December 26, 2008

The Hannukah Massage

I enjoyed a lovely massage today; it was my Hannukah gift from Paul. It was relaxing and effective, as all good massages should be. And it made me think of all the massages and styles I've enjoyed in different countries.

I wouldn't necessarily say that I'm a connoisseur of massages, but I have had a fair number of them. And it's a bit fascinating to go over in my mind the different social mores involved.

Here in Hong Kong, there are massages offered everywhere. I don't know if they differ in quality or style or only price. There are Thai massages and therapeutic massages and reflexology (foot) massages. So much choice! I had a body massage, and it involved my back and neck and shoulders. Heaven!

The office looked more like a therapeutic health office than a boutique spa. And the little massage room was wall-papered in fur. No kidding. It was bizarre (see photo, above). But the atmosphere was calm, with pop music -- love ballads, mostly -- on the stereo. I was the only person in the shop.

The young woman left me alone to change, and there was a Velcro-close bath towel for me to put on. This was kind of silly, though, because with the towel fastened that way, she couldn't really get to my back. Ultimately, it was just moved down and she covered the rest of me with a series of towels.

The gold standard for massages, as anyone who has had one in Paris knows, is Craig Dennis. His massages are beyond amazing -- therapeutic and relaxing -- and well-priced for a metropolitan market. He also does an American-style massage, with the attendant modesty issues taken care of. One is always covered by a sheet, which is nice.

My first French massage involved a bit of a stand-off between me and the massage therapist. She wanted me to undress and I wanted her to leave the room while I did so. I caved first. The room was well-heated, and there wasn't much covering involved. Maybe I'm a prude, but I found it hard to relax that way.

When I was in my 20s, I had a massage in a hotel room in Palm Springs by a big Russian woman. She wasn't clear on the modesty concept, either, as she remarked on the size of my breasts. ("How tiny!" she said.) She started to massage them, and I was horrified. Since then, my whole front torso has been a no-go zone. I always say I'm ticklish so it doesn't become an issue.

In Morocco, I went to a hammam (Arab sauna) frequented by locals. It's a woman-only spa, and any hopes one has of modesty goes right out the door because everyone is pretty much naked. I had my underwear on for my massage, which made the large Moroccan woman laugh. Then she pulled it right up my butt. Problem solved, for her. It's an interesting concept, to see a bunch of women in all their shapes and sizes and in all their glory, and then to watch them in the dressing room as they cover up and put on their veils and head scarves.

In Tunisia I passed on massage, even though I was in a fancy hotel. There wasn't much privacy -- just one big room with several tables.

Egypt was probably the weirdest -- and bear in mind that I mention it because it stands out, not because it was typical. I would say most of the massages I've had in my life are fine and enjoyable. And the Craig massages -- well, outstanding. But in Egypt it was a little weird.

I was on a Nile cruise and the women I was hanging out with all wanted massages. Suffice it to say the massage therapist was inappropriate with several of us and was kicked off the boat. That was weird.

Ultimately, though, I think it's rare to have a bad massage. Even a boyfriend massage (when the woman rubbing you uses such a light touch you might as well have your boyfriend do it for free) is better than no massage.

And a good one is definitely a treat.

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