Friday, November 29, 2019

Learning the origins of some of our favorite Christmas traditions

Aerial view of the lively Christmas market in Prague
EUROPE – Thanksgiving 2019 is now only a memory and the December frenzy of Christmas and New Years looms on the horizon. Mercifully, since Turkey Day came late this year, the Christmas season is shorter and, for many, that is a blessing.

Still, no holiday season has more traditions than Christmas, but few of us know of their origins with Germany and France being among the greatest contributors to our yuletide rituals?

According to legend, a monk traveled to Thuringia, Germany in the 7th century to teach the word of God. Situated in the central part of the country, Thuringia was well known for its dense forests.

Christmas trees were one of
the first traditions
(Courtesy: Public Domain Pictures)
With its abundance of timber, the monk began using fir trees as a means of explaining the concept of the Holy Trinity to local peasants. Over the centuries the fir became known as “God’s Tree.”

By the 12th century, firs were being brought indoors during Christmas and being hung upside-down as a symbol of Christianity. The triangular shape represented the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. By hanging a tree from the ceiling people knew it had greater significance than mere decoration.

Over time, the idea of inverting a tree became lost, yielding to an upright position with candles as decoration.

Early trees were hung
upside down
( Courtesy : Flickr (Attribution 2.0
Generic (CC BY 2.0))
Earliest accounts of trees being decorated date to 1521 in Germany, but they were more than mere ornamentation.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, "The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to symbolize eternal life was a custom of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian customs of decorating the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil and of setting up a tree for the birds during Christmastime.”

During medieval times, December 24 was commemorated in cathedrals in many countries with mystery plays based upon Biblical texts. Beginning with the story of Adam and Eve, trees were placed indoors and decorated with apples in reference to the forbidden fruit. Wafers symbolized the Eucharist and redemption.

Glass Christmas balls replaced apples as tree decorations
(Photo: Taylor)
 One year a poor apple harvest in Europe diminished the supply of the red fruit to place on the trees. As an alternative, a glassblower from Lauscha, Germany created red glass baubles as replacements. Voila, the Christmas ball was invented, and the rest is history.

Though we generally don’t think of pretzels as a Christmas tradition, the popular doughy snack does have religious significance associated with both Christmas and, especially, Easter. Since the 12th century the pretzel has been used as an emblem for bakers in the Alsace region of Europe.

Pretzels are a tradition not 
many people know about
(Photo: Taylor)
The religious aspects of the pretzel have to do with the ingredients as well as shape. During Lent when Catholics were forbidden to eat eggs, lard or other dairy products, pretzels became popular because they only consisted of flour and water.

The pretzel’s shape was established because the strips of dough were said to represent the folded arms of someone who was praying in the manner typical of the period. In addition, the three holes represented the Holy Trinity.

In the Middle Ages, pretzels were given to children as a reward for learning their prayers.

Pretzels were forerunners to Easter eggs
(Photo: Taylor)
So popular were pretzels in Germany at Easter that they probably became the forerunner of modern day Easter egg hunts. Pretzels were hidden around the farms for children to find on Good Friday. When the search was over, two hard boiled eggs were placed in each of the large holes in the pretzel to represent rebirth and everlasting life.

Bad weather is a plus
(Photo: Taylor)
Because of their “infinite” design, pretzels were later introduced at wedding ceremonies resulting in the familiar phrase of “tying the knot.” The couple would make a wish, break the pretzel like a wishbone and then eat it to signify their union.

During Christmas, some cultures give each other slightly sweetened yeast pretzels on January 1 for good luck in the coming year.

Candy canes originated 
in Germany
(Courtesy: Pixabay)
Germany also claims the invention of the candy cane in 1670 when the choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral purchased “sweet sticks” from a local candy maker to quiet the children during the Christmas Eve service. Needing some justification for handing out candy during the service, the maestro asked that a “hook” be added to remind the children of the shepherds who tended baby Jesus.

