Friday, 17 Aug: Bar, Fonteverde Spa, Tuscany
So, I’m in the bar at the Fonteverde Spa having had a lovely dinner next door. As usual, there is only one or two other people in here, plus the long-suffering pianist and the barman who, knowing I’m going to having one of the remaining single malts, has already prepared a glass of distilled water and an empty glass for the whisky.
I had a Bowmore 17 last night which was lovely and tonight, a Lagavulin 16, which to me is like a cross between Laphroaig and Bowmore. Why they pour it in a port glass is beyond me, but it leads to very healthy measures so who cares? But that’s enough boring whisky talk, what about the hairnet-sleepmask-underpants?
It all became clear today when I had my “Ki” massage. On Wednesday I had dismissed what I thought was a sleeping mask, yesterday I had rejected what I initially thought was a hairnet, and then suddenly realised it was probably massage underpants.
So today, I determined to find out even if it led to a mildly embarassing exchange. Forunately my masseuse spoke not-bad English, which made things easier. She pointed out the small, wrapped circle of fabric and said “slipper for you”. Aha! So this was what Nicola the man had been saying, I heard “you sleep?” so thought it was a sleeping mask. Though the fact she said “slipper” concerned me enought to tear open the plastic and make a grunt which caused her to pause as she was slipping out the door. I waved about with the strange lightweight black fabric and said “underpants?” while motioning putting them on. “Yes, yes.”
So there you have it. A pair of pants.
And once I’d loosened them out it became clear that’s what they were. In fact, I think nearly all women would have recognised what they were straight away because they are basically a lightweight g-string, big up front and cut away at the back. But for a man, this shape does not correlate to something you put on as pants. So with that hurdle having finally been overcome on day three, and with my arse waving around uncontained, she got down to the massage (having swiftly covered me up with a towel).
Ki for Kieren
I can’t remember what the bunkem is surrounding Ki massage but it was the most unusual massage I’ve had and yet probably the best. It wasn’t very physical and was an odd combination of soft strokes, joint manoeuvering, and occasional pressing prodding with fingers and knuckles.
I suspect my masseuse was very good at it though because as she finished with each body part it had a strange tingly sensation like really pleasant pins-and-needles. It was odd because she didn’t seem to do much but it was a having a definite effect.
However, I hate to admit it but as with each of the other two massages, they were very pleasant, and my body was clearly relaxing but it wasn’t doing what I needed it to – and that was to stop my mind whirring. For three days I have been actively focussing on mental relaxation, not thinking about work or life or other issues, but I could still feel my brain whirring away sub-consciously. I wasn’t getting that wonderfully spaced feeling you get when you give your brain a quick holiday.
Until that was, she switched oils to a very heady oil and started massaging my face. If you were to assume that I had taken drugs at some point during my life, and you were to assume therefore I knew what it was like to “come up”, this was precisely the feeling that hit me as she started massaging my head.
Literally with seconds, the whirring wound down and before I knew it, I was imagining flying about the Tuscan hills I have been watching intently for several days. “Thank fuck for that,” was my first and only thought for the next five minutes, as I finally hit proper relaxation.
In fact, I didn’t want to leave the room but had to so as soon as I left I padded around to where they have a chill-out area – basically very comfortable deckchairs lined up in a sun-lit conservatory with more outside. I decided to lie down and was out like a light. About 30 minutes later, I came round, turned over, lifted up the back and went to grab my book and read but instead passed out again.
And I was in that state for at least another 30 minutes, occasionally opening my eyes as people walked past to settle down. If it wasn’t a spa, I would probably have got thrown out for being an opium-head.
I felt after another 10 minutes that I should probably move so I headed up to the guest-only pool, but it looked too busy and too much hassle so I went round the other side to this very relaxed open-air solarium, sat down in a wicker chair and reached for my book again. Passed out again. This happened another three times. I was so blissfully tired that I could only read a few pages before I succumbed again.
When I eventually headed back to my hotel room, rather than have a shower, I climbed on top of the bed and fell asleep again. I was beginning to think my masseuse had spiked me. So, yes, after two-and-a-half days in a spa, it finally hit. And just in time for me to leave tomorrow. Thank god for that. It feels like it was worth all the expense and hassle.
Americans and food
What is it about Americans – even the cultured and pleasant ones – that they have this insane desire to chop-and-change food menus.
I’m having dinner at the hotel restaurant (I toyed with the idea of actually heading to a nearby town for dinner but decided I couldn’t be bothered), and I hear two voices in English. I can’t speak a word of Italian so it was nice to hear and understand something for a change. And it was an American couple – perfectly nice looking – talking to the maitre d’ and tearing up the carefully prepared menu from the highly trained chef to their own requirements. “Okay, can I have the gnoochi, but I don’t want this sauce with it, could I have to basil sauce from this pasta instead,” said the man. “Yes, and I’d like the fish, but could you have the vegetables from this dish…,” said the woman.
