretend that if I couldn’t see her, maybe she couldn’t see me. So the act of spreading oil around my body continued for another thirty minutes. It was bizarre to say the least.

The massage finally ended, and the “masseuse” left me dripping with oil on the table. I had to use the towels to attempt to wipe myself off. I got dressed feeling the oil soak into my clothes, and then my shoes kept slipping off my feet because they were so greasy. I paid my 65 Euros and left with my head still cocked 25 degrees to the right.

I’m sure there are some good masseuses in France, so I’m not trying to discourage anyone else from trying. Just stay away from Esthetic City on Rue Bernard Palissy.

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