Lemon County: Getting Steamed...
Lemon County has fallen for the allure of the word “European” in a big way. If your day spa is not doing too well, change the name to “European Day Spa”. Crowds will form.
Which is all a little baffling to this ex-European. I have been to spas in Europe, and if you’ll permit me to include the former eastern bloc members, like Bulgaria, in Europe, they are, on the whole, pretty bloody awful. Most smell of sulfur. Most are geriatricly old. Most are the kind of places the average American would not be seen dead in.
The first reason is the plumbing. Most upscale homes in Lemon County have the latest and greatest plumbing fixtures. They have bathrooms that have, “look at me, I’m really a spa,” written all over them. They are spacious, have great views, showers with ten-thousand heads, and promises of warm fingers massaging your body. Bathtubs are slightly scaled down pools, complete with Jacuzzi jets. Warm fluffy towels greet your exit from shower or bath, the tile is warm on your toes due to the under-floor heating, and the candles waft luxurious aromas around.
Oh, and it is all spotlessly clean.
The first spa I ever went in was in Bulgaria. It was not clean. I doubt it ever had been. Tiny six-sided tiles covered the floors and walls, allowing spectacular amounts of mold to cling to the last vestiges of grout. Many of the tiles were missing, leaving little sharp things for your feet to catch on. The colony of bacteria, living in the mud pool that once was occupied by a tile, joyfully escape their dank prison, and latch on to your unsuspecting feet through the cut you just gave yourself. The towels are pre dirtied and dampened for your use, and worst of all, our European friends do not walk around in pristine robes, they go au naturel. They really ought not to. It is scary.
The experience was made even more glorious by trying to follow the routines of the regulars. Various pools, called mineral baths were dotted about the tiled landscape. The temperature was written on a small board, in centigrade. Yes it is WAY hotter than you anticipate, so you scald your, otherwise uninjured, foot, and look for a lower number. Very large Bulgarians are wallowing in the murky pool with the lowest number, the smell of sulphur masking the rather more ripe odors of the locals.
I slowly lowered myself into the mire, and hoped that the blisters would fade quickly. With expressive hand gestures and a few words learned from Baywatch, the locals and I had a semi conversation. Turns out, most of the homes in the area I’d been staying in, don’t have bathrooms. The locals, thus, come to the spa once a month, whether they need it or not.
It is good to know that despite the language barrier, humor, amongst naked men in bathtubs, would appear to have some universal themes. Farting is funny all over the world, it transpires. The sulfur in the water has anti bacterial properties, so I, in fact, welcomed that particular scent. The emissions from my gentlemen friends were the problem. I have experienced tear gas. You want to claw your eyes out. This was similar, only worse. It was at that precise moment I realized what a diet of predominantly pickles would do to your intestinal tract…
Every now and then, one of the gentlemen would ease on out of the water, giving everyone a spectacular view of the family jewels in their shrunken leather pouches and forested butt cracks. He would go over to the “shower”, which consisted of a pipe sticking out of the wall about six feet up, spewing steaming brown water directly from the hot spring. Soap was not in attendance, but in its stead, there were little pieces of flat wood that you used to scrape the grime from your body. Some of these men had, what appeared to be, spectacular tans. The scraping removed all that, revealing limbs so spectacularly white you wondered if they had ever been exposed to the rays of the sun.
The joyous experience was not yet over. I had rather cavalierly booked a massage. I had been given a choice of a “vomens” or a “mans” to do the massage, but lord knows how you could tell them apart. My ex-champion shot-putter was specially selected for me as she spoke English. Her arms were spectacularly large and frightening.
I lay face down on a chipped and peeling Formica table, padded by several towels past their sell-by date, and had my back systematically broken one bone at a time. If I screamed in pain, Ludmilla the barbarian, would use the entirety of her English in one fell swoop, “Good, yes?”
Not so much…
The advantage of lying on my front was that I could not see her face. Turned around, whatever bones could not be broken from the previous position, were hastily dealt with by those massive hands and arms. No, what made it worse was that I could now see the expression on her face. It was sheer unadulterated joy, my friends. Every grimace and groan of mine was met by a glint in her eyes and additional enthusiasm. Now, I think it is important that everyone enjoy their job, take some pleasure in the profession of their choice, but this went way into not right. My first sadomasochistic experience, as it were.
So, as you can see, there is a small disconnect between the image the Euro-Spa in Lemon County tries to convey, and the one in my head. I wish them, and their patrons, well, just don’t ever expect me to get excited at the prospect of spending my time and money there.
There is a brief postscript to the Ludmilla experience. After I gingerly put my clothes on and limped out past what I presumed was the front desk, Ludmilla was blocking the exit, hands on hips, with a horrible smile on her face. I noticed she had hurriedly put on some lipstick and rouge, as a way to make herself more attractive, it had failed spectacularly. She then impressed me with the rest of her vocabulary. “Tip, yes. US dollar, yes?” The “or else” was implicit. A twenty allowed me to live another day…
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