Christmas has been celebrated during the time of the winter solstice since the 4th century when Pope Julius I chose to emphasize the light of the Savior during the darkest time of the year.

Most Christmas markets have manger scenes
(Photo: Taylor)
 In Scandinavia a huge log was burned on or about Christmas Eve until a couple of weeks after the holiday. Mistakes and faults were forgiven and burned away in the fire so that everyone could begin the new year with a clean slate.

The Yule Log is a Scandinavian tradition
(Photo: Public Domain)
 The Yule log was never allowed to extinguish entirely, however. As a symbol of good luck, a small portion was always saved to start the fire the following year.

Often it helps to know the story behind a story to make it come alive and provide greater insights about the traditions we celebrate each year. Who knows, maybe that’s why whenever we visit another country, the first thing we do is pass through “Customs.”

Reprinted and updated from December, 2014

Friday, November 22, 2019

Continuing the search for the world's most perfect massage

Finding the best massage was not an easy task
(Courtesy: Pixabay)

CHARLOTTE, NC After years of traveling the globe and listening to my female writing companions wax dreamily about spending a day at a spa indulging themselves with the bliss of being pampered beyond recognition, I determined it was time to discover what the fuss was all about.

Last week I detailed the first half of my epic adventure to discover the world's most perfect massage. This week I continue the  search which had thus far been an exercise in futility.

Sweden was my next encounter, and it, too, featured a bedroom floor treatment. For years I had heard the term "Swedish Massage" but I never paid much attention to it because it usually implied something other than a truly professional massage treatment. 

A Swedish massage is one of the most traditional treatments --
Stockholm Harbor
 I take that back.  The Swedish massages I knew about were definitely “professional” but at a completely different end of the spectrum.

Nevertheless, since I was in Sweden, I assumed that the method of massage would be of the genuine Swedish variety, with nothing sinister or untoward related to the experience.

Once again, I rang the front desk of my hotel to schedule an appointment.  I was on the last leg of an assignment for the Swedish Tourist Board, and there was a bit of extra time built into the end of the itinerary so it seemed like a good time to take advantage of some added relaxation.

Traditional Swedish massage
(Courtesy: Pixabay)

 The attendant arrived at the appointed time and introduced herself as Annika Jenson. She promptly went into the bathroom and got two large towels which she placed on the floor. Then, like her Japanese counterpart, she grabbed a pillow from the bed and placed it on the floor.

“Just get undressed and lay down on your stomach,” she said.  “I’ll get ready and be back in a moment.”

Being that Sweden is a liberal country, it didn’t seem unusual that being undraped was out of the ordinary.  When Annika came out of the bathroom, she had a face cloth in her right hand which she strategically laid across my backside.  I suppose she thought that provided some sort of privacy, but given my ample girth, it was like covering a three hundred pound Parkerhouse roll with  an unfolded cocktail napkin. 

Halfway through the procedure it was time to turn over.  Annika picked up the wash cloth and told me to roll over  onto my back. As I stared up at the ceiling, she strategically put the cloth back over me and continued her routine.

“Why bother now?” I thought, “There’s nothing she hasn’t seen or exposed already.”

Wellness travel is popular
(Courtesy: Pixabay)
Annika went about her business quietly and with great expertise. Perhaps I was overthinking the procedure, but though it was soothing enough to make the prospects of a great night’s sleep considerably more viable, there was nothing particularly sensational about the process.

Then again, conditions were not exactly ideal, and that may have minimized my level of relaxation to some degree.

When Annika finished, she returned to the bathroom to put her lotions away and wash her hands while I got dressed.  When she came out, I smiled and shook her hand.  Then I thanked her and told her how much I enjoyed visiting her beautiful country. Annika nodded politely and departed.

The quaint narrow streets of Gamla Stan, Stockholm's
Old Town
The following morning, I was in the lobby by 9:45 awaiting the arrival of our guide when Annika walked into the hotel.  Needless to say I was surprised to see her.  When our eyes met, I walked over to say hello. We stood in the lobby making small talk for several minutes and then I asked, “What brings you here so early in the morning?”

