tourist Posts

Thai Die Massage

Among the many reasons that Jessica and I came to live in Italy is the easier access we have to places that we’ve always wanted to visit.  So, when Jessica asked that we celebrate her 40th birthday on a beach in a warmer climate than that of Puglia, we found that our options now included locations in the eastern hemisphere.  After doing some research and considering the possible locales for our festivities, we decided to spend a month in Southeast Asia.  We made the island of Penang in Malaysia our base but, part of the appeal of this modern Southeast Asian island was its proximity to Bangkok, Thailand and, part of the appeal of Bangkok was the prospect of getting a genuine Thai massage.

Prior to our visit to Bangkok, our experience with Thai massage was limited to walking past the dozens of Thai massage parlors in Prague so we looked forward to actually having the treatments.  And, as inexpensive as the services are in Bangkok, we were able to try several different places.

Thai Massage Parlor - Prague

Thai Massage Parlor – Prague

Thai Massage Land Shark

Thai Massage Land Shark

There are decisions to be made when one elects to have a massage in Bangkok, beginning with how much you want to spend.  While a massage there is cheap relative to what you might pay in Europe or North America, the prices vary widely from, say, the equivalent of $US20 to $US70 for one hour.  The facilities are reflective of the price with some places having nothing but a thin mattress on the floor for the recipient to lie on and a drape separating one bed from the one next to it.  The more expensive places are more spa-like and offer showers and some modicum of privacy.  I came to appreciate that privacy when, in one of the less well-appointed places, I was unfortunately able to hear the guy next to me as he moaned throughout his session.  Whether it was from his agony or his ecstasy, I couldn’t tell but I did have a guess.

Another set of options for the would-be massagee is the range of “services” he/she is interested in.  If you want a hot stone massage followed by an aromatherapy session, you are going to want a higher-end spa that offers a broader menu.  Are you just interested in a basic therapeutic massage?  Then one of the many massage parlors will suit the bill.  If, on the other hand, you are looking to end your massage “happily,” just look for the places (and you won’t have to look very hard) with a half-dozen or so young girls dressed in outfits reminiscent of schoolgirl uniforms sitting at the entrances to their respective places of employment.  Bangkok even offers “prostate massages.”  I’ve had several of those, all provided by my primary care physician, and I wouldn’t recommend them, unless they come with an aged fillet and a good bottle of Bordeaux.

As for protocol, experienced spa devotees will most likely be disappointed at a perceived lack of decorum practiced by the masseuses, but I write it off as a cultural gap.  For example, one of my therapists burped through most of the hour I spent with her.  Yes, out loud, full-throated belching with not so much as an “excuse me.”  Between expulsions, she would converse with the masseuse on the other side of the piece of cloth separating the mattress on which I was lying from the one bearing her client.  And, at one point, my masseuse ran out of oil and left me to replenish her supply.

The protocols also extend to the degree to which one is clothed during the massage and here I am only referring to the one receiving the massage and not, as in the case of the famous “soapy” massage where both giver and receiver are sans clothing.  In one place, Jessica was required to wear a cotton outfit that looked to be custom-tailored for the Michelin Man.  I have no idea what purpose it served or whether is was to protect the modesty of Jessica or that of the masseuse.  In most places, though, a simple towel covering private bits is the norm.

Jessica and I have very different desires when it comes to massage.  Where I prefer a slow, gentle, relaxing experience, Jessica likes a deep tissue treatment along the lines of what they used to dish out at Abu Ghraib and she had little difficulty finding therapists who were more than willing to abuse her for a couple of hours.  Unfortunately for me, since the only Thai words I know are the ones for “thank you” and “hello,” I was utterly incapable of explaining to my masseuses that I wanted to remain an unfamiliar of pain.  “Easy,” “soft,” “gentle,” “light,” I would say to each of them and they would each nod her head in understanding and then proceed to give me the massage equivalent of a waterboarding.  I was subjected to all manner of mistreatment as elbows, knees, knuckles and, I think at one point, a Phillips-head screwdriver plunged deep into parts of my body that, until the agony began, I had quite forgotten about.

At a Buddhist school for massage: Pierce flesh here

At a Buddhist school for massage: Pierce flesh here

Vee haf vays of makink you talk!

Vee haf vays of makink you talk! Sculpture at the massage school.

As we left one establishment after I had received a particularly grueling hot oil massage, I asked Jessica how her Thai massage had been.

“It was great,” she said.  “I had a few knots that were pretty deep but she found them and worked them out.  How about yours?”

“Well, I have no hair left on my legs, I feel like someone has been sitting on my back–oh, wait, she was sitting on my back–and, I’m not quite sure where my spleen is, but I think she broke it.  On several occasions I was going to tell her where Jimmy Hoffa is buried, who the second gunman on the grassy knoll was and how to create nuclear fusion, but she didn’t really care about that stuff.  She just wanted to hurt me.  Otherwise it was great.”

