Monday, March 30, 2009

All-Girls Road Trip, Part 4

Monday morning brought me my wonderful surprise. My mom took me to the only traditional bath house still in operation here in Hot Springs. There are modernized bath houses that are a little more spa-like, but we went for the authentic experience and I was not disappointed. We got out of bed early, leaving Emma and Gma in their jammies to find their own breakfast and we walked past the drinking fountains in the cool morning,

up the stairs into the Buckstaff Bath House.

We were greeted in the lobby and ordered our services - the works for both of us. The receptionist filled out little tickets for each item we ordered,

and we were instructed to place all of our valuables, including cameras (unfortunately), in a locked drawer and take our key with us.

Beverly was our elevator operator this morning and took our tickets. She knew just where we were supposed to go, and it's a good thing. I could have gotten lost gazing at all the fantastic architectural elements, the least of which being the old-fashioned elevator.
Oh, how I wish I could have taken my camera with me.
When we were called, we were taken to the changing room. There were period-perfect (1940s, I think) changing stalls lined up against each wall, painted aqua. They were hung with privacy curtains in a gray and lavender leaf-and-vine print. We were instructed to disrobe (yeah. that's right.) and my bath attendant wrapped me in a sheet, toga-style. She led me to my bathing station. It was a lot like the one I toured yesterday, only more in the style and color of the late 40s/early 50s than turn-of-the-century. The dividers were also a sweet aqua color, the walls tiled with marble and the floors of the vast room covered in those tiny, classic hexagonal tiles. My bath was already drawn in a huge, vintage tub - its porcelain surface perfectly crackled with age. Two small cups of mineral water were served up for me to sip, right out of the bath faucet, at 103 degrees. Same as my bath. My bath attendant, Mattie, exfoliated my arms and legs and situated me in the tub with a wooden board behind my back for support and a rolled-up towel to support my neck.
Mattie really knew what she was doing.
After my 20-minute soak in the hot spring water, I was moved to a sitz bath. An interesting experience. Then on to the steam box. It really was one of those funny metal boxes that close around you, with your head sticking out of the top. It was an odd sensation to have everything below your neck steaming and sweating, while everything above is comfortable.
Mattie then put me on the hot compress table and put hot - and I mean hot - and wet towels under my low back, lower legs and neck and shoulder area. She also put a cool cloth on my face and gave me more water to drink. I was handed water to drink at every turn, it seemed.
I was a little nervous about the, you know, naked aspect of a public bath. But the attendants were very professional and put me at ease. And, let's face it. Everybody else is running around in togas and towels too, draping and un-draping willy nilly.
That's something I noticed while I was sitting in the steam box. I don't know, maybe it was just the steam getting to my head. But everybody was pink and dewy and holding up their sheets. Everyone's hair was wet at the nape, dry at the crown. And everyone had a silly, relaxed sort of daze on their face. The drip of the water into the giant tubs echoed in the huge room and a little fountain bubbled up drinking water in the middle of the room. And nobody was beautiful. But everybody was.
I guess it was a sort of peek into the real treat it must have been to visit one of these places at a time when running water itself was a luxury and bathing was a special-occasions-only sort of chore.
Since my mom signed us up for the deluxe package and a few add-ons, we continued on to a massage, a parrafin hand treatment and 30-minute facials.
Let me tell you, this surprise was worth the wait. I enjoyed it from head to toe!
We hit up the local Starbucks and headed back to our cabin. I took a few photos, just for the sake of memory:

After lunch, we headed back into town. Mom and Grandma had some shopping to do and Emma and I wanted to re-visit Pixie Hollow (the new name for the little fairy house spring we visited yesterday). The plan was to write a story and sketch next to the open springs.
This is Emma, posing as Wild Girl, one of the characters who stars in her stories. Of course, the name gives you an idea of the sort of girl she is. Today's story involved the shock of having her forest cut down to make way for building a city. The tree she lives in, along with Wild Girl herself, end up in the zoo one night while she is sleeping. She wakes to find people poking their fingers at her through bars. I have not learned the final fate of Wild Girl in this moving and frighteningly political story. I'll update you if it becomes necessary. You can see, in the third photo, her worried gaze cast upon the developers.

I saw this tree, stretching its roots over and through the rocks, looking for food. Maybe I needed a snack, but I thought it looked hungry.

Emma took this shot of a dogwood tree. She is very proud of it and I am too. Mama's girl.

Having finished our tourist-y activities, we headed up West Mountain to what my mom and her friends always called "Lookout Point." This has nothing to do with looking out over the city, as the spot actually does. It actually refers to looking out for parents. This is where you'd climb over the wall with your sweetie and hope your daddy didn't find you smoochin'! It was really windy today, but the view was lovely.