“Well, I’m supposed to meet a video crew here today. I’m going to guide them around the city.”

My jaw dropped. Not only was Annika a massage therapist in the evening, but she also worked for the local tourist office during the day! She was equally surprised to discover that I would be her client for the remainder of the day and that she would be our escort.

The shoot proceeded without a hitch. Not only did Annika turn out to be a truly lovely person, she was also an excellent source of information about the city of Gothenburg. Even so, for the rest of the visit I avoided eye contact with her as much as possible and, whenever I did look at her, it was as though she had x-ray vision. I found myself constantly trying to cover myself with no place to hide.

Sukothai was the ancient capital of Thailand
(Courtesy: Tourist Authority of Thailand)
While Thailand is an Asian country, baseball is not big there, so I felt reasonably certain I could avoid the trauma of being turned into mashed potatoes like I was in Japan. 

All the female writers I had read in my research had said that Thai massage is among the best in the world. Truthfully, my faith in their opinions was starting to wane, but I remained optimistic that I would eventually complete my quest for perfection.

Thailand is fascinating, though I could never quite get a handle on the stark contrasts within the culture.  On the one hand there is a dark, sinister quality about the place that far exceeded anything I have ever witnessed in the West.

Floating market
(Courtesy: Tourist Authority
of Thailand)
Then there's the side of the culture that is 180 degrees to the contrary.  It was so completely different that, for me, it was difficult to believe it was the same society.  There was a sweetness, gentility and purity among the people that I had never experienced anywhere else combined with equal doses of decadence that I had never before witnessed either.

The Thais are totally service oriented. There is nothing they will not do for you. There is a serenity within them that is hard to describe. Perhaps it’s the Buddhist philosophy that permeates their lives which gives them such a purity of spirit. Or maybe it's nothing more than a gentle simplicity within their ethnic identity that makes them seem so content.  Whatever it is, the two degrees of separation within the culture seem to be in direct opposition with each other.

An old friend who was now retired from the writing aspect of the business, but still very active in Public Relations was heading up a group of writers I was traveling with, and it was she who instigated the excursion to the spa.

Thai Yoga Massage is like the waterboarding of 
wellness therapy
(Courtesy: Pixabay)
Using keen insightful intellect, I weighed my options and came to the conclusion that if a bunch of women were going to get a massage then it had to be good.  After all, it was articles that had been written by women that began my quest in the first place.

Since I was the only male in the party, it was obvious that my treatment would be a one-on-one affair.  The women, on the other hand, did the typical female thing and decided to have a group massage.  Sort of the same phenomenon as going to the restroom together at a restaurant.

The preparation for this massage was, again, completely different than the others.  At the spa in Chiang Mai, they handed me some clothing that resembled silk pajamas and told me to put them on.

The  Thai that binds
(Courtesy: Pixabay)
Once attired in my Hugh Hefner outfit, I was taken to a room that was roughly 8 feet by 8 feet with a soft thick soft on the floor that ran wall to wall. The room was enclosed by a ceiling that was roughly 8 or 9 feet above the floor. The cubicle was dimly lit for serenity but there was no music or soothing sounds to be heard. Instead it was completely quiet. My first impression was that the room appeared very much like an enclosed ring the World Wrestling Federation might use for one of its cage matches.

For this treatment, my attendant was extremely short, almost frail looking.  Thais are generally small in stature anyway, but this lady was even smaller than most. She took one look at me, rolled her eyes and shook her head back and forth as if to ask, "Why me?"

Immediately I knew that I was in trouble again.

There was no oil.  No back or leg rubbing.  No light manipulation of the scalp and face.  This technique was something else again. It was destined to be an experiment in contortion that would turn me into the Thai version of the Gordian Knot.

