mercredi 18 mars 2009

Why don't I go to spas more often?

I almost titled this "Why I don't go to spas more often," since the reasons are numerous and obvious:

1. It's too expensive. A hundred and twenty bucks for a massage.
2. I don't have time. Including transportation, getting lost and looking for parking, my trip to the spa for a one hour massage took 3 hours.
3. It is habit-forming. And habits can be costly (see 1 and 2) if you accept the premise that time is money.

When I lived in France, I often went to spas for extended treatments. I like the formula there: although day spas exist, especially in Paris, the norm is to take a week or two off from work and bunk down at a spa. Four treatments a day (more if you want to pay more), alternating morning and afternoon. You basically live in a bathrobe and flip flops, and spend lots of time drinking bottled water and peeing.

The treatments make you feel exhausted for some reason, but in a good way. There are two basic kinds of spas: those that offer treatments based on sea water (thalassothérapie) and those that offer treatments in a mountain or resort setting away from the sea. This is hydrothérapie, since such spas are located near natural underground springs whose water is reputed to have therapeutic qualities. Examples are Caudalie, in Bordeaux; Avène, in the Hérault; and La Roche Posay, in Vendée. I have visited them all and loved them all. But having been introduced to the concept by the saltwater variety, I always feel that these spas lack something huge, like the ocean.

My favorite place for thalassothérapie is in St Malo, France. The treatment center is attached to a marvelous old hotel called Le Grand Hôtel des Thermes, which is located on the beach. It was built around the turn of the century. It has a quiet room that is glassed in and faces the sea. The quiet room is filled with "transats," which is the French term for what we call a "chaise lounge" in English. Did someone make this up because it sounds vaguely French? Anyway, in French it would be chaise (chair) longue (long).

People go into this quiet room between treatments to rest. As I said, these treatments, which consist of you doing nothing while someone massages you, wraps you in seaweed, or sprays you with a hose, are exhausting. You need to lie down and stare at the sea through the glass wall. I used to try and read, but it was impossible. Your brain shuts down and forces you to do nothing but stare at the horizon and imagine centuries of sailors, lost at sea. Or the amazing creatures that lie beyond the mind's eye, under the sea. Or an octopus's garden. Or Jacques Cousteau's expeditions. Or a perfect storm. Aquatic thoughts.

Another fun thing to do between treatments is lounge in the indoor pool (glassed in as well, so you see the sky as you float), which is filled with heated salt water. There is nothing better than that. Because of the salt content, you are more buoyant than in a regular old pool. You try and swim, do laps or flutter with a kickboard, but soon give up. It is way more satisfying to tread water, float on your back, watch the clouds go by, and dream of your next fabulous meal in the restaurant gastronomique.

Finally, you can visit the parcours aquatique, which is a labarythine water course filled with levels and fountains and underwater spray jets. Everyone lumbers around like friendly, mellow water buffalo or hippos after a hard day in the trenches. There is something soothing about the constant sound of water trickling.

This is just a brief introduction to thalassopthérapie. Writing about it has relaxed me to the point that trying to work seems like a pitiful exercise in futility.