Sipping ginger tea and eating a large succulent red grape – my body radiates warmth, at least that is what it feels like, in that afterglow of a massage. I’m on the third floor of the Banyan Tree Spa complex in Estoril, Portugal – a collection of pools, spas, saunas, a gym, treatment rooms and an indoor/outdoor café. The Spa Pool has water jets and a large circular section where the water rotates at about 2 mph. Swim against the current or simply let it lift you and take you – around and around!! Just the place for a wet Friday afternoon.
Massage has a funny reputation, a sort of nudge-nudge, wink-wink, amongst the male species and that reputation is not helped by some dubious massage parlours being used as a front for prostitution. You will have seen the different types of proper massages being advertised – Swedish, Aromatherapy, Hot Stone, Chair, Deep Tissue, Trigger Point, Shiatsu and Thai – and unless you regularly have them in conjunction with keeping fit or for some medical relief, it’s likely you only have one or two a year, on holiday maybe? I once heard a masseur saying that one a year is a complete waste of time – but hey that ‘afterglow’ is something, so why not have more?
Celina gave me a gift of a 90 minutes Thai massage: “Apparently it’s really fantastic!” I love massages, so readily said: ‘Yes please’. I prefer being massaged by someone of the opposite sex as that introduces an imaginary world that excites and disappoints in equal measure. I once had a massage by a chap who was blind; with his enhanced sense of touch and space it was unique, but it missed that frisson that develops, in my mind if nowhere else, between a male and female.
One website says: “Thai massage is a unique blend of assisted yoga, passive stretching, and pressing massage movements. Thai massage is more energizing than other forms of massage: it’s a little bit like yoga without doing the work, as the therapist moves and stretches you in a sequence of postures, usually on a mat on the floor. Like shiatsu, Thai massage aligns the energies of the body. The massage therapist uses rhythmic compression along the body’s energy lines to reduce stress and improve flexibility and one’s range of motion. It is done fully clothed. This type of massage can reduce muscle spasticity and back pain, and has been shown to be useful in treating balance problems and migraine symptoms.”
So at 1720 I check in with Deborah at the Reception Desk, go and change into those obligatory white towelling bath robes, and report back. A Thai woman appears; it’s not until later I ask her name – Nicole – and there’s probably a Thai name by which she’s known at home, but here she’s trying to westernise herself. I think about asking but realise that pronouncing a Thai name might stretch my linguistic ability.
“OK. Go in there and take your clothes off. Here’s a sarong to wrap around yourself” – so much for the ‘fully clothed’! Obviously what follows is about my own experience, from my masculine perspectives. On my return she gestures towards a chair; I sit and have my feet washed – just so indulgent! Orchids and that piped music so typical of these places – ‘The Music of the Andean Pipes’ – Thai style! Then I am instructed to lie face down on the massage table, naked; she shields me from herself with a large green sheet, although there isn’t much to see! And once I’m prone I can’t see much either, as my head is face down in that little indentation in the table, tastefully covered with white gauze. After some initial kneading on my legs, I sense she climbs onto the table and starts on my hips and lower back, I can feel her thighs against my legs and that contact is ……… She presses her torso against my back and it feels good!
Being completely naked there isn’t that pulling-down-the-hem-of-your-knickers normally associated with the masseuse working on your hips. Nicole simply moves the sheet and, besides, she’s seen it all before! I’m grateful she doesn’t chastise me for my sunburnt buttocks, the result of an hour in the sun earlier. At some point, in this warm haze of sensory overload, my arms are down the side of the table; she brushes her thigh against my hand and I smile to myself.
I ask how long she’s been in Portugal and she says she’s here for eighteen months. Her English is very limited (but better than my Thai!) so conversation doesn’t flow; she just gets on with her job, applying her skill and oil to my body. I wonder what she’s thinking as she adjusts the sheet to ensure my limited modesty as her hands massage my inner thigh; probably wondering which noodle bar she will go to when she finishes, with the other masseuses with whom she shares an apartment. My thoughts are not on supper! I learn later that a Thai company provides the masseuses for a two year stint.
There was certainly no sexual attraction between Nicole and me but the mere fact that some stranger’s hands are touching my skin, sometimes quite intimately, does cause feelings, strokes the imagination one might say. The fantasy suggests her asking: ‘You like something extra sir?’ but in reality that is exactly what it is, a male fantasy. Add the fact that my masseur was a woman, so masseuse, and it’s most men’s pleasure. I say most men as some presumably are repulsed by such intimate contact, but if you are a tactile person like me, it’s heaven. I am instructed to turn over onto my back, the raised sheet much like a magician’s cloak, and the fantasies I had when ‘tummy down’ restart, as I suspect do Nicole’s about noodles.
Towards the end she lifts a leg to one side and pushes against the hip, opening that joint to its furthest extension. Wow! The Thai massage ‘Spinal Twist in Lying Position’. A few minutes massaging the hands and fingers, then my skull and I’m done. Off for a shower in a side room then, dressed, back for ginger tea and large succulent red grapes.
For Nicole this is just a professional job, what she does, and she relies on feedback from her clients. I mark her card accordingly – excellent. It cost Celina an arm and a leg, an appropriate expression here perhaps, and I hope Nicole gets at least 50%, but somehow doubt it.
On the way back from the Spa, Celina and I compare notes. She suggests a massage is a bit like a sexy dance between two strangers. Whilst there need be no sexual attraction, the act of following one’s natural rhythms and inclination can engender a feeling of sexiness. She’s hit the nail on the head; a great analogy. A true basic instinct, this sexual urge, encouraged by the sense of touch, of smell, of heat, of oil ….. and lots of imagination!
The Thai goodbye, hands together, fingers steepled, slight hardly-discernible bow and she’s gone – and leaves my empty outstretched hand, the normal British ‘goodbye’ gesture, untouched!!
Richard 23rd August 2018 firstname.lastname@example.org