Once upon a time flying was magical. It was the stuff of dreams. A magic carpet ride could take you thousands of miles away to a different world. Even when holiday travel began, the idea of arriving in a foreign land only hours after leaving seemed incredible, luxurious, glamorous. And whereas the ambience of Marrakech, the noise of the market, the bustle of the souks and even the other-worldly elegance of the luxury hotels hearken back to those days, sometimes sitting squashed in a middle seat, trying to drop off for a few moments while the queue for the toilet grows ever longer, it's hard not to wonder whether the holiday is really worth it.
It would be easy to make this about leg room or in-flight meals, the battle of the armrest and all the other little politics of flying, but I think it's more than the logistics which have ended our romance with flying.
A friend mentioned today as I whinged about our nightmare trip back from Marrakech (diverted via Casablanca – delayed 5-6 hours) that flying was necessary to allow us to make the transition from one culture to another. I'm not sure that's true, but it started me wondering.
The other thing that started me wondering was the incredible spa experience I had in Marrakech. Having a traditional hammam in Agadir two years ago started me down a path of trying ever more interesting massage and healing experiences, and it's one of the reasons I wanted to go back to Morocco. Although hammams are popular in many areas of Europe, particularly Paris and Seville, the one experience I managed to find in London left me cold (literally having cold water laughingly flung at me.)
After weeks of serious spa research I had it down to a few choices – including the odd sounding tkissila (or tekssila) – a traditional massage in which apparently you end up flying over the (male) masseur's head. So I said my usual thing "sounds weird – I don't think I'll do that" but booked into the Palais Rhoul Spa anyway, for a traditional hammam… but without the flying lesson.
Of course once I was there it seemed silly to miss out. As I watched the lights and ceiling of the hammam spin first one way and then the other, as I was elevated quite literally over his head, I really couldn't quite believe what I was doing. I was in wonder at him, the ease with which he manipulated my body and effortlessly made me soar, and myself, that I was here, that I was actually doing this, trusting a complete stranger, letting go and relaxing while watching the world spin by. One minute I was completely disorientated, the next I was back on my feet, giggling uncontrollably.
It's two days later and I still haven't come down. I believe in the therapeutic power of massage, not just for a sore back, but in helping us to heal more deeply, to breathe, let in space in our lives, develop confidence in our bodies and I feel like I am starting to see and feel another benefit from this particular treatment.
It's not always easy for me to trust – especially men – and so this treatment felt like I was opening a door. Taking a step down a path leading to a new me, or rather a me that could fly, supported by a man, trusting that he can support my weight, not lose concentration, maybe even for longer than a few minutes…
Every journey I go on, every spa I try teaches me something. This trip seems to be making me think, as well as flying, of men and women. Of the idea of covering up, of just how unpleasant a hand on your fully clothed back, or a look can be, but at the same time how a man in just a pair of bathing shorts could comfortably scrub me all over, manipulate my body, throw me up in the air, wash my hair and then rough dry my hair and tie my dressing gown as if I were a prize boxer. It may take me more than a few days to understand the lessons of this trip