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Spa, Italian-Style

I dragged myself kicking to the most beautiful new spa in the world, the Terme de' Medici, in the most beautiful place in the world, the Val d'Orcia, in Tuscany, little knowing I would have to add a yearly stay there to my short list of essential addictions.

I have always left the body to fend for itself, but now it demanded to be taken on holiday. The instant I accepted, however, it began to remonstrate, Let's not go—let's go somewhere where we can keep our clothes on. Oh, to be able to keep one's clothes on. The world must be fairly divided between those who like to take them off and those who don't. I belong firmly in the second category, having sadly neglected activities pursued by those in the first, with one or two exceptions.

The dialogue with my body went on for days, becoming an altercation, then a cajolement. Look, I said, the countryside is beautiful there: pale, silvery-green tufts of olive trees in slightly curved rows; gentle hills; allées of green cypress that emphasize the graceful design of those hills, their golden yellows, hay yellows, burnt-sienna yellows. Look, I said, you will be able to bathe in thermal waters with such properties—the list of their miraculous powers made me think of Lourdes—that all skin and eye complaints will be healed, aches and pains diminished, sinus and other respiratory problems alleviated, high blood pressure lowered. You will practically be reborn there, I said, and it will all happen in one week—okay, six days. Finally, the body bowed its head obediently.

There I was at last, at Fonteverde, the Hotel Terme de' Medici's spa, where the walls were plastered by master Sicilian plasterers in a delectable, pistachio-mint-dill mayonnaise-green of a green with a bit of whipped cream mixed in. The lights were not so low, but lowish, and take off one's clothes one had to, although a young man by the name of Paolo had gingerly set a little plastic packet on the massage table containing a pair of paper panties that covered just the thought of being covered and little else.

I slipped them on gratefully as at the last moment the body threatened to bolt for the door, up a flight of stairs, through the long corridor leading from the spa to the hotel and passing various pools, out the splendid arches Ferdinando I de' Medici built in 1607 in Renaissance Neoclassical harmonious perfection, through the town of San Casciano, and into the nearest elegant taxi, such as the silver SUV that had brought me from the tiny railway station at Chiusi, a town graced by a little museum with one of the most important collections of Etruscan artifacts in Italy. The thought of the museum brought me back to my senses. The Etruscans made it quite clear that to have gone to the Other World was far from restful: on every sarcophagus they are depicted reclining but propped up on one elbow, most uncomfortably, as though wishing to be prepared, after their demise, for any new shocks coming their way. Here was my body's chance to be made whole again—it was not to be missed.

I was to have my first treatment with a personage who had been described to me in a missive as "the incomparable Dipu." I remembered the name from an article I had read the previous summer: people flocked to him from all parts of Italy for his Ayurvedic massages—famous people, people whose names he was indignant the papers had printed, he told me when I met him, since he had expressly stated in the interviews that his clients' privacy was to be respected.

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