When we retired to our accommodations for the afternoon, Emma and I went out looking for tiny treasures. I found lots. There are wee little weeds and flowers popping up everywhere in the soft, green grass. Our Florida grass is never this soft.

We saw a dragonfly molting on the dock.

Emma played with Izzie the Retriever. Izzy hardly left Emma's side when we were out-of-doors today.

And two dear friends chatted.

A full day, indeed.
Tomorrow, we set out for home. I am sure it will prove to be every bit the adventure that the rest of this journey has been.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Girls-Only Road Trip, Part 3

We all slept in. Seriously. I think we got going around 9:00 AM.
Emma had been a little disappointed in the accommodations when we first arrived. When she hears "cabin," she thinks of the luxury vacation home cabins that we travel to with my husband's family for Thanksmas - our funny conglomeration of Thanksgiving and Christmas, but on neither day. Instead, this is a quaint, lakeside cabin, nearly unchanged since my mom used to clean the cabins here in the sixties. I really adore the tongue-in-groove pine walls, the old-fashioned cabinetry and the giant kitchen sink. What used to be a view of the woods from my window, though, is now a view of a newly-built McMansion. I would say it was hardly a nice trade. Also, we are two houses down from the Clinton's' property. So, I guess my mom was telling the truth when she said she grew up with Mr. Prez. There's a big sign when you enter Hot Springs that says "Boyhood Home of President Bill Clinton."
Once we ambled outside, we met two of the nicest dogs ever. This is Izzie. She's an expert fisher and stands in the water, waiting patiently, until it's time to pounce.

This is Bam. Yeah. Bam. And it suits her. Her person said she's a "knucklehead." She'll never catch any fish with all that splashing, but she splashes obsessively and loves to play fetch. As soon as she figured out that Emma and I would throw the stick, she followed us around the property. She even waited on the porch of our cabin for Emma once she came back inside!

My mom listened to Otis Redding on this dock ("Sittin' on the dock of the bay...") and I fished here when I was about Emma's age and my family came down for a visit (it was "down" for us at the time. We hadn't yet moved to Florida). The weather warmed up nicely once the sun came out.

My grandma's friend was so surprised to see her. Her son hadn't told her we were coming! We didn't know it was a secret, but it was such a perfect moment. Happy tears all round. And he had a surprise for us too. Tickets to the race track!
My mom has always loved horses and has told us many times of her own horse she had when she lived here, and how she practically lived at the track, having the privilege of warming up the horses and other technical things which I do not understand. She knew right where to go, what to do and where the best seats were. She showed Emma how to pick a good horse, a likely candidate for winning, by looking at his muscles and size and other technical things which I also do not understand.

Emma picked her favorite, but I think it was a decision based mostly on the horse's accessories. She decided she liked numbers 7 & 8.

It was such a colorful, lively experience.

We watched them post and then shifted Emma up a bit so she could see better over the rail. And they were off.
It was a very exciting race, with both of her horses doing well. In the end, it was number 7 that won. Forgive me, I don't remember its name.

After the races, we headed to downtown Hot Springs to see the, well, hot springs and such. The springs really are hot - about 143 degrees. And there are fountains everywhere for you to sample the water.

There are a few exposed springs that you can get down and touch. There's an odd sort of bright green algae growing on the submerged rocks.

This one seemed a bit like a fairy hollow. Of course, my fairy took a liking to it. She would have liked to stay there for the rest of our vacation.

She took the camera from me, wanting to tell some story of her own, with pictures. Here's a self-portrait of the artist:

For her story, she asked me to take a picture of hands being washed in the hot spring.

The mineral deposits on the rocks, mixed with the mosses and tiny greenery were so pretty.

During the 19th century, bath houses sprang up around the, uh, springs. And we toured the most wonderful facility - a bath house museum! Imagine for a moment, what heaven might be like for a bathing connoisseur such as myself. It might be something like this gorgeous room, with a fountain in the center, lined with stalls.

Each stall contains a vintage porcelain bathtub, a changing room and a chair.
There are showers!

There is a sitz bath room!
There is a steam box room!
And beautiful instruments for water delivery and regulation line the walls.

There is a hydrotherapy room, full of frightening apparatus and even a cooling room in which to lie down and recover from the rigors of the hot mineral bath.

Cold compresses of chilled mineral water were applied to various ailing body parts, promising a return to health and wholeness.

We purchased souvenir bottles to fill with water at the public fountains and returned to the lodge. We sketched on the dock and ate a simple supper.

Emma and I grabbed a tripod and my camera (she said she felt like we were professional photographers), rushing to the dock to catch the last of the sunset. Izzy and Bam came out to meet us, fetching sticks that we threw into the lake. Boats raced by and their wakes splashed against the dock.

And the sun went down. And the moon came up.

And another day with my best girls ended.
My mom's been planning a big surprise for me on this trip. I finally found out what it is. But I shan't tell you until tomorrow!