Snowbird Song

The polar vortex drives the author to warmer climes.

Illustration by Chris Gall.

It was the first freeze of ’14. an arctic front had swept down on the East Coast. The temperature in Richmond was hovering around zero, and the wind chill factor approaching -10 F.

The boondoggle to present my book The Feud: The Hatfields & McCoys at the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach, Florida, in the first week of January was looking more and more fortuitous. It had already been good enough to entice my wife, Jessica, to accompany me on the road—never a given. Leaving four kids at home is more trouble than it’s worth, she had often explained. As a reward, I arranged a day trip to Eau Spa, which billed itself a “42,000-square foot water playground … created to indulge your every whim.”

Whims being what they are, that’s a pretty big claim, but I was willing to test it out.

Inside the Manalapan (near South Palm Beach) spa, which is part of the elegant and blingy London-owned Eau Palm Beach Resort, we were greeted in a bronze rotunda by a hostess, who effused on the spa mantra, “pause, play, perfect,” and gave us lit candles to float in the lobby fountain while making a wish. Dubious of New Age malarkey but under the close gaze of our hostess, I imagined a shared eye roll with Jessica. Veterans of sports massage, we were already a bit uncertain about the glitz factor.

Escorted to our separate areas, we had time to sauna, steam and soak before a couple’s massage. Off went the clothes and on went fluffy white robes and flip-flops, both easily slipped in and out of. In the nooks of the sauna, stone statues of pelicans gaze through 180 degree heat, which almost instantly produces good honest sweat beads. (I have always felt like a steam bath was cheating.) After rinsing in one of the three-jet showers, I eschewed the rubber ducks and water guns (the “play” part of the mantra, I presume) and drifted placidly in the blue-tiled pool, like a floating island, from one bubble blast to the next and through the center. A six-fixture laser light system cycled through the soothing end of the color spectrum, and tropical rainfall from the ceiling pattered on the turbulent sea and me. Next it was into the steam room and then onto a heated tile chaise longue beside a shelf of bobble heads, including John Wayne and Tom Brady.  

The spa time—although apart—allowed us to detox in many ways. (We agreed that the warm chaise longue was an unexpected pleasure.) By the time we were both led into a “villa” for side-by-side massages, we were as relaxed as noodles. We both opted for a deep tissue workout, as well as aromatherapy and hot stones. These smooth volcanic stones, heated to just below scalding, give a tingling burn-and-ice effect, and are thoroughly relaxing. Make that mashed noodles. My willowy young massage therapist, dug in with her elbows and arms, as if she were trying to deflate an air mattress. An hour vanished in the blink of an eye.

Despite the fact that it was 70 degrees and drizzling, we took to the outdoors during our next break, lounging in the “Eauzone,” which on sunny days is a garden of delights, with wading pools, chaises, cocoon chairs suspended over water, a giant chess set, private cabanas and cocktail service. Given the weather, we snowbirds had it to ourselves. Out there somewhere, 7,000 airline flights had been canceled due to frigid temperatures, and travelers were camped in airports or grinding it out in rental cars for hours on end. Seventy-five and drizzling was just fine with us.

A new attendant led us to our Orchid Garden Villa, where you can choose your own sound track and lighting spectrum—relaxing or stimulating—and yo-yos are provided for your diversion. She filled the indoor and outdoor tubs, primed the outdoor shower, and dressed the garden benches and giant ottoman in thick white towels. Then she left us to our champagne lunch—shaved ahi tuna, heirloom tomatoes with burrata, an array of tropical fruit and the spa’s signature mini-cupcakes.

The food was great, but my mind was on the little jar of custom-created body scrub—a combination of citrus, eucalyptus and pumice—waiting by the tub. Little did I imagine, however, that the elixir inside would spread like a bird’s nest crumbed in tar. The result looked something like a food fight as our steamy thoughts turned to guffaws.

Never mind. There was “body butter” to apply afterwards.

“There is a moment just before you begin that is sometimes better than the beginning,” another of the spa’s aphorisms goes. “It is the moment you realize that what you wished for is about to come true.”

Okay, I’m a believer now. I would add that there is a moment afterward when you realize that the memory is even better than the realization of the wish, because it is real and there to keep you warm months later.

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