Thai version of hear, see 
and speak no evil
(Courtesy: Pixabay)
I was motioned to sit against the wall and stretch my legs forward. The little Thai woman began with a flurry. She had a lot of energy and was accustomed to working quickly. She was not accustomed to dealing with Jabba the Hut. It would have been far better for her to pace herself. I could have told her that in advance had I been able to communicate with her or if I had known what she was going to do.  Being unable to either, I just let her commence at her own rate.

The massage was like an audition for Cirque du Soleil. The therapist began at my feet.  She grabbed my right foot first and jerked it violently to the left. Before the surprise, and pain, subsided, she yanked it just as severely to the right.  The second movement bent my knee in a direction I am quite certain it was not designed to go. As I screamed out in pain, the little Thai woman smiled with satisfaction.

Next, I was told to sit in the middle of the cubicle with my legs bent across each other Indian style. The therapist stood behind me, reached over my right shoulder, grabbed my right ankle and tried to pull my leg back over my head. 

“Lady,” I thought, “There’s just no way my leg can go that far.”

I could feel her pulling harder and harder. Then she began to rock my leg back and forth in much the same manner you use to rock a car when you’re trying to get it out of the snow or mud. 

She loves me "knot"
(Courtesy: Pixabay)
Once she determined she had reached my maximum dexterity point, she put my right leg down and moved to the left. Thank goodness she didn’t actually get my leg behind my head. If she had, I know she would have left it there.

When it was time to work my arms, the therapist sat with her back against the wall for leverage, put her bare feet against the left side of my body and pulled my right arm across my chest with as much force as she could muster. For a tiny person, this little lady was really strong. I probably could have twisted my body in her direction except that her feet were positioned in such a way that the only thing I was going to move was my arm. I was convinced that I now had a dislocated shoulder, and still, the treatment continued.

For the next exercise, I was told to lie on my back with the bottoms of both feet pressed against the wall. Then she moved to the top of my head, grabbed both arms and pulled as hard as she could with her feet jammed against my shoulders.

By now I was beginning to wonder if she was a "therapist" or some other facsimile known as "the rapist."

I sat up while she got down on her knees behind me and jerked my right arm down over my back.  You guessed it, the left arm was next.

Traditional Thai festival known as Loi Krathong
meaning "to float a basket"
(Courtesy: Pixabay)
For a full 30 minutes, the little Thai dynamo mangled my body parts into positions they had never known before and never will know again. My fingers and toes touched places they had never touched, or ever were meant to touch, for that matter.

Mercifully however, the process was, at long last, taking its toll. Powerful and expert as she was at her craft, the attendant was not accustomed to working on someone quite so robust. She was exhausted, and yet, she was only halfway finished.

Out of breath and gasping for air, the attendant motioned me to sit against the wall and rest. Then she looked at me with chagrin, rolled her eyes and said, “You big. Res' now.  Back soon.”

Thai women are striking, but
typically small in stature
(Courtesy: Pixabay)

I knew I was large, but I didn’t consider myself a candidate for toting teak logs at the elephant training school either. Nevertheless, I had worn her out. She needed a break before completing the second part of the program. I had to admit that I did feel better after all of the stretching, pulling, yanking and jerking, but I couldn’t honestly opine that it had been anything close to relaxing.    

When the therapist returned, we went through more of the same. Finally toward the end of the treatment, she sat down against one wall of the room and spread her legs. Then she motioned to me to put my head between her legs so she could work my shoulders, face and scalp. 

I was on my knees looking at her and trying to follow the instructions. When she motioned for me to come forward I leaned down on fours and moved my face toward her crotch. How was I supposed to know that she wanted the back of my head in her lap instead of my face?

The tiny woman screamed in a moment of frenzy and panic.  She held up both hands as quickly as she could while yelling at the top of her lungs, “No, no, no, no.  Ova’ roll ova’. No face, no face.”

In mere seconds she had become fluent in English!

I immediately realized my mistake and quickly changed directions. After an hour of merciless pulverization, I wasn’t in any to dive face first into her nether regions either.

