I don’t know where I first heard about Spa Dans le Noir, all I know is that I read somewhere that it shared the same concept as the restaurant of the same name. There, you eat in the dark – claiming the effect of really being able taste. At the spa, you get massaged in the dark, I suppose to really feel. But they one up the restaurant by having an all-blind team of massage therapists. It is said that they have an enhanced sense of touch and are able to offer a hypersensitive massage treatment because of it. I had been to a blind massage centre in Chiang Mai and I will say, I had one of the best massages of my life…and I’ve had a lot of massages.
So, one sunny Thursday in Paris, my husband and I arrived at Dans Le Noir. Ben was going to wander around Montmatre while I went to the spa but stopped in to use he washroom (Paris is a city bountiful with many luxuries but public toilets are not one of them). This meant he also got to meet my practitioner who happened to be a handsome, broad-shouldered man. He was dressed in all-black paired with dark black wrap around Oakley sunglasses. He walked stiffly towards me and introduced himself in the softest, gentlest voice that I couldn’t even hear his name. Of course, this could’ve been sorted out with a simple “Pardon?” but this would mark the beginning of my avoidable of errors that day.
Naked and Confused
I started to realize this when my therapist showed Ben to the women’s changing room and me to the men’s washroom. This was sorted out quickly enough but for reasons unknown, I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty for complicating things. I was told to undress and put my thing in one of the change room lockers. In the locker was a pair of disposable slippers, disposable undies and two large towels. Hmmm, no robe. I decided to wrap one of the towels around me and I rejoined my massage therapist who was patiently waiting for me outside the change room.
Then he led me a pitch black hallway. This was a strange experience because when you don’t know where you are going and you can’t see and you’re caught clutching the wall with one arm and holding your towel around your body in the other. We came to a wall of hooks where he told me to hang my towel before entering what would be the steam room. Hang my towel? “Oui” he replied. But I was naked under there! I realized I did not know the French word for naked. He waited. Maybe this is the thing to do? Maybe they don’t want everyone soiling up all the towels in the steam? Maybe I’m being a prude? He waited. So, I did what any polite, unable to communicate person would do: not cause a fuss. I stripped off the towel and hung it up and said “alors”. We then entered into the outside of the steam room area where I understood half of what he said to me. Partially because now I was standing naked in front of a very handsome, fully-clothes man in a dimly lit room. Partially because the battling spirits in my head were preventing me from paying attention. Am I supposed to be naked? You’re being stupid, he’s blind, he can’t see you! What if he’s not that blind? You remember those awareness ads about different degrees of blind? You’re being ridiculous, who cares if he can see you, its just a body – stop being so bourgeois! But what if someone else comes in sees you and they’re not blind? Oh, It’ll be fine – they’ll be naked too! What if they aren’t? Maybe they’ll have something on like a robe. Maybe your locker just happened to be missing one and you were too scared to ask! They’ll think you’re crazy! Or…or…some sort of pervert!
Then my nightmare happened. From the corner of my eye I saw a crack of bright yellow light. It sliced through the dark and begin to expand. Finally, a door flung ope and both me and my massage therapist turned around – and he stopped speaking. What should I do? My reflexes did the thinking for me so I grabbed my bits and yelled “don’t look!” in English. For all my self-talk, I was indeed bourgeois at heart.
“Its okay, I’m your husband,” Ben’s voice replied. He had just come out of the washroom. “STILL”, I insisted silly. It’s a weird feeling being the only naked woman in a dark room with two fully dressed men. “Go! Get outta here!” I whined. Ben laughed. My poor massage therapist, I couldn’t tell if he understood what was happening or if he was just as overwhelmed as I was. All I could do was laugh and he smiled a kind smile. After that, we clumsily worked out that I was to steam and he would come get me when he was ready.
In the steam room I tried to ground and breath in the thick, moist air. Okay, you came to a spa to relax – and all this anxiety if your own doing. I breathed deeply and this seemed to help. He then retrieved me and he showed me to the massage room. Another strange thing: there was no sheet to cover me on it. It was just a bed with a towel and no top sheet. I was still wearing disposable underwear that was now wet from the steam room. I hate sitting in damp but I also didn’t know if I could take them off.
While I know enough French to get around, they don’t teach you the word for disposable underwear in high school French class. I entertained the idea of just taking them off hoping he wouldn’t notice. But alas, it was risky. What if he did a bit of glut massage and felt my bare bottom? Maybe it would be taken as grossly inappropriate? I imagined him raising his eyebrows from behind his Oakley wrap arounds mid-effleurage in shock. No, it was too horrifying a thought so I kept them on, wet and all.
The massage itself was good. So conscientiously done that you could feel he was being very deliberate with his motions. I wondered how long it took him to memorize his techniques. As a trainer myself, I rely a lot on visually showing staff what to do and they rely a lot on taking notes. Both, which I imagine are harder to do when blind. I imagined that he would have had to have been guided through it manually to memorize the techniques – and who knows how long that takes.
At first it was hard to relax. While I had been to a blind spa in Thailand, this was very different. In Thailand, clothing is kept on, and you are taken into a lit room that is not unlike someone’s living room. Plus there were about six other blind massage therapists working on clients in the same room, each at their own stations. Everyone clothed. Of course, my massage therapist was incredibly professional but as a woman, I think we are conditioned to be spooked when we find ourselves naked, alone and uncovered with strangers in the dark.
I usually I’m very assertive and give lots of feedback to massage therapists. Coaching them with: “More pressure! Can we raise my head? That’s perfect!”. This time I simply said “j’aime la massage tres fort” but I didn’t have the energy to search for the words tell him I wanted a little more pressure in French. At that moment I felt so much empathy for Toronto immigrants to don’t speak English. Intellectually we know how tough it is to have language barriers, its literally a barrier between you and another, but here I was, in a spa – a complete luxury – stressed out and bewildered by my inability to communicate.
Stop thinking, I told myself. And stop thinking about immigration policy and much needed support programs! Finally he won me over with a good foot rub and I started to unwind. I guess sometimes you just have to surrender to the fact that you just don’t know. And maybe he felt the same way too.