Love massages- holiday novelty ones especially.
This year, Italy and Gina. It’s South Puglia, so I’m thinking feelgood rustic, not matcha foot spritz.
Yep, the little rooftop side room with linen curtain comes with no frills; whale music’s a stranger. But she’s in a snappy, professional uniform, which is a nice touch.
And that’s what she’s got. Swishy circular motions. Gentle leg gliding. I get it. It’s a Sweet-Smiley, not a Sorty-Outy. Lovely. 30 degree tunes drifting up from the terrace bar, splashy pool noises.
Gina’s probably the owner’s sister, oiling my back using a pot from the family’s yield. She applies imperceptible pressure to places that must mean something to her.
Soft and sensual, it sets me off on a wave of Ellen Degeneres fantasy, before I hear, ‘Breeda.’
‘Si, breeda. Ah, how you say… respiri.’
‘Oh,’ I chortle. ‘Breathe.’
So I suck in a big, slow gulp of balmy Italian summer, when… WHAT THE UNHOLY SPEEDO-SPORTING CHRIST WAS THAT?
Pain. Confusion. Was there a car accident? Where are my vertebrae? On the road, scattered like dislodged piano keys?
No, I’m in the room, just me and Gina. Has she…? How could she…? Is this a skull massage, and I failed to notice she’s bald?
All I know is Gina’s using a body part up and down the length of my spine (possibly pre-loved by Oscar Pistorius, surely with 10 local relatives lending their strength) and I don’t know how to play this game. Does it stop when I yelp? Is that when she’s won? Or is that the ramp-up signal, and she’ll lean in further?
Irrelevant, while my eyes bulge mutely from my head. At the point of contact, I’m the depth of a Delia Smith pre-baked scone- a cartoon Tom and Gerry Tom emerging flat from the cement road roller.
I turn over, and Nice Gina is back. Round-and-round-the-garden-like-a-teddy-bear on the palm of my hand, like both of us don’t know she’s a direct descendent of Hitler’s randy visit to Rome in 1942.
My back’s in spasm, which she mirrors in juddery petit mal seizure movements up my arms. Is this her customised style? What’s next, eyeball crochet?
Then, hands around the throat. Not an hour since, we’ve been discussing the challenges faced by local police landed with Big News crime. ‘They’re not used to dealing with it,’ we agree. ‘Stolen burrata’s their speed.’
I regret my poor Italian. I have no yen for a ham ciabatta. I need to know, ‘Have mercy’, or ‘Leave some clues’.
She goes easy on my double chins, where I hoped she’d prove herself, but is now heading down to my stomach, and Bad Gina- Bitter Gina, who was bullied at school for eating too much gelato in the piazza after church on Sundays- is back. She’s pummelling hard, though I don’t recall her asking if I might be pregnant, or even slightly fond of my internal organs.
It’s a wrap. She pit-pats the corners of my mouth, trying to make them turn up. Gives my earlobes a squeeze.
I check in to myself. I breeda. I’m intacta.
She speaks Italian. We shrug. She grabs her iPhone to show me Google translate, which reads, ‘Wrist pain’.
Good God, woman, what does that mean? You’ve left me with some? You’ve got it, and would have meant business if you didn’t? Is this the reason you used your skull?
Any which way, she’s sorry, which may help with the night terrors.
We enjoy- what, a sisterly moment of connection?, a shared trauma eye-lock?- as I make a bid for the exit.
‘Now, relaxa,’ she says kindly, turning to re-arrange her instruments.