I don’t know what “fucking Americans” is in Italian but I’m sure those were the words that I heard emitted from the kitchen shortly afterwards.
Italians and smoking
Not that the Italians are without their flaws. Although I note with some interest that gay Italians dress much worse than their straight counterparts. It can’t be easy be a gay Italian. Tight T-shirt? Covered. Pouting expression and pecs? Done. Earrings? Immaculate hair? Sorry, they’re for straight men. It seems the only way to differentiate yourself in Italy is to make sure you have a terrible sense of style. But even so – a purple top and then purple-spotted white trousers?!! Jesus, man, you’re gay, not mental.
But the far stranger thing is the women. There are two types at the spa – the slightly older Italian mommas who wear large bathing suits (although sometimes *large* bikinis) and couldn’t really give a shit. They are who they are and they want to lay in the sun and get massaged and god help anyone that gets in their way. God bless em.
But then there are the slightly younger (although still 40s and 50s) women who clearly go to enormous lengths to retain their figure – probably why they’re here and there are entire weight-loss programmes on offer. But there is one appalling area where their age shows – and it’s in their face, and it’s because they smoke incessantly.
There is nothing quite like a woman smoker’s face. The dry, shrivelled, patchy skin – it’s unmistakeable. It never fails to amaze me that they don’t see it. So while they are paying top-dollar to be wrapped up in cellophane with a sea-bed for company, and climbing into ancient spas, they don’t see how bonkers it is to pull a fag out their bag every five minutes and suck those chemicals right into their system. Bizarre.
Beautiful Man / Beautiful Woman
The Beautiful Couple were around alot today. And they really are striking. But watch closely and you notice something very odd about them. They are constantly veering between supremely confident, chests puffed out, and incredibly insular and insecure. The transformation happens in minutes and often when one is one, the other is the other. How dreadful for your self-esteem to be on a constant yo-yo, depending solely on how the next person responds to you.
I wouldn’t say no to be as attractive as either of them for a week or so, but you don’t get to make that choice, do you? Give me gawky-looking but comfortable in your own skin any day.
And why I’m having a good old stereotpying session – aren’t rich people unfriendly? I was pondering this today. I mean I’m not the most sociable person in the world but I’m not unfriendly. Quite a few people here are – won’t catch your eye, or say hello, even if sharing a lift.
Not being a rich person, this is my theory: alot of the drive to becoming a rich person comes from wishing to differentiate yourself as somehow more important, with greater status than everyone else. This means that exclusivity is vital – but more importantly you need to make sure that you don’t accidentally mix with people that haven’t attained your social status. The problem is that it is impossible to tell – especially when all you’ve got is a green bathrobe to go on – who is on your perceived status level and who is just an oink in a bathrobe. And so the only solution is to be permanently unfriendly.
The great irony of course being that if you are friendly, you are in their eyes, either of a higher status and confident of it, in which case they want to speak to you, or you are clearly not one of them and so bound to be someone who just happens to be there. I’ve been having some fun with this as being English adds an extra level of confusion. So I have been greeting people non-chalantly with a nod of the head, or smiling as if I recognise them, occasionally saying something in an unusual English accent and then staring down at my book as they try to figure out who I am. It passes the time.
That said, I nearly threw a wooden box at some bloke – called him a wanker – who beckoned a staff member from across the veranda, where I was semi-conscious and resting in the gentle wind, by hissing through his teeth and then beckoning in only a way that a spoilt rich mid-30s man who has never had to do a day’s real work in his life can manage.
The man – who was some distance away – didn’t hear, and so came an even louder and more repulsive hiss followed by an impatient and petulant wave. I nearly show my lack of class by wandering over and telling him he could show a bit more fucking respect to other human beings while he was in my vicinty. But I didn’t. I was too spaced. The Ki had done for Kieren.
I’m heading back tomorrow morning first thing. Back in Blighty just after lunch and a birthday party in Oxford in the evening.
I have to say that this spa malarkey is not a bad way to spend a few days. It ain’t cheap but it certainly is very relaxing. I’m not sure if I’ll be rushing back to one though. It’s not really my kind of place.
Give me four mates, five pints, a pub and then a lazy Sunday watching an old movie while lying in the sun on the sofa and I can hit the same level of contentedness as heading all the way to Tuscany and wandering around in a bathrobe, occasionally donning a hairnet as pants.
I just have to find where I can get a Ki massage in Oxford.