That Spa Black Magic and the Joy of Cooking: Are You Being Pampered, or Basted?

“Plan Now. Relax Soon.”  


The Concierge of a fancy resort has sent me this “Quick! Relax, Goddamnit!” email.  My husband and I are looking forward to attending a wedding at the resort next month.

The Concierge urges me to make “pre-arrival” relaxation arrangements, which isn’t all that relaxing, of course. But he warns me that the popular relaxing things fill up fast.

The quest for serenity is dog-eat-dog these days, and big business. “Shangri-la” (not its real name) is one of 21,300 spas in the U.S.  They’re a $13 billion a year enterprise, and attract 160 million visits annually.

I browse the 16-page brochure that describes scores of spa treatments to choose from.

In language that stands fearless before hyperbole,  Shangri-la’s catalog entices with “Spa Journeys.”

Each journey promises epiphanal delights. Who can choose between seeing the face of God in a “Miracle Facial,” or a spiritual communion with Thomas Jefferson, achieved by re-tracing his ablutions and soaking in what amounts to his ancient, dirty bath water at the Mineral Springs?

The “Secrets” treatment will reveal truths. It’s “a journey of psychological and holistic awakening, with the latest age-defying facial. Textures, fragrances, and sounds will be used” in spa black magic to rejuvenate my face.

The “Lemon Ginger Crush” treatment is an “experience” that will “leave you feeling as though you are on a heavenly cloud.”

I picture myself, sitting on that cloud, with the Almighty.  “Say, you smell pleasingly like Lemon Ginger crush,” He will compliment….

Back to earth. My relaxation options are giving me choice paralysis.

Reading along, I detect a hint of Druidic paganism. The “Cherry Blossom Ritual" lets you “enjoy your own Rite to Spring, with this sensual explosion.”

“The Highlands Maple Sugar Wrap,” likewise, is “created to honor the opening of the sugar maple trees. Your treatment begins with a maple sugar body scrub followed by a Swiss shower.” I had no idea that showers had nationalities!  “A luxurious honey body mask will then be applied and you will be wrapped in a warm cocoon of linens. Your body will be moisturized with a maple sugar lotion.”

It sounds like pancakes. Am I a spa patron, or what’s for breakfast?  If you didn’t know better, it wouldn’t be clear if you were being pampered or cooked; luxuriated or marinated; served, or served.

I pull my Joy of Cooking off the shelf.  

I read Shangri-la’s “Butter Treatment:” “A natural butter is melted and applied to your skin to help hydrate its outer layer, leaving it soft and supple.” This is known to chefs as basting, “a method for retaining the juiciness of meat by moistening its surface with melted fat,” Joy of Cooking instructs.  

And that’s not the only treatment that reads more like a recipe. Consider the “Herbal Wrap” that encloses your body in linens that have “been steamed in a fragrant blend of natural herbs.”

Chefs would recognize this as having your flesh prepared en papillote.  “This is a delightful way to prepare delicate…foods [or spa patrons],” explains Joy of Cooking. “The dish [spa patron], served in the parchment paper [herbal-infused linen wraps] in which it was heated, retains the aromas until ready to eat.”

If you’d prefer to be brined, go for the “Sportsman’s Soak,” which immerses the weary [soon to be filleted] Sportsman in “water with the invigorating properties of Dead Sea salts.”

If you’re Hannibal Lecter and you want your meat [victim] prepared au jus, cooked and served “in their own juices,” with just a pleasant hint of a raspberry infusion, you can treat them to a “Raspberry Relaxer.” It’s a “luxurious application of a lightly-scented raspberry oil. To conclude this experience [their] body will be wrapped and allowed to naturally re moisturize itself”—or, au jus.

For the health-conscious, you can be steamed or poached, a heart-friendly preparation that happens in the Hot Springs [kitchen], where you can steam in a “tub of 104-degree mineral water… The aroma of the herbs [from a bouquet garni] will clear your thoughts [and delicately season your flesh].”

Says Joy of Cooking, “never underestimate the power of a marinade.”

Although “aromatic…liquids are easily abused [by, say, cannibalistic pagan spa owners],” marinades are a wonderful means of “spreading flavor by immersion. The soaking period may vary from only a few minutes to many hours [depending on how much the meat/client wants to spend],” and the marinade will nicely “tenderize tough [middle-aged meat/client] foods,” and “make bland foods [meat/clients] more interesting.”

Like any PC chef, Shangri-la uses only indigenous, organic ingredients—“flora and fauna that grow in the gorge”—in their herbal-infused baths [marinades].

Or, like chefs who “infuse” meat with herbs and spices before cooking, you can “immerse yourself in the aromas of a Southern orchard harvest” with a “sweet vanilla sugar scrub, a moisturizing apricot body mask,” wrapped for “optimal hydration [wink, wink—your meat will be juicy].”

This is a luxury “spa journey”? No way. It’s Hansel and Gretel and the witch’s oven, retro-fitted for plump, honeysuckle-infused children, or middle-aged hacks with grizzled flesh that must be rehydrated with buttercup and maple sugar.

This is where, in a pagan ritual to mark the “Rite to Spring,” I will receive the “ultimate in attention” by becoming a cannibalized sacrifice who’s been infused with only the best indigenous ingredients of buttercups and sunflowers;  marinated in dogwood, ginseng, and maple sugar;  brined in Dead Sea salts;  basted in “natural butter;”  slathered in mud;  wrapped en papillote in a cocoon of herbal-infused linens and served au jus to appease the Maple Sugar, Cherry Blossom demi-gods of the Highlands.

Oh well.  I sign up for the deluxe “Shangri-la Voyage” treatment, anyway. I want my flesh nicely infused and marinated for the wedding.

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