Friday, April 2, 2010

Cringing When Your Italian Masseuse Is A Masseur

I am aware that the correct term is massage therapist. I have the ultimate respect for this profession. I believe in the healing power of human touch as a medical discipline. But for the purpose of this cringe incident, I must differentiate between masseuse and masseur.

I was fortunate to spend my tenth anniversary on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. I accomplished this by browbeating my husband into a repeat honeymoon trip, a trip he happily agreed to in 1998 as we frolicked in post-wedded bliss amid trailing bougainvillea. In the ten years that followed, Marty realized the notion of returning to Italy for two weeks when we had two children under the age of five, a mortgage, and various other thirty-something responsibilities was just the na├»ve musings of clueless newly married twenty-somethings.

But I never let the deal die. Every June 6th, I mentioned the tenth anniversary trip. It was real. It was happening. Life is too short. We had learned that in ten years, right? On the ninth June 6th, I discussed administrative issues. I would book the tickets using frequent flyer miles, and how generous and thoughtful of me, I had found a sweet hotel at half the price of where we stayed for our honeymoon. Nana was on board to babysit for the entire trip.

“Are you really serious?” he asked, dumbfounded.

Marty is a man of his word, even ten years later. He finally relaxed as he looked out at the Mediterranean, flanked by bougainvillea once again. The best salami sandwich ever and a good-sized bottle of Peroni helped too, as we took in the view from our room balcony.

I went to the front desk to schedule a massage appointment at the spa on the morning of our anniversary. It did occur to me to ask the gender of the therapist, but somehow the effort to defy the image of picayune American tourist felt more important. I knew we looked overtly American (Marty’s Yankees cap might be a first clue), but I didn’t want to seem rude, inflexible, unsophisticated. So I made the appointment without any hesitation, without any question except what time I should present myself. Boy, I would present myself.

Positano, Italy is probably one of the most photographed places in the world. Old, brightly colored stucco buildings are stacked crookedly on cliffs that lead down to the sea. The rocky beachfront is littered with brightly colored row boats that support the fishing industry, which is second to tourism. The experience of Positano feels like being stuck in a postcard. The Villa Franca Hotel stood at the very top of a winding road. The lobby is airy and decorated in blues and whites. The floors are cool sparkling white tile, the kind that feel great under bare feet. Their spa is in the basement. It felt like I was walking into a dungeon. There were votive candles lit in the hallway to promote some sort of ambience, but the effect felt threatening. I put my hand out to lead the way.

“Mrs. Ryan?” a deep, heavily-accented male voice called. A very large, barefoot man stepped out from a shadow or cave.

I’m not sure I answered.

“I am Pasquale.” he informed. He moved his arm gracefully to gesture that I step into a tiny room off the dark hallway. The “treatment” room had more light. I could now see Pasquale’s face. He was not menacing. I took a breath. I consulted with myself. I can handle this. I am a modern woman. This will be a wonderful, relaxing, massage experience. Pasquale is not a gigolo. A gigolo would cost much less than 90 Euros, right?

“You getta undress. And you laya faca-down on the table.” He left me in the room and promised to reappear shortly. Pretty standard massage procedure. I followed his direction.

When I turned to arrange myself on Pasquale’s massage table, I discovered there were no linens. No top sheet. No soft blanket to hide my nakedness. This was a QUANDARY. I had accepted that a strange, muscular, Italian man was going to rub my entire body with oils, but I had not expected that I would be entirely nude for the event. My eyes searched for hidden sheets in the room. I could hear Pasquale approaching the door. I dropped and rolled onto the table, face-down, like a Navy Seal. This was screwed up.

“Ok, Mrs. Ryan,” Pasquale said in a serene, spa-voice. The whole “Mrs. Ryan” greeting was disconcerting. I felt about five years old in this vulnerable position with Pasquale, and I never really got used to being called “Mrs.” anyway, even after ten years of marriage. Was I going to have to flip over at some point? Where the hell is the soft sheet, Pasquale?

My massage with Pasquale was not relaxing. For the first half-hour, I anticipated the turn-over. When I did turn over (no sheet ever appeared), I kept my eyes welded shut. I would have been more relaxed riding the cliff-hugging roads of the Amalfi Coast unsecured in the back of a fruit truck.

Pasquale started doing a figure-eight maneuver around my chest. This was definitely not a technique I was familiar with in the states. I willed myself not to jump off the table and run upstairs to Marty, who was checking work email on his laptop by WiFi in the breezy lobby.

I wasn’t scared. Pasquale was as gentlemanly as could be, considering I was naked and he was rubbing my breasts. I was just incredibly exposed, and I fret, an unsophisticated American tourist. I was cringing bigtime.

I thanked Pasquale when our time together was over, and once dressed, climbed upstairs to find Marty. He was clicking away on computer keys.

“Hi,” he smiled. “How was it?”

“It was interesting. I just went to second base with some dude named Pasquale.”

“Hmmm. Happy Anniversary, Trace.”


  1. Love this story! Cringing and laughing while reading. Hilarious!

  2. Great story.... Oh my!

  3. love,love,love this story...I was laughing so loud while I read it in bed that hubby asked me to keep it down!

  4. this one is amazing. do you think this is the standard out there or was he looking for love?

  5. I'm thinking Standard Operating Procedure....

  6. Tracy,
    I don't even know your mother but boy can I relate. Gotta love that woman!