SPA MASSAGE: Scene in A Deadly Provenance

An author friend and I were talking about our books one day concerning pivotal scenes. I mentioned the scene in my book, A Deadly Provenance, at an upscale spa in a resort beyond the Munich, Germany, area, where my heroine Lexi got a massage.

“I can’t imagine getting stripped down to your underwear and having someone actually massage you,” my friend said to me during our lunch at the restaurant.

“Oh, it’s not like that,” I said, cutting my schnitzel. “You’re in a dark room, you’re covered with sheets, your head is down in a padded doughnut, there’s relaxed music playing, and there is a protocol which is entirely objective.” Frequently, I’ve fallen asleep and missed the process. However, touch is the magic ingredient, and not everyone is going to like that. For some, it is intrusive, and they would never think of having a massage.

Massages are acknowledged world-wide for their therapeutic results. Spa retreats populate the most exclusive sites in the world; the best vie for world travelers. Some include hot baths. Czechoslovakia was known for its healing mineral waters, even in Communist days. Russians are known for their saunas. Every hotel of any stature at all boasts massage offerings of various sorts; menus exist for low pressure, deep pressure, using the feet, rocks, scents, you name it. I’ve had massages in Europe and various places in the U.S.

updated cover of A Deadly Provenance, set in southern Germany

updated cover of A Deadly Provenance, set in southern Germany

Massages reduce stress and tension, thereby reducing anxiety and wear and tear on muscles. It reduces muscle tension, improves your circulation, stimulates the lymph system, increases your flexibility, skin tone, soft tissue injury recovery, and heightens your mental alertness.

I’m picky about my massage therapist, but I go every month. I had missed at least two appointments, so this one particular one was special. Long-short story, I had hurt all over, feet, knees, shoulders, hands back, legs, side legs. Tight nodules made me almost scream with pain until they released. We talked about what was different, what hurt that hadn’t before, small talk before she left me so I could climb onto the massage table, pull the blanket up around me, the cover all warmed. The first phase was head down into the doughnut. She knocked after an appropriate interval, and I called out, “Ready.”

I explained all this to my author friend about my anticipation of that last massage I had had, and why this was so important, what made the massage in Germany of my heroine Lexi that I wrote about in my Gothic romance novel, A Deadly Provenance ( so important. It had been a pivotal moment in my character’s life. I re-entered that fictional moment in time and began to relive it. It was every bit as real to me as a piece of history, which from comments made to me at readings, it seems that if you are like most people, you will find strange.

“I’m tracking,” my author friend said. “Lexi was touch-deprived.”

Lexi, my heroine, I explained, was in limbo in a bad marriage, a marriage where the partners were separate and unattached, where Lexi had been dumped. She was not valued over other women by her husband who had ongoing affairs. There was no physical component to their marriage. Touch was nonexistent. Lexi, I expanded on the story, had been left alone by the skiers gathering to plunge and ascend mountains, and had decided to avail herself of a long, deep-tissue massage at the luxury spa in the ski and conference resort located at Castle Enzian. Her husband had left with the party from the NC Embassy group which included the woman she suspected him of seeing. See

This made the massage experience, I think, a profoundly human one. Touch sparks creativity, as well as connectivity. It is not that much different from a hairdresser who massages your scalp and washes your hair. Not that different from a pedicure or a manicure in a whirlpool of water and having the feet softened and prepared for a pretty finish. Professional, caring, but not personal.

And that was how Lexi enjoyed the experience in the spa in the castle, Castle Enzian. It started with herbs and lotions and scents calculated to expunge tiredness and poisonous worries that had invaded her body. It pushed away the sense of loneliness and being lost and rejoined her to that core part of herself that was able to appreciate the scents of herbs, of tactile muscle work, of having clenched muscle which the week had overtaxed, tightened, and locked up, released again.

It joined her soul to her body once again, rejuvenated her. Why, she felt beautiful once more. She felt less, well, rejected. Which made it a turning point for her in the book.

So you see, you can come along with me into Lexi’s world in this book, a book at once more exotic than your own, maybe even more real, but still as nitty-gritty as yours. Because Lexi is propelled by external realities and some internal ones into a cauldron of events which exercised her to go beyond the everyday…which forced her to extremes you may never have to face…and which bring her to decisions you may only want to contemplate and muse on. Or you may decide would be good for you to try as well.

