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Monday, June 9, 2014

Pampered or Punked? Adventures in Spa Land

    Pampered or Punked? 
   Adventures in Spa Land

If you’re looking for unusual spa treatments, you can have a snake massage in Israel, a beer bath in the Czech Republic or a chocolate facial in Pennsylvania (according to this article: http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2012/feb/03/best-weird-spa-treatments ).

Or, if you’re in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty, you can visit Villa Donna Retreat.

Let’s start with what Villa Donna is not: it’s not a villa Under the Tuscan Sun. It’s not a resort. It’s not what one might typically associate with a spa. 
Villa Donna Retreat, Tauriko, Bay of Plenty

Villa Donna consists of a single-story brick house in Tauriko. Just follow the sign set against a bicycle and head for the carport to get inside.

My friends Donna (no connection with Villa Donna), Paula and I have driven here via the Mount and Tauranga for a day of pampering, combined with a cooking class. I’d encouraged my fellow running mates to spend $60 for a voucher on deal website Treat Me. http://treatme.co.nz/. The retreat was billed as a ‘healing, relaxing, enlightening and fun day…’ with ‘2-3 hours in the kitchen making and sampling ridiculously tasty food that’s extremely good for you…’

Two other women are waiting when we arrive. We’ll have at least five hours from start to finish. We spend 45 minutes in the kitchen. We make no food. Instead, we listen to owner Donna Bodell tell us 80 percent of diseases are caused by eating acid-forming foods such as meat, sugar and dairy which promote inflammation. She says eating alkaline foods – vegetables, fruits, seeds, beans, nuts… can stop or reverse these conditions.

Wasn’t the acid-alkaline diet 2013’s fad? Victoria Beckham tweeted about the alkaline diet last year. http://www.webmd.com/diet/alkaline-diets 

Is it possible to ‘alkalise’ our bodies? Articles in mainstream media say no. http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/diet-and-fitness/putting-the-ph-diet-to-the-acid-test-20110707-1h43w.html

I look for a ‘bullshit’ buzzer. Finding none, I open my mouth not to object, but to spoon in a concoction of purple oats, berries, seeds, almond milk and black currant powder. It’s delicious. Though, at $80 for 500 grams, I doubt I’ll buy any currant powder soon.

Donna B. asks if it’s okay if her dogs join us in the kitchen. We say sure. Two fluffy Pomeranian-style pooches enter from the pantry. One of them jumps up beside me on the couch and starts clawing at Paula, as if to say, ‘Love me, pet me now…’

Donna B. talks about exercise and says running will eventually ruin joints. “Those marathoners are crazy. I always ask if they’re running to something, or running from something,” she says.

My friend, Donna, replies, “Actually, the three of us are in a running club. We all run marathons.” 

Donna B. continues, undeterred: “If a client wants a running plan, I send her to a friend up the road. I won’t do it.”

A smirk tugs the corners of my mouth, which is busy chewing a piece of wheat-free almond and raisin bread, made by an artisan baker at the Mount. It’s scrummy, and I want another piece.

We move from running to the politics of sugar. Donna expounds on Donald Rumsfeld’s role in promoting artificial sugars. I wonder, ‘wasn’t Rumsfeld Defense Secretary?’ and then, ‘Why the hell are we getting a lecture about American politics?’ That part’s still unclear, but you can read more about the Rumsfeld controversy here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robbie-gennet/donald-rumsfeld-and-the-s_b_805581.html

Donna delivers a five-minute rhapsody about food steamers. She then serves steamed pumpkin and broccoli mixed with a chick pea curry she squeezes from a packet. “I bought these two for five dollars,” she says.

I duck into a 1970’s or 80’s-style bathroom to use the toilet. Cobwebs dangle from the ceiling and a slightly damp bath-sized towel hangs from a rod by the sink. Am I meant to use this to dry my hands? I wipe them on my jeans instead.

For the next part of our pampering day, we can choose an hour sauna and spa or personal training session. We’ve opted for the former, since we crazy runners get plenty of exercise whilst ruining our joints.