“You’re such a baby,” she said sympathetically.

 

Photos (as always) by the beautiful and talented Jessica Coup.  See more of her work at www.jessicacoup.com.

7 (Really Cool) Things to Do When You (Finally) Arrive in Puglia

Okay, so maybe your idea of what’s cool and mine are different, but if you can go along with me on this, we can get past the issue.  Let’s just agree that if something is sensually pleasing, a bit rare and puts a smile on your face, it’s cool.

Having dispensed with the definitions, I present you with the 7 things you should do when you visit Puglia that meet the criteria for cool.

1.  Stay in a trullo

The Valle d’Itria area of central Puglia is the only place in the world where you can find the conical-rooved structures known as trulli and there are plenty of them around for you to rent during your visit.  The stones that are used to construct these unique buildings can be a meter or more thick and ensure that you will be cool during the heat of the summer and warm during the winter.  Legend has it that the mortarless stone roof of the trullo was designed to be quickly removed when the tax collector approached so as to decrease the property owner’s tax burden.  (Only that area under-roof was taxed.)  This is, perhaps, among the earliest and crudest attempts at tax evasion in Italy but, have no fear.  Tax avoidance has evolved into an artform since those days, one that is practiced throughout the country.

At the risk of appearing self-serving, this is the trullo you should sleep in

At the risk of appearing self-serving, this is the trullo you should sleep in

2.  Eat burrata

Just imagine a sack about the size of your fist made of mozzarella and imagine that, inside that sack is a helping of sweet cream and strands of more mozzarella.  Well, that’s exactly what burrata is and it’s luscious.  Cut the ball open and the thick, creamy filling oozes out and provides a buttery exclamation point to the fresh mozzarella and to anything else on the plate.  My favorite way to eat burrata is over fresh tomatoes drizzled with our own olive oil.  A true Pugliese will not eat burrata past the day when it was made so buy it fresh and eat it that day.

3.  Dip your toes into the Adriatic and Ionian Seas–on the same day

Have lunch in Otranto at one of the many restaurants along the Adriatic beach in the town and then make the 44 km (28 mile) drive across the heel of the boot to Gallipoli on the Ionian coast and, after touring the seaside town, have dinner.  In both places you will find the freshest of fish and other seafoods including a primo of spaghetti con vongole (spaghetti with clams).  You’ll never look at pasta the same way.

Gallipoli, on the shores of the Ionian Sea

Gallipoli, on the shores of the Ionian Sea

4.  Visit the UNESCO World Heritage site at Alberobello

If you’ve ever said to yourself, “Gee, I wish I could visit Hobbiton,” then you should schedule a trip to Alberobello.  The centro storico of the town is made up almost entirely of trulli.  At one time, these trulli were residences.  Today, however, the structures house restaurants, souvenir and craft shops and bodegas featuring Pugliese offerings.  Walk to the top of the hill to the trullo church, a beautiful example of trullo architecture taken to more modern times.

Alberobello at Christmas

Alberobello at Christmas

5.  Taste the wines of the Salento 

Some of Italy’s and, indeed, the world’s best wines are being produced in the Salento area of southern Puglia.  The red wines from primitivo, negroamaro and malvasia nero varietals can be deep and complex.  The rosatos range from light, citrus-based and crisp to medium-bodied and flavorful.  White wines from the region are made from verdeca and a white grape indigenous to the area around Locorotondo (not technically in the Salento, but close enough).

Primitivo di Manduria

Primitivo di Manduria

6.  Watch locals dance the Tarantella

The tarantella is a dance originally set to mimic a person’s reaction to the bite of the wolf spider or tarantula.  It is a high-energy display and it seems that everyone in southern Italy has mastered it.  The pizzica as the dance is called in parts of Puglia is not just a physical demonstration, but is a clearly emotive experience and simply watching the choreography unfold evokes some degree of empathy.

Dancing the tarantella

Dancing the tarantella

7.  Take a cooking class

The food of Puglia is, not unlike that of other regions of Italy, unique and more than worthy of investigation.  The pasta of Puglia is orrichiette (little ears) and is traditionally served with a thin tomato sauce and rape (broccoli rabe), a bitter green similar to chicory.  You can learn how to make the pasta though I can say from experience that forming the pasta in just such a way as to allow the sauce to collect in the hollow is an art that takes practice.  I have yet to become even modestly competent in the art.  Much of the cuisine of Puglia comes from the sea so your education will likely include the preparation of octopus, mussels and local fish such as bronzino and orata.  If you prefer a meat course, perhaps you will work with fillet of horse or donkey, both of which are popular in the towns of inland Puglia.

Octopus, Pugliese-style

Octopus, Pugliese-style

 

I could go on and typically I do, but I’ll stop with 7 items.  But please feel free to suggest others.  Just make sure that they’re cool.

Photos (as always) by the beautiful and talented Jessica Coup.  See her work at www.jessicacoup.com.