 Apparently my error scared her into reality. She completed her assignment very quickly after that and hastily informed me that the treatment was over.

As for me, I was still in pursuit of the perfect massage.

The ancient ruins of the Baths of Caracalla in Rome
(Photo: Taylor)
Next stop, Italy. This time I was after something called a "Four Hands Massage." The unique aspect of this treatment was that instead of having one therapist do the work, there would be two. 

It was sort of like synchronized swimming for massage therapy. They would work in tandem so that both sides of the body received the same manipulations at the same time.  It sounded interesting and worth a try. The biggest drawback about the treatment was that since two people were working, the session took half as long.
On this occasion, there was a cover sheet, with no pajamas or claustrophobic closed areas and everything seemed routine.  Routine, that is, until one attendant handed me an article of clothing, sort of, that I was supposed to wear during the treatment. 

In theory, fours hands are
better than two
The added garment was nothing more than a thin paper jock strap that barely covered my masculine gender, provided I didn’t tear the elastic loose as I was putting it on.  Other than that everything else was normal.

There was nothing unusual about the treatment, except that it went twice as fast because four hands were working at once. In the end, I saw no real benefit to the double whammy and convinced myself that it was little more than a gimmick.

Once on my back, the women worked my arms, shoulders and scalp.  When it came time to rub the front of my legs, they removed the cover sheet leaving everything exposed except for the little sack they had given me to enclose my package.

Laying on of the hands, four hands that is
(Courtesy: Pixabay)

The grand finale came when they finished working on my legs.  That’s when each woman grabbed one of the flimsy pieces of elastic that was wrapped around my hips and pulled the jock strap away in one grand gesture.

It was rather like being at an elegant dinner party where all the waiters simultaneously lift silver domes to reveal the food. The difference this time, of course, was that the paper jock was the dome and my goodies were, well, not food, but you get the picture. 

As soon as they tore away the covering, the attendants hastily left the room.  In fact they got out so quickly I was thinking, “What just happened?” before I even realized the treatment was over.

As far as massage was concerned, I was pretty much over it.  I had tried. I had put my best foot forward, so to speak, and done my best to find the best massage in the world, yet each time the experiment ended badly off-center and out of kilter.

In the process, I did however, establish a short list of guidelines for all future massages to which I religiously adhere today:
Basic Massage Rules For Men
1 – Always request a female attendant
2 – Don’t stay in your hotel room for a massage
3 – Never trust a hairball therapist wearing a diaper
4 – Be sure to be kneaded rather than stretched
5 --At all costs avoid an attendant who is a baseball fan during the Japanese World Series

It’s a basic list, but it has served me well. Though I have since enjoyed the occasional luxury of a fine massage, I no longer scour the planet in search of the elusive ultimate massage.
Though I will never stop traveling, when it comes to my Massage Research International project, affectionately known as my personal MRI, I have vowed never be "rubbed the wrong way" again. 


Friday, November 15, 2019

The "medium is the massage: In search of the perfect therapeutic manipulation

European spas are popular relaxation vacations
(Courtesy: Pixabay)

CHARLOTTE, NC — For as long as I can remember, whenever I have read a travel story by a female writer who had been to a spa, words would gush forth with so much adulation and euphoria that it seemed impossible that one human being could feel so totally renewed from a little bit of scrubbing, polishing, waxing, exfoliating and rubbing.

Words like “pamper” and “divine” and “luscious” and “exquisite” and “marvelous” are just a few of the buzzwords necessary to write a top-notch article about wellness.

Using that premise as the source of my inspiration, I decided that spa hopping should no longer be the personal domain of a totally feminine pursuit.  I was determined that I was going to scour the globe in search of the perfect massage.

Spa at Baden Baden, Germany
(Courtesy: Baden Baden Tourism)
After all, why should the gals have all the fun? So I determined that I was going to find out what all the fuss was about, even at the risk of turning into a girlie-man.