We change into swimsuits in a bedroom whose lavender-colored walls feature drips and dribbles of dried paint. It’s as if a toddler flung buckets around to see what would happen. The room between the sauna and spa is carpeted in a thick shag that reminds me of the 80’s - all big hair and shoulder pads.

We try the sauna first. The temperature’s hot, yet comfortable enough to sit for 15 minutes. Two sprays of orchids adorn the wooden seats. I pick one up and feel it. Fabric.

Villa Donna Spa

Next, we step into the spa pool, where a brown film clings just beneath whirling white bubbles. I snap a picture as we ponder the gunk’s origin. “Maybe they don’t use chemicals, and it’s natural, like what washes up from the sea?” asks Paula, with hope in her voice.

My friends are good sports

Our pampering day ends with a 45-minute massage. Donna B. and her husband,  Gordon, take turns massaging the five of us. The Villa Donna website mentions the couple has studied at massage therapy schools, but doesn’t clarify whether either of them earned a diploma or certificate. 

“Donna has 8 years experience in massage, having studied at the New Zealand College of Massage for a diploma in therapeutic massage.”

“Gordon studied at the New Zealand School of Massage Therapy, specialising in Sports and Relaxation Massage.”

My friends are wary of man massage. I’ve been kneaded by at least a dozen therapists, about a quarter of whom were men. I volunteer for Gordon.

His business card says, ‘Body Wizard.’ Gordon asks me if I have any trouble spots. I mention a dodgy shoulder and say my legs are tight, thanks to running.

“Oh, I hate running,” says Gordon.

“It’s great,” I insist. “I got out on the beach before sunrise this morning at low tide and it was beautiful.”

“Well, joy to the fucking world,” says Gordon.

Do they teach that at massage school? Instruct your client to lay face down with her head in the cradle and say ‘fuck.’ A lot.

Gordon searches the cause of my sore shoulder, first around my neck, then, in my forearm. “Bingo,” he says. Then, “Fuck, yeah.”

I stop counting after eight ‘fucks.’ I have a three (spoken) ‘fuck’ massage maximum. Any more than that, and I’ll out you. Like this.

“Alright, beautiful. I’m going to hold the towel up and have you roll over,” says Gordon.

I do, and Gordo exchanges one towel for a fresh, hot one. It’s a nice touch. Gordon’s hands are firm. They don’t stray to forbidden zones (though he does pull my underwear half-way down my butt as I lay face down). 

He stops in the middle of massaging my hand to examine my wedding ring. "Wow, that's a sparkler," he says.  

He ends with a head and neck massage, pauses at the end, then says, “You are beautiful. Take your time getting up.”

Beautiful, like in a Zen ‘life is beautiful way,’ right? A Buddha figure sits atop a corner desk.  Four-foot-tall Shrek and Donkey plush toys adorn another corner. Siddhartha and DreamWorks are battling for my mind. Or my body.

I quickly pull the robe back on and Gordon re-enters the room. “I want to see if I can fix that shoulder, once and for all.” He steps behind me and asks if the robe is closed at the front. It is. “Good,” he says. “You know, this job would be a hell of a lot easier if I were blind or gay.”

He kneads my shoulder, then kneels before me, his palm parallel to mine. I’m guessing he thinks he’s channeling some kind of energy. “Bingo,” he says. “Fuck, yeah.”

I change and return to the kitchen.  I compare notes with the other two guests, a mother-daughter duo. The daughter had bought the Treat Me voucher for her mum as a Mother’s Day gift. “Sorry, Mum,” she says. The Mum laughs it off. The daughter tells us, “I already know a lot about nutrition – I wish they would’ve asked about that beforehand.”

On the way home, Paula and Donna say their therapist, Donna B. had a very light touch and yanked their underwear into their butt cracks for reasons unknown. Do they teach that in massage school?

My dodgy shoulder got some relief that day (but flared up again the next). Still, I question the wisdom of spending $60 and five hours with strangers at their home in the wop-wops (boondocks). At least my friends and I have something to laugh about.

Joy to the fucking world.