Lexi has had to move away from her home town and her close circle of friends to a consulate in a foreign country where she must learn a new language, put her son into a foreign school, and endure the outrage of desertion by her childhood sweetheart and her husband. She must try something new, only perhaps to have the same thing happen all over again, with no way out.

From one experience to another one like the moment of truth from a massage, from dungeon to attic, around hairpin curves, to international art circles and political charities, from Nazi leftover villains to a family priest, from home to–well, that’s where I’ll stop. In conclusion, I will just say that the significance of her faith changes, her relationships undergo change, and she may turn into another version of herself, stronger and bolder, in this contemporary version of an old-time classic genre, the Gothic romance novel–or she may fold. And while a massage is only a passing event, it can be a pivotal one in a woman’s life. Without overplaying it at all.

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ART STUDENT Boomerang Effect: Good Technique

When Students Return

Nothing is more gratifying to a teaching artist than a student who asks for more. Sometimes, like Stuart Peregoy, 10-15 years later. Because nothing gratifies a teacher more than getting a second chance to pour expertise into a willing vessel. It’s called leaving a legacy.

So when Stuart Peregoy walked into my studio, I thought it was just to say hello and bring me up on events of his life since school days in the last 16 years or so, like about his getting married to the love of his life and building his first dream home together.

Stuart Peregoy paints warm underpainting in adult art class

Stuart Peregoy paints warm underpainting in adult art class

And that would have been enough. I love my students and have enjoyed more visits than I can count from students who want to drop in and touch bases with me. I laughingly call myself ‘art mama,’ and 35 years of teaching certainly allows for growing new life adventures. But when they come back to drain your art knowledge bank, you are especially appreciative.

Sure, the first time round is great, full of enthusiasm and fun, discovery and direction in drawing in colored pencils, graphite, and pastels; painting in watercolor, oil, and acrylic. I once had a friend tell me she didn’t need lessons, she had taken art in high school. Ha-ha, as if everything in art could be learned in a few easy lessons. “Everything I know in art I learned in kindergarten” sort of concept. That underscores how undisciplined and uninformed our concept is of what’s to be learned in art. hands-in-marriage-stuart

The second time around, a student takes it seriously, first of all. A return student is ‘broken in,’ has a great foundation laid already. They are willing to listen to detailed additions to their knowledge base. They’ve had the appetizer course, and now they are ready for the whole enchilada.

That’s why Stuart jumped right in and decided to go the master student route, pursue the best Old Masters’ techniques of painting. That’s why he knew to value the build-up knowledge being taught by master painters in ateliers that have popped up all across the country to combat the silly originality is everything notion, the low technique trend in art. Originality is not necessarily a good thing; it has to be a good, trained, originality. I cringe say this, looking for someone to slap me for breaking what’s being taught as the First Commandment of Art.

Stuart draws the picture he intends to paint first, skillfully, with full drawing school corrections. This he turns into a grisaille which provides a more sculptural, three-dimensional version of the drawing in black and white. Over this he paints a thin glaze of verdaccio or a neutral green called an imprimatura which gets rid of all the white. Then, and only then, does he begin to paint.

Why paint what you won’t see? you might ask.

The answer is, it determines the outcome.

Is learning to paint harder the second time around? I ask Stuart.

“It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be,” he said.

“Yes, and it’s a lot harder to teach techniques like modeling that grow with you your whole adult painting experience,” Joanna admits. “We are so intuitively good at coming up with variants of our techniques and just whisking and brushing away, that we avoid the discipline of the right approach. Many roads to Rome doesn’t apply as well to the accumulation of specific skills, so you have to have a tough skin to learn, and an endless ability to re-frame the verbal explanation for what to do, for troubleshooting just why it didn’t come out quite the way you wanted it to.”

Example of Underpainting in a Sea-Scape

Using the technique’s stated, he has captured the North Carolina Sea-Scape in this oil painting.

Mrs. Joanna, as her students affectionately call her, teaches all major categories of painting and drawing in her studio, Art on Broad Atelier/j’Originals’ Art Studio and has for over 30 years. She received art training from Art Instruction correspondence art school, from Queens University in Charlotte, from UNC-Chapel Hill, and additional courses from Methodist University, plus the odd courses from traveling New York Students’ Art League teachers and invited jurors in state watercolor exhibits. She is a signature member of two watercolor societies.

But back to Stuart. Stuart has just finished his second painting, a surprise birthday present to his wife, a 12″ x 16″ oil on canvas of his hand holding hers, the sea and beach in the background, rings on their fingers. His first painting was of his dog, Charlie.

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