I lost my spa virginity at Champneys which is located in the small town of Tring in Hertfordshire. Situated about 30 miles northwest of London, over the years Champneys has become one of the most popular spa destinations in Great Britain. As the oldest health farm in the United Kingdom, it is rich in history and tradition.

Since I was new to the game, I chose a basic massage, although there were so many choices it was practically impossible to know what to try;  Aromatherapy, Body Radiance, Babor Scen-Tao, Dry Flotation, Citrus Body Glow, Indian Head Massage, Reflexology, Shiatsu and on and on.  And that was only a partial list. 

There was even something called a “Chocolate Wrapper” which was some sort of chocolate therapy.  For all I knew that was where you slathered yourself in milk chocolate and decided whether to call yourself a Snickers or a Three Musketeers.

Abrasives help exfoliation
(Courtesy: Pixabay)

The first order of business was to take a shower and exfoliate using sea salt.  The guys in our group took turns scrubbing each other's backs.

We all agreed that the salt rubbing process would be backs only and above the waist.  All other areas were off-limits and would either be self-administered or simply remain "foliated."

After drying off, each of us was escorted to a separate dimly lit room with pastoral music playing in the background.  I was told to remove my towel, get under the sheet, lay face down on the table and my therapist would be with me in a moment.

Entrance to Champneys at Tring
(Photo: George F -- licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0
Generic license)
In the end, my first massage turned out to be a rather pleasant experience, but I still wasn’t ready to spew forth all those glorious accolades I had read about in the travel magazines just yet. 

For one thing, I discovered right away that European-style health farms are not the same as the spas back home.  Or at least Champneys wasn’t. 

To begin with, most of the clients were walking around in dressing gowns and slippers.  It was supposed to be an elegant health and wellness resort, but for me it felt more like a hospital or a sanitarium. That ambience alone was immediately off-putting.

When afternoon tea rolled around, clients would drink various mineral or herbal concoctions and nibble on melba toast.  Meals, though most assuredly healthy, consisted of small portions of broiled this and that, several varieties of lettuce which appeared that they could just have easily been clippings from something the gardener had been doing on the grounds earlier that afternoon, and any number of veggies that were unrecognizable.  As I looked around, I realized that a glass of water was considered dessert.

A healthy diet 
(Courtesy: Pixabay)
The grounds were beautiful.  The resort was luxurious.  The staff and the service were superb.  But the manner in which the clientele utilized the facility made me more uncomfortable than relaxed.  I was sure that the dress code was designed for comfort and convenience, but “wellness” was not the term I would have used to describe how everyone looked.

The  next opportunity for my massage research came in Istanbul, the only city in the world built on two continents.  As such, it has always been a crossroads of trade and culture.  Istanbul is bustling and exotic, but there is something that is also mysterious and decadent about the city.

Istanbul is a city of mystery and intrigue
(Courtesy: Pixabay)
Obviously, being in Istanbul, the goal was to experience a genuine Turkish bath.

On my way down to the hammam, which simply means “bathroom,” I passed a fellow member of our group who was just leaving.

“How was it?” I asked.

“Go for it,” he said with a big smile on his face. 

Somehow his devilish smirk didn’t strike me as being the endorsement I was seeking. Nevertheless, this was part of my discovery process, and I was determined to find out what a real Turkish bath was like.

Inside a typical Turkish "hamman" (bath house)
(Photo: San -- licensed under the Creative Commons 
Attribution 3.0 Unported license)
Though I didn’t know it at the time, a Turkish bath is sort of a combination sauna and massage.  I walked into the bath-house and looked around.  It was an impressive facility filled with marble columns and floors and the soothing sounds of flowing water from a fountain in the center of the room. 

An attendant saw me and asked, “Ahh yooo Missa Tayla?”

“Yes,” I said and nodded.

“Vurrry goot.  Yooo like get reddy, now?”

“Sure.  What do I do?”

“Ahh, yes.  Firs’, yooo mus go ‘nutha room an’ undress.  Yes.  Then, yooo go firs’ room an’ unlax.  Yooo know unlax.  Take easy.  Jus’ res’ little bit, maybe.  Yes.”

