Saturday, September 03, 2005

'Zen' Massage

My wife does not have the most vigorous massage technique imaginable, so when a big strong man approached me in the airport and asked me if I would like a Zen massage, I had to give it some consideration.

The man pointed out to me that if I was stressed, it would be a very good way to relax, and since (1) I was having one of the most stressful weeks of my life, and (2) I had just retreated fuming from the Air France ticket desk after being told that the aeroplane I had hoped to catch in an hour wouldn't be leaving until four hours later because it was still 'the summer schedule' in which half the flights are cancelled, well, I felt like I ought to give it a go. What would I have spent the ten euros on otherwise? A nice bottle of Jurancon wine probably, from the vineyards just to the south of Pau airport.

Actually, I have never had a professional massage before, and I would never normally think of paying for one, so I guess this guy caught me on the hop.

The first surprise, as he led me behind a small screen, was that I wouldn't be lying on a divan bed in a private space, but rather, that I would be seated in some sort of folding contraption in the middle of the airport lounge, in full view of everyone who happened to be passing. As I settled myself down upon it, I immediately began to worry. It really wasn't very comfortable. The man spread a muslin cover on the upholstered head support and asked me to rest on it, face down. Suddenly, I was supporting the weight of my back on my neck, and my bum, under the force of displaced gravity, was sticking up in the air leaving my belly hanging out. Great! Not.

The massage began: pummelling of my neck and shoulders, rotation and squeezing of my arms until I felt all the blood trapped in the ends of my fingers, which he proceeded to squeeze with a snap of his fingers, as if removing some invisible bad spirit from my system. A bit like a Nigerian handshake, in fact. Next, kneading of the vertebrae, rapid pummelling of the vertebral column and every two minutes, a little sharp 'bleep bleep' of his digital timer, far from relaxing, to tell him to get a move on to the next item so that my ten euros would buy exactly ten minutes of his attention.

At the end of the session, he folded my arms up onto my head and asked me to get up. It was at this point that I became aware of sharp pains in my neck. Surely that couldn't be right? As I stood up, I realised that ten minutes in his company had left me feeling as if I had been lying in a cold draft for three hours.

But there he was in front of me, panting slightly from his physical exertions, a big smile on his face, asking me if I had enjoyed myself? Well, what could I say? No, I feel bloody awful, I should have said. Being English, however, and separated from reality by a thin veil of language and the characteristic restraint with which I continue my international relations, I merely responded: 'hmm, interesting thanks.' He looked at me, slightly put out not to have had a more positive response. 'You have to be careful with your back", he said, "there is a lot of stress in the middle there," he said, indicating the point where my upper body weight had been balanced like a fulcrum a few moment before.

"Are you English?" he asked. "Well, I was born in Scotland", I said, knowing that the French universally respond better when you say this. "Ahh", he said, "it is my dream to visit Ireland or Scotland. Probably Ireland. What do you think? Are the Irish more welcoming?" I had to agree they probably would be, although this is such a stupid generalisation it hardly bears thinking about. Then I told him that my parents were English. "The English are very proud" he said, "like the French." "The English and French don't get on very well. When I visited London I saw shops with signs outside saying 'No French!' What do you think of that?" Well, I had to say I thought it was stupid. I could also have mentioned that FNAC (France's largest book chain store) does not have an anthology of British poetry for sale in its online bookshop, but I doubt he would have understood where I was coming from. Both sides see what they want to see, and this fuels mutual suspicion to no particularly useful purpose.

I took my bad back and drowned my sorrows in a beer and a 'croque monsieur' (a toasted cheese and ham sandwich). After an hour or so, my neck began to feel better, and I began to daydream about buying a bottle of Jurancon from the nice little airport shop.


Andrea said...

That is terrible! I love massages! Aramatherapy is the way I go. You should get that back checked now because it sounds like he may have screwed it up.
or get your wifeto give you one. :-)

Ebriel said...

Hi, Taupe,

Liked your vignette of the airport massage. Forwarded it to my massage-happy husband to give him some ideas for a future career!

Jonathan Wonham said...

Thank you both for your comments. I'm feeling a lot better now.