My wife has felt for some time that the skin of my face needed some serious scrubbing to stomp out the blackheads that marred my ample nose. Not really daring to hope, she offered to pay for a facial treatment at a beauty parlour. To her delight, I took a deep breath, set my jaw manfully and accepted her offer.
After lunch today, I took a short walk from the office to a school for beauty care specialists and spa staff in central Stockholm. The place was full of young women wearing prim white nurse-like uniforms and a lot of make-up. I was expecting to sit for an hour in a hair dresser's chair, listening to podcasts, while someone kneaded my nose. To my surprise, I was instead immediately handed a dressing gown and a pair of plastic slippers, and ordered to strip to my undies. "But I'm just having a face thingy", I spluttered. They knew. They explained that the treatment also involved a backrub. So, soon I was sitting there in the waiting area sofa, wearing only my undies, a short dressing gown and a pair of slippers, feeling like Bill Murray.
The beauty care student who would clean up my face was a rubenesque 20-year-old of Turkish extraction. She introduced herself as Selma and led the way into a large well-lit room with several examination tables on which women of various ages were lying swaddled in sheets while having their faces scrubbed and coated in products. It is a funny feature of beauty care lingo that anything you can buy in bottles or tubes and smear on your face is called a "product".
I too ended up on one of the tables after an uncomfortable moment when I had to get rid of my dressing gown before slipping my winter-pale body under the sheet. Then my caretaker gave me a very nice backrub, had me lie on my back, put cotton swabs on my eyelids, shot steam in my face, slathered it in various products, and, yes, kneaded my nose mercilessly. We had a nice conversation about our lives and careers and loved ones, and I was a bit nervous about my hands. For all intents and purposes, I was at a massage parlour, which was not what I had expected. I felt that if I kept my hands under the sheet, the nose-kneading girl might think I was surreptitiously grabbing myself, and if I kept them on top of the sheet, she might think I was going to grab her. But it passed.
Selma said that she loved the course, that only one of her co-students was a guy and that he was queer, that everybody on duty was required to wear make-up, and she told me what "spa" means. She had been taught that it's an acronym: Salus Per Aquam, "healthy by water". This would go back to the old superstition about healing springs and balneotherapy. Checking this up, I learned that it's an erroneous etymology: "spa" originally simply referred to the Belgian town of Spa whose hot springs were known already to the Romans.
The session ended with Selma massaging my face for ages, which seemed a little pointless, strangely intimate and actually kind of hot, and then she massaged my hands and lower arms, which felt absurd. Then, an hour and a half after I lay down, I was told to get up, flashed everyone in the room yet another glimpse of my claim to hunkiness before getting into the gown again, said goodbye to Selma and went to get my clothes back on.
All in all, an interesting and not unpleasant experience. And my nose? It's very clean. And it's pitted with clean, deep, empty little mine shafts, all clearly visible. You didn't think blackheads actually go away just because you remove their contents, did you?
[More blog entries about beautycare, spa, Sweden; skönhetsvård.]