After the man said it twice I realized he was trying to say “relax” so I smiled in agreement and listened to the rest of his instructions.

“Firs’ room warm room.  Make yooo sweat maybe, huh.  Yes.  Afta that, yooo move nex’ room.  Hot room.  Much warmer, I think.  Yes.  Stay in hot room little while, then come out.  OK?  Yes.”

“OK.  Yes.”  Now I felt like I was even talking like him.  “Where dI change?”

“Ova’ theah.  In tha’ room.  Thank you, sah.”

I walked to the changing room and got undressed.  I found a huge Turkish towel, wrapped it around me and strolled into the first room. 

Turkish Bath Cubicle
(Photo: licensed under the Creative Commons

 Alike 4.0 International license)
There was a steady flow of hot, dry air permeating the room.  Having always been susceptible to heat, it didn't take  long for me to work up a sweat.  My rule of thumb in a sauna has always been to remain until it is no longer comfortable. 

After ten minutes or so, I was becoming moist and juicy, so I followed instructions and headed to the hot room.

Hot was right!  The room was practically unbearable.  I was trying to figure out why the second step was even necessary, but I wasn’t coming up with anything logical.  Especially for me since I was already dripping from my time in the warm room.  I stayed in the hot room for as long as I could stand it, which wasn’t very long.  Five minutes max, and probably not even that.

The three-room system was similar to that of the Romans.  The difference came after the second area when a bather entered the cold chamber.  For the Romans, it was a matter of splashing cool water on their faces and perhaps doing a full body wash.  A Turkish bath features the full body wash followed by a massage.

When I entered the cold room, an attendant was waiting for me.  He rinsed me off with a shower of cool water.  The water temperature was probably warmer than it felt because of the time I had spent in the other two heated rooms.  After a thorough cleansing, I was instructed to go to one of the arched cubicles lining the perimeter of the bath and to sit down and wait.

There were approximately twelve cubicles and each had barely enough space for one person to sit.  The main room was completely done in marble with a fountain in the middle that splashed continuously with relaxing water sounds.  Though small, the cubicle was comfortable. 

I sat there in the altogether, quietly waiting to see what was going to happen next.  I didn’t have to wait long. A small man entered the room wearing nothing but a large diaper that was tied at both sides.  It probably wasn’t a real diaper, but it looked like one. At this point, I was so intimidated that I had no intention of asking what it was called.

Exfoliation scrub
(Courtesy: Pixabay)

The therapist was muscular and solidly built with a slender frame that didn’t have an ounce of body fat.  I looked at down myself and wondered if he might like to borrow some of mine. 

He was hairy, too, with a full head of jet black, curly hair, as well as chest hair, leg hair, arm hair, facial hair and back hair.  Honestly, the man looked sinister to me
As the tiny Turkish hair ball in a diaper moved toward me, I realized there was no place for me to go.  After all, I was sitting there naked in a marble cubicle with barely enough room for my arms and legs. 

I cowered as he approached.  Images that he might be getting ready to slit my throat raced through my mind, until I realized he had no place to hide a knife.  This was certainly not the “relaxation” I had been hoping for. 

I thought about jumping up and making a break for it, but the Turk was too close.  I had no shot.  I was about to receive a true Turkish bath. 

The attendant didn’t say a word.  He was all business.  As his diapered frame stood before me, he reached up and pulled down a bucket of water filled with several sponges.  He placed the bucket on the floor and then strategically put one of his hairy little legs between mine and began washing me.  It was truly a “full” body wash. 

The Turk scrubbed, scoured, exfoliated and rinsed, and then he did it some more.  I was panic stricken, but damned if I wasn’t clean.  For fifteen solid minutes, the human fur ball worked me over.  I didn’t spend that much time detailing my car. 

When he finished, I was exhausted, but I wasn’t quite sure whether it was fear or a massive dose of wellness that had done me in.

