Sunday, January 28, 2007

A beeyoooootiful lady!

For Christmas, The Boy gave me a gift certificate to Le Pli, the spa at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge.

Because a) I'm completely indecisive (or am I? I don't know ...) and b) math is hard, it took me a while to figure out how best to use it. Should I blow it all on one indulgent session, or split it up between a handful of treatments? Should I go for relaxation and tranquility, or have every last errant hair painfully, efficiently, yanked from my skin?

I settled on three treatments that combined indulgence and practicality: a back/neck/shoulder massage, a customized facial with glycolic peel, and a manicure.

First order of business at the spa was to go to the locker room to change out of my clothes and into a thick bathrobe and terry flip-flops. As I was hanging up my coat, a sweet gray-haired old lady came into the room and started to pull clothes out of her locker.

"I can't find my bra!" she exclaimed.

I couldn't help myself. "If I had a dollar for every time I said that ..."

She let out a whoop of laughter. "Don't worry," she said, "I won't tell anyone!"

I tried to decide whether to explain I was joking but gave up. Because anyway, some guy was about to put his hands all over me.

My shoulders have been knotted for some time (the result of hours hunched over a computer at work, not to mention the inergonomic but comfy big red chair I'm sitting in right now), so I was hoping to get some of the kinks out. As I waited my turn, I noticed that most of the massage therapists seemed to be diminutive middle-aged ladies, and I wondered how effective they could be.

Luckily, my masseur was a big, beefy guy called David with hands the size of dinner plates. He spent 30 minutes working on my back and shoulders, paying special attention to kneading out the two biggest knots and laughing gently each time I moaned in appreciation. He also suggested I have massages more regularly, though not when the knots were flaring up. "Right after they've subsided is when you should come back in," he said.

And then it was on to my facial with cute, perky Katie. She started by having me lay down under blankets, and wrapped my face in a hot towel. Then followed a series of unguents and salves and creams and compresses: first a cleanser, then the glycolic peel (which tingled so much I wanted to scratch all the skin from my face), then an antibacterial serum, then ... I forget exactly. In all, there were probably eight different facial applications, smelling of everything from vinegar to fresh bread to thyme, with hot towels in between.

And then she said, "Now I'm gonna do some cleanin' up," covered my eyes, pulled a high-powered lamp in front of my face and started what felt like trepanation, digging into my forehead with some sharp instrument, pulling out whatever imperfections she could find (and she was busy there for a long while).

Then she swathed me in hot towels for the fiftieth time and went to work on my hands, slathering them with gel, wrapping them in tissue and sliding them into heated gloves before saying, "I'll just leave you to try and relax," and leaving me prone on the table with just the sounds of a mellow spa CD and a tinkling fountain for company.

Three minutes later, bored, restless and having had my fill of meandering Navajo flute, I was ready for her to come back.

She finally did (though I couldn't say how long I lay there fidgeting), massaged my decolletage (her word, not mine) and applied moisturizer and vitamin E lip protection. And then we were done.

The difference in my skin was amazing. And she gave me some good advice about skincare, including the fact that one should always use a washcloth, rather than just rinsing cleanser off the face ("All you're doing is moving the debris around," she said). She also recommended some products, one of which--
SkinCeuticals Phyto Corrective Gel (the one that smelled like thyme)--I picked up.

And she said I should try and get a facial once a month. Of course that could just be a bid for return business, but as we didn't talk about whether I lived in the area, and as a spa in a hotel probably doesn't expect a high percentage of repeat customers, I'll take it at face (har har) value. It's certainly worth consideration.

And so on to treatment number three: the classic manicure. For this, I had to get dressed again (boo!) and go from the spa to the salon. My manicurist, Nilde, was an older Hispanic lady who didn't say much beyond asking me which color and shape I wanted (bright baby pink, square). She was, I realized, one of only two non-caucasians (herself and the other manicurist) in the whole shop. All the spa staff, from cosmetologist to towel-stocker, were white, as were the receptionists and the hairdressers.

This is worth noting for two reasons: first, because the nail ladies were tucked in a corner out of sight of the rest of the salon. And second, because of the comment made by the smartly groomed young Asian customer to the receptionist:

"Everything was very nice, thank you. But perhaps you could do something about the manicurists. They don't speak much English, and it's hard to know what they're saying. I mean, I know people who have English as a second language, and I can understand them. But not the people you have working here. It made things very difficult."

Guess the outer beauty just doesn't quite conceal the inner ugly ...

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