Sunday, 25 October 2015

A massage in a bottle

Some massages, it has been well said, are akin being stroked in a dark room. Perhaps some people like such a gentle experience; I do not. In contrast, the massage I had yesterday was much more like to being beaten up in a dark room, albeit to the accompaniment of generic ambient music and distant forest birdsong. The background sounds aside, this was much more the thing, although I did find myself wincing, holding my breath, and properly bracing myself, as my otherwise charming and softly spoken masseuse dug the sharpest point of her elbow deeper into the tangibly tense tangle of stressy knots in the muscles around my scapulae.

"Soft to medium," she had said, when running through the pre-massage checks, and I have to confess that my heart had sunk, as I anticipated another low-powered kneading. Nevertheless, after a stressful week, just about any massage is better than no massage, and I surrendered myself to her ministrations. After the usual anointment with oils and brief feet rub, I breathed in deeply and resolved, in any event, to enjoy the peaceful darkness. And then it began, with a vigour that drove just about all other thoughts from my mind save for the question of whether I would survive this encounter, or if I should ask for her to go slightly more gently.

As I surrendered to the experience, with the possibly naive, but certainly trusting thought that she presumably knew what she was doing, I recalled a previous massage which approached this level of intensity. It had been a few months back, in NoLita in New York. Having pounded the streets for several days, my back and neck had started sending out distress calls and, as I sat in a bar on Lafayette, doing something about the pain became a pressing concern.

The barman suggested a Chinese massage parlour next door and, beggars not being choosers, I stepped down into the subterranean world, hopeful of repair. Unlike any massage parlours I had visited before, this was one large darkened room, divided up by perhaps five feet high panels into six or eight booths. In each booth was a bed and, as I did as I was directed and walked down to the end booth, I realised that each one was occupied by a patron, at least one of whom was snoring.

In my booth, which I shared with drums of cooking oil, presumably for the Chinese restaurant above, I was told to get undressed. A little wary, I removed my shirt and, when barked at by my masseuse for my foolish error, my jeans also. Lying on the bed, reading the labels on the cooking oil canisters, to one side, I wondered what was to come, when I became aware that not alone. I was barked at again, in what I presumed was an enquiry as to what I wanted. I wasn't entirely sure what she had asked me, but I made rough gestures towards my neck, and the treatment began.

It is said that we cannot accurately recall our pain, when looking back, and this is, perhaps, an extremely good thing. What I do recall is that I emerged, blinking, from the basement room into the sunshine, conscious of having been pummelled mercilessly, but nevertheless feeling brighter and more awake. So yesterday, as my London masseuse piled down onto my back and asked "Is that OK?" I winced again, before painfully breathing out a laboured and not entirely truthful, "Fine. Thanks," hopeful that the outcome might be equally rewarding.

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