|Photo: National Geographic Russia|
In most places with less developed economies, less centralization, less chain-ification, less commercial legislation/enforcement of laws, you have a more stratified consumer economy than in the US.
In the US, if you want some juice, for example, you go to the grocery store and there are 100 brands to choose from, but they all have approximately the same quality, you're sure that you won't get sick from any of them, and their prices are all within a couple dollars of each other. There are also maybe some fancier juices - cold pressed kale carrot or some Jamba Juice concoction.
But what if you want something else? You don't need high quality, or fancy, you want something super basic and cheap and you're willing to drink your juice from an old Coke bottle even if it doesn't have FDA approval, but the grandma who sold it to you from the side of the rode was super sweet so it's probably fine - and actually even tastes more natural and fresh than the fanciest of cold presses - as long as you don't get food poisoning...
|and this is just the cold juices...|
I tell you all this to explain how I ended up getting a 20 GEL ($7.58) massage this Tuesday. There are plenty of places here to get a high quality massage, spas and hotels, but they come at a price! I could get a $50 massage once every 2-3 months maybe, but a $7.58 massage - twice a month! The main problems that come with these lower end products is quality and finding them. You know where to find the high end things - there are websites and facebook pages and big stores full of brand name items. The lower end stuff is trickier. There are signs everywhere on the street for massages but most of them are just fronts for prostitution, so to get something legitimate, you mostly have to rely on word of mouth. So when a friend of mine (thanks Alex!) said she got a pretty good massage for 20 GEL, I was excited to check it out!
That is how I found myself jumping onto a rickety yellow Bogdan in a rainstorm on Tuesday night headed towards Lamika's house. I called her when I got the Domino's, as she'd told me to on the phone the day before.
"SAMANTA?! HI, HI" she shouted into the receiver
"Hi, Lamika? I'm here, at the Domino's"
"WHERE ARE YOU? SAMANTA?"
"Hi Lamika, it's Samantha! I'm here, at the Domino's - how can I get to your apartment?"
"It's a little further down the street - by the new cafe [it was a Dunkin Donuts]"
I looked up and saw a small blonde woman waving frantically from her balcony.
I made my way up to her apartment, where she was standing, smiling in the open doorway, wearing a tank top, linen pants, and an apron-type over skirt. In the front room there was a spread of fruits laid out, and when I declined she led be into the massage room/her bedroom/second half of the living room separated by a sheet hanging from the ceiling. There was a massage table set up on one side of the room, and Lamika worked quickly to strip it of the sheets from the last client. As she ran around the apartment doing I don't know what, she told me to sit down, relax, without telling me where exactly to sit, so I picked one of the several chairs near the massage table and sat down.
|a fair approximation of Lamika's apartment|
I was trying to play it cool, but I was actually super nervous. After a few minutes of me trying to look really occupied with taking off my jacket and earrings, Lamika stopped flitted around and asked me - "полное, да?" (polnoe, da?) The thing about language is that when you are nervous, you stop thinking...and while sometimes this makes your instincts kick in and you just start speaking like a pro, other times you get super confused and mix up the words polnoe (full) and golaya (naked). So Lamika verified that I wanted a full body massage, and I thought she was asking if I would be naked, which, obviously I would be, so I took it as a sign that I should have already stripped and she was waiting for me! So, without further hesitation, I started to take off my clothes just right there next to the table in her bedroom. She sort of cocked her head then turned around and occupied herself with untying and retying her apron over skirt thing. It wasn't until I had awkwardly slithered on the table (crinkly from the layer of plastic wrap under the cloth) and under the blanket that I realized what she had actually said...but never mind, I was here now and that was the ultimate goal. I hoped she would just think I was super cool and confident and not concerned about nudity.
"Music, yes?" I nodded and Lamika went over to her boombox (yes, it was an actual boombox), and twisted the dial until she found Radio Monte Carlo. At this point, I strongly recommend you click THIS LINK to get the full effect of what my massage was like, listening to a rotation of Romanian beach club music and electronic remixes of Destiny’s Child, Kylie Minogue, and Madonna. Not exactly ocean waves or rain sounds, but it added its own sort of ambiance. It perhaps also added a sense of urgency, a driving rhythm, because the massage itself was pretty good, but her hands worked extremely fast. She probably spent as much time on each area as any other masseuse would, but used twice as many strokes. She also employed the favorite technique of children giving their dads massages everywhere: the karate chop method. I sort of thought that wasn’t a real professional technique but I guess it is... The only thing that I was really not happy with was that the table was too short for my legs, which is really no one's fault but genetics for making my legs awkwardly long...so I came away with a pair of bruises across my shins where the edge of the table bit into them.
Throughout the massage, Lamika's primary concern was clearly not my modesty, or that my skin not touch the plastic table underneath the cloth, but that I don’t get cold. She frequently shifted the little space heater and halfway through the massage remembered she had a thicker blanket and brought it in to lay across me. I think this obsession with staying warm comes from her being super Slavic - she also refused to accept money directly from my hand, insisting that I lay it on the table, which is a superstition I had heard about in Russia but never actually seen anyone take seriously!
After the massage, she just said “relax” and then sat on her bed (4-5 feet from the table) and got on her laptop. When I asked if I could get up, she said sure, but didn’t leave the room or turn to give me privacy like she had when I undressed. Instead she came closer and held the sheets so they didn’t fall off the table as I got up. At least I was wearing underwear, but although I'm not really a shy person, I definitely felt awkward that my top was totally exposed, just, like, free swinging in the breeze, and Lamika just smiled at me and said “tell Alex hello for me!” It was great. Also, I'm definitely still not clear on the European concept of boobs. I know that in magazines and TV, boobs are often not blurred out like they are in the US. On the other hand, it’s not like nude beaches are common in this part of Europe or women wear transparent shirts (like in Spain, wow that shocked 14-year old me!). But I guess this massage was like the sulfur baths - we’re all ladies!
Three days later, my back muscles were still a bit sore - in a good way. By the fourth day I had completely recovered. I can see myself going back to Lamika! Maybe once a month. Not as a relaxing end of week spa treatment, more like a medical procedure, but definitely not a bad use of $7.58!