column was published by Harriet Welty Rochefort in Paris Pages,
April in Paris is here and and
if you didn't know it from the buds on the trees, you'd know
it from the covers on the French women's magazines in the newsstands.
Every couverture, it would seem,
features a fresh young flat-bellied blonde looking out at you
challengingly. Next to her is some title screaming that she has
lost four zillion pounds in two days.
In spite of my cynicism, I found
myself staring at those magazine covers more and more. When,
one fine morning, I stepped on the scale, I decided it was time
to take action if I was ever going to look like that pulchritudinous
creature. Nothing drastic, mind you, no sweating, jogging, push-ups
or anything of a strenuous nature. No, some light eating and
a change of scenery, I was sure, would be just the ticket.
So, speaking of tickets, I bought
one: to St.-Jean-de-Luz, a pretty town of 12,000 in the southwest
of France, where there is a "thalassotherapie" institute
right on the sea. If you are wondering what that big word, "thalassotherapie",
means, the translation is "seawater therapy". Also
called hydrotherapy, this technique of using sea water to cure
people's ills was discovered by Frenchman Louison Bobet, a Tour
de France cyclist who was injured and healed by the seawater
of his native Brittany. He was so impressed that he decided to
promote the concept in a big way. That was in the 1960s and now
there are fifty thalassotherapy centers all over France's coasts.
What do you do at these centers?
There's a cure for almost everything. You can spend a week focusing
on your legs, or your back, or your beauty. Young mothers can
go to relax and get back in shape after having had a baby - and
bébé can go along! There's also a cure for people
who seriously want to lose weight. Many of the people though
are not there for that purpose. They are there because they want
to be pampered and coddled. Some people do go to lose weight.
They also want to be pampered and coddled. I was one of them.
My cure was the general one called
"bien-être" which translates to "well-being".
My well-being started out with breakfast in bed with the newspaper
(hey, you need a good start to the day, right?), and two well-balanced,
aesthetically pleasing light meals taken in a spacious dining
room overlooking the sea. This being France, even the light food
looked and tasted scrumptious. The menus were heavy on fish and
vegetables which were quite good but what I looked forward to
were the desserts. Yes, desserts! How about a "biscuit roulé
à l'orange", a chocolate cake with an orange filling,
or a "clafoutis de fruit d'hiver", a baked fruit pie,
or my favorite, a "fondant de chocolate à l'orange",
another chocolate-orange combination. I kept wishing I could
bring the chef home with me!
When not at meals, I was immersed
in mud baths, or various other kinds of baths such as the "underwater
shower" in which you are in a huge bathtub with an attendant
squirting a hose at your ankles, back, shoulders. Fine by me!
There was also a hammam I hung out in as much as my body would
allow me to, and a sauna and a big pool, not to mention the entire
beach outside for walking. I enjoyed four days of this unbelievable
and unusual attention to my little self. The recommended amount
of time is six days and more if one can. It sounds like a lot
but when you think that the French have five weeks of vacation,
this week only represents ONE of them!
When not immersing myself in
water, I strolled around in the streets of St.-Jean-de-Luz whose
claim to fame is that it was here that the Sun King married the
Spanish Infante, Maria-Theresa. Other, more prosaic, Spanish
influences are the "bodegas" or small restaurants selling
"bocadillos", tasty looking sandwiches I couldn't touch
because I was being serious about eating light food. Other things
I resisted: the gateau Basque, a sweet cake which must have been
oh so good with a cup of coffee or tea, and the tourons, an egg
white and almond confection I was dying to try.
It was a good thing I resisted
such temptations, though. Four days later, I weighed five pounds
less. As I boarded the train for Paris, I decided that next spring
I would disregard those covers on women's magazines. Instead,
I'll head straight back to my "thalasso" which I fully
intend to make a yearly outing.
Maybe I can give that skinny
young thing on the cover of "Elle" some competition.
At least I'll have a good time trying.