“Rest now,” he said and walked out of the room.

I knew there was supposed to be a massage that followed, but I didn’t wait around to complete the project.  I raced to the dressing room as quickly as I could, put my clothes on and left.

As I sprinted out the door, another attendant saw me and yelled, “Wait!  No finish.  Is more.  Yooo come back.  Yes?”

“No,” I yelled back.  “Put it on my bill.”

Temple in Kyoto, Japan
(Courtesy: JNTO)

When I went to Japan, I knew that I would have to refine my search to have better success.  I had read about the magnificent Japanese thermal baths that are fed by natural springs deep within the earth, but what I really wanted to try was something called Ashiatsu Massage which is popular in China, Thailand as well as Japan. 

Ashiatsu is a method of massage where you lie on the floor and the practitioner walks across your back and neck using her feet to target specific pressure points.

As luck would have it, there was a placard on the front desk advertising the availability of Ashiatsu right in the hotel.  All that was necessary was to call the concierge and request an appointment. 
As it turned out, there were no spa facilities in the hotel.  The therapist would personally come to my room to perform the massage.
Just before 8:30, I turned off the TV to wait for the therapist to arrive.  At the precise appointment time, there was a knock at the door.  I walked across the room and opened the door to greet the Japanese woman who would soon be alleviating all my aches and pains with her unique barefoot technique.

Back walking
(Courtesy: U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers Europe --

licensed under the Creative 
Commons Attribution 2.0
Generic license)

I had barely opened the door when a small Asian blur streaked past me and ran to the television.  She quickly turned it on and then rushed back toward me.  When she reached where I was standing, she propped open the door and motioned me toward the center of the room.  I had no clue what was happening, and I certainly didn’t know why there was such urgency.

The TV was now blaring away with the sounds of the Japanese World Series.  The tiny Japanese woman lowered the sound just enough to be able to hear the play-by-play.  Then she started to undo my belt.  She whipped it open and just as rapidly unzipped my pants.  Within seconds she pushed me toward the bed and in a single two-handed movement ripped my pants off and flung them into the corner.

Next she took a pillow from the bed and plopped it on the floor.  She looked at me and motioned that I lay down face first.

“You lay.  Put face down,” was all she said.

Within seconds I was on the floor with my head facing the television set watching a baseball game from beneath the screen. 

I had no chance to voice my opinion, however.  I was on the mat quicker than Sonny Liston after a punch from Muhammad Ali. Within seconds, there was a small Japanese woman stomping on my back with her bare feet.

Her haste had been so that she could watch the game as she pounded me into oblivion like a vat of Chianti grapes.

Still, I had to ask myself, why did I have to be the lucky soul to get the only therapist in Tokyo who was an avid Seibu Lions fan during the middle of the Japanese World Series.

After a few minutes I realized I didn’t need to watch the game.  I could tell exactly what was happening by the way she moved her feet.  If Seibu struck out, she stomped.  If they got a base hit, she wiggled her toes into the small of my back.  A double resulted in her running in place on my spine.  Thank God, nobody hit a home run.

Massage can eliminate tension and revitalize you
(Courtesy: Pixabay)
Intermingled among the regime of perpetual hopscotch movements, there would be periodic squeals of glee or grunts of anger depending upon the status of her beloved Lions. 

All I could hear was the reactionary vocalisms of my Asian tormentor and the rhythmic noise of the thunder sticks that are so typical at Japanese baseball games.

Mercifully the treatment came to an end 50 minutes and an inning and a half later.  I could only thank the Almighty that Seibu didn’t score during my session, thereby leaving me only partially dead. 

My aches and pains were now transferred to my chest.  Tiny as she was, I was convinced that my sadistic little therapist became a yeti once she mounted my back.

This was merely the first half of my global search for the ultimate in therapeutic relaxation. There was a long way to go before I would reach that Fourth of July "ooohhh, aaahhh" moment. But that's for next week's installment.