Mothers and Massages

My mother, Alice, was a lesson in contradictions. As it turns out, those lessons were the most valuable. Flexibility really is the key.

I keep my body flexible with yoga and massage-as flexible as an old body- ruled with a minimally disciplined mind- can be that is. So for this Mother’s Day I took my daughter, Anna, who is a mother also, and myself for a massage at the  local massage school.  The low price, $25.00 apiece coupled with feeling I’ve served my civic duty( they have to practice on someone), cannot be beat. massage

Ahhhh. There’s something liberating about stripping off one’s clothes and climbing onto a table for the purpose of having a stranger knead your flesh and gouge your innards with elbow, thumbs, and knuckles; feeling your flesh yield- ligaments stretch and expand as blood flows freely through them like dormant roots after they are aerated and doused by a spring rain. Yes.

Methods of massage vary wildly depending on where you are in the world-how the culture feels about naked flesh.

In Morocco I visited several hammams-gender segregated bath houses-public or private, where one is gromaged; a massage/removal of old skin, with slimy brown soap and a scouring glove rough enough to strip off old paint.

Moroccan gromage

Moroccan gromage

In Asilah, my first public hammam consisted of two large  rooms. The first one was the check- in room where you paid your fees, were assigned a gromager (or maybe a gromagiss?) and stored your clothes.

The clerk, taking advantage of my being a foreigner, apparently charged me several times the local price. A young woman standing nearby intervened on my behalf.

After an impassioned debate the price was lowered. My gromager, lets call her Hercules, was not happy. Unsmiling and outweighing me by at least double she led me, naked to the main bath area, a large, maybe 40’x30′ room with a sloping blue and white tiled, wet, slick floor. In the center were a spigot and a couple of buckets. At one end were open showers. The room was filled with with naked women.

Hercules, stopped  at an empty spot  in the middle of the slippery floor next to the buckets. Surrounded by strangers, she pushed me down (not necessarily with force, but in no way lovingly), onto the tile floor, poured a bucket of tepid water over me and began to rub the slimy soap over my submissive body. As she rubbed, my limbs and trunk slid around on the tiles seemingly separate from one another. I pretended I was a ballerina, sliding across the floor in the hands of my premier danseur as compliant as I am capable of being, before I would rise again-to applause.

female hammam

When I was sufficiently slimed Hercules donned the glove. Holding on to me with her ungloved hand she began to scrub, vigorously stimulating blood, and removing the dead skin along with the live first layer of epidermis it stubbornly clung to. When I had been  rendered as pink as a new-born piglet, she poured more buckets of water on me-to  rinse and rid my body of any leftover slime, loose skin or incriminating fingerprints before disappearing- leaving  me for dead. All for about $10.00.

In China, Angelina, a member of the hostel staff took me to a small, hole-in-the-wall-boxcar style place that was  some one’s home. The massage room was in the back. She told the masseur I wanted an hour massage found out it would cost 30 yuan, about $5.00, and left.

I was instructed to take off my shoes and climb onto the table in my clothes. Two tables from mine lay a woman, completely clothed, a light blanket across her, sleeping. “How nice, I thought.” I won’t have to hurry when it’s over. Then because I didn’t want the metal against my skin while being massaged, I reached up under my shirt, unhooked and pulled my bra out from under it. The masseur panicked. No! No! He shouted shaking his fingers at me. I shrugged, put the folded bra in my purse, and climbed onto the table. Through the material of my clothes and the blanket that covered them, he pulled and pushed my joints around, dug into the muscles of my back and legs and rubbed my skin briskly with manly pressure. Never touching any skin. When it was over he tapped my shoulder. In perfect English he said, “Done. Go now.”

Another place in China, referred to me by my TA who had never been there, looked like a place for getting a pedicure. Six lounge chairs lined up against the wall with separate movable  hassocks at the foot. Everyone looked at me when I went in.

“Welcome.” said a young man.” “Nehao.” I replied. That was it. All we had. He pointed to a sign posted on the wall.. I understood that I was to choose my massage from it.  None of them were over $10.00, but what did they mean? A pedicure in China is not what we think it is. It doesn’t involve polish, but having your corns and bunions scraped. How many different massages could there be?  I pointed to the next to the last one. OK

massage sign in Chongqing, China

I was instructed to sit on the hassock, facing the chair. A good looking twentyish young man, began to rub and manipulate my neck and shoulders. I slumped forward. He worked downward into my back, waist, and kidneys onto my lower back. Now I was bent in half, stretched across myself, my head on the seat of the chair-a position I’m not capable of under normal circumstances.

Finally he tapped me gently on the shoulder motioning that I should move onto the chair- facing  him.

He started on my feet and legs. Oh my. Was I in a funky little storefront massage place somewhere in Chongqing, China or had I gone to heaven? I was not alone. The man next to me was slouched back, his head slightly tilted, his mouth open-snoring. Obviously it was the latter. Anywhere snoring is accepted openly might be heaven.

Wandering a month through Thailand, for under $3.00,  I treated myself to a massage every day. Everyday!! Sometimes just my feet and legs, sometimes I changed into into loose wrap-around pants and shirt and lay on a mattress for a full on ‘metta.’

Thai massage

Thai massage

Your Thai  masseuse will climb around you on the mattress, stretching your limbs with a rhythmic pressure, pulling your body into yoga positions like the arching cobra, push your boundaries, pressing spots that sync to others you’ve forgotten about since you were six. Massage is a loving thing in Thailand that brings kindness and awareness to the masseuse as well as to you.

Which brings me to Allen and Cecil, the two healers, masseurs of the first order in my life. Allen massaged my son’s crooked body, stiffened and brittle by cerebral palsy. Kirk relaxing as never before drooled with abandonment through the hole making a puddle below him. If he could have had a massage every day he would not have needed Valium. And Allen kneaded my muscles through many a difficult time, or as a gift- pouring love into every healing stroke as only someone who loves you does.

And Cecil-The Masseur. He massaged my daughter, Alice, when her back ached  from carrying  my soon to be born grand daughter. And worked miracles on my achy  friends. And me. Time and time again, the sharing of warmth, healing, hands-on, giving of self. The precious gift of touch.
Pass it on.

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