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After Work: Getting The Works At The Spa

…Should it be lavender? Nope, I’ve got a whole bunch of household cleaning products scented with lavender. It would remind me of what I’ve left undone back home. Should it be cypress? Too masculine. Should it be rosemary? No, I’d prepared lamb just two nights ago and the kitchen still smelled like the rosemary branches I stuck in with it.

I finally went with a combination of geranium and rose, which is now why I smell like the bottom of an old lady’s handbag…

Dona Gibbs, luxuriously funny words matching the champagne cosseting which she received, tells of a birthday gift that took her to a Manhattan day spa.

For more of Dona’s invigorating columns please click on After Work in the menu on this page.

Surprise and puzzlement washed over me when I opened up a fat, glossy folder from a chic Manhattan day spa. Then out tumbled a card; good for a half-day’s worth of pampering. It was from my husband, who thought it would be nice if I had a treat for my birthday.

I was surprised because I didn’t expect such a lavish gift. I was puzzled because his gifts usually are of the sort which I’ve broadly hinted I would like, meaning ones that I’ve purchased for myself and announced that they’re for my birthday. Since I’d already bought a few of these and opened them with appropriate noises of glee, I certainly didn’t think there’d be additional gifts coming down the pike.

Wow, but there it was. A card allowing me to waltz into the spa and have the works. The “signature massage, the “signature” facial, the champagne lunch, the pedicure and the manicure.

I wasted no time in booking an appointment.

Perfect, I was to come in two days and begin all the luxury sybaritic stuff at 11 a.m., or as we say around here, “a civilized hour.”

The spa is on the top two floors of a midtown Manhattan building. I entered through a spacious lobby, passing through amused security. The reception area resembles that of a luxury hotel with uniformed staff.

I was ushered back to a changing room by a friendly but firm woman from one of the former Eastern Blocs countries. Now just an observation: hospitality people from former Eastern Bloc countries, at least those of a certain age, have to work very hard at sincere warmth. She was about seven, possibly eight steps of the way there.

Her responsibility was to show clients how to lock their lockers via a keypad, assuming that those instructions would prove mysterious to those who hadn’t been in a hotel room with a safety deposit box in the last twenty or so years. She explained every thing three times and stood by in case there were questions.

She gave out robes and slippers and instructed us (at that point, there were four women, to follow her into the “relaxation library.” The “relaxation library featured dark wicker and rattan lounge chairs and ottomans, heavy brown velvet drapery and brown glazed and waxed walls.

The “library” part consisted of a selection of current fashion and travel magazines and an assortment of coffee table books.

A hostess scurried in to offer teas, “Would you like detox, energizing or tranquility?” She also served bamboo skewers of grapes and little sugar dotted cookies.

So far, so wonderful.

Spa treatment specialists parted the drapery from time to time and summoned women to their treatments.

Now it takes a certain amount of innocent trust to follow yet another stolid Russian woman down a darkened hallway, especially if all you’re wearing is a robe and a pair of terry slippers.

And it takes even more courage to shed the comfort of that robe and heave yourself onto a massage table. You have to trust that the woman, a stranger, who just led you on a two-minute shuffle down a darkened hallway will not do you any harm.

Anyway, shed I did. I was told to pick aromatherapy oil and relax.

Should it be lavender? Nope, I’ve got a whole bunch of household cleaning products scented with lavender. It would remind me of what I’ve left undone back home. Should it be cypress? Too masculine. Should it be rosemary? No, I’d prepared lamb just two nights ago and the kitchen still smelled like the rosemary branches I stuck in with it.

I finally went with a combination of geranium and rose, which is now why I smell like the bottom of an old lady’s handbag.

Would I like hot stones as an “enhancement.”? No thanks, a 175-pound woman with large strong hands is intimidating enough without wondering how hot the stones were and where exactly she intended to put them.

An hour later it was over. I was as limp as an overcooked noodle and strangely tired as if I had participated in some endurance event whose goal I didn’t know, and was still commanded to relax.

Next event: the facial. More creams. More lotions. Some kneading. A lot of picking. More exhortations to relax. Again ordered in the faintly ominous (to my ears) tone of Mother Russia.

Manicure and pedicure finished the spa experience. Happy birthday to me!

I’ve been to other spas. Not often, but maybe once every two or three years. The descriptions of them in fashion magazines make them sound like some incredible out of body experience. So I forget that when ordered to relax I can’t.

I’ve had some great treatments. And some truly weird ones. Like the one at a famous resort where my aura, not my actual corporeal body, was massaged. At one point during the “not laying on of hands,” I glanced up and found the masseuse was reading the manual.

Then there was the authentic Korean bathhouse experience in Manhattan’s Koreatown, the area of Manhattan in the shadow of the Empire State building. An enormous igloo of jade had been constructed, “good for energy flow’ on the fifth floor of a six story building with a problematic elevator. You sat in the heated igloo and sweated and contemplated.

“Relax, relax.” All I could think about was the many-ton igloo and fragility of this old midtown brick building.

And that was before I knew that women stripped down to their bras and panties were going to have at my body’s surface with yellow scouring pads. They went at their task as if they were going at baked-on grease on prized pots and pans.

Right now I’m exhausted from the pampering I received today. When all is said and done, I’d give the spa today an A. The attention and love I get from my family, I’d give an A+. That I get everyday. And nobody barks at me, “Relax.”


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