LSS: Beauty goes further than skin-deep

The mud and seaweed bath I took Friday is officially filed in the “It seemed like a good idea at the time” category.

Our French friend Helene invited us to Normandy to visit her grandparents cottage. In 1950, when they built the cottage, within a stone’s throw of Juno Beach, the area wasn’t exactly a tourist destination. But, the family had too many children to take destination vacations and built the tiny cottage instead.

Back then and for years afterward, it was the only structure around. These days, signs of World War II have hardly vanished, but with the scenery, sun and sand, getting to a vacation-state-of-mind is easier than I expected. Little things like, “The neighbors built their home on a German bunker and now use it as a wine cellar,” jolted me into perspective every now and then.

But back to the bath.

Helene’s grandparents cottage is in a village called Luc sur Mer. More than 100 years ago, the area gained some renown because of its thalassotherapy center.

Thalassotherapy, I now know, is a seawater body care center.

It’s in a casino. I thought it was a spa.

I was wrong. A little research beforehand could have gone a long way.

Perhaps a red flag should have arisen when Helene mentioned she had never experienced thalassotherapy – which I thought was the name of the spa.

When we arrived, Helene and the nice lady behind the counter reviewed the menu, smiled at me and made the decision on what we should do.

I knew mud and seaweed would be involved, but what I expected and what happened were two very different things. Suddenly, I found myself in a tiny room with a French woman, a table covered in Saran Wrap, a bucket and a tub of tepid water. The only thing I understood with any certainty was that this was not, in fact, a swimsuit optional experience.

I barely had my bearings on the Saran Wrap when the French lady started slathering mud (from Mont Saint Michel, mind you) over me. She unceremoniously covered me in Saran Wrap and exited, leaving the door slightly ajar. There I lay, covered in mud and wrapped in Saran Wrap, not quite knowing what to expect next.

After what seemed like an eternity – and I gather it was supposed to have been relaxing – she returned with another bucket. She instructed me to get in the tub. I obliged. I thought I was going in for a rinse and then she would tenderly wrap my limbs in special seaweed.

No such thing occurred.

Once I was in the tub, she reached in the new bucket and pulled out the real surprise of the day.

In an innocent net bag, similar to the one you buy tomatoes in, was the slimiest, stinkiest green seaweedy goop I had ever borne witness to. Before I could screech, she plopped that bag right in the tub with me, soaked it once and brought it up with a slithering gob of slime that would be the envy of runny-nosed children around the world.

And she walked out.

She had motioned that I was supposed to bathe myself with the “sponge.” I considered just getting the mud off and getting out, but the experience didn’t come cheap. I wanted my money’s worth and began following her instructions. After the initial shock, it turns out that slime feels rather nice. At least, it stops being gross.

My whole family swears my skin feels softer and better than ever.

Yes, beauty comes at a price. I’ll debate the cost of soft skin for a while.

Jan Risher’s column, Long Story Short, appears on Sundays in Lafayette, Louisiana’s The Daily Advertiser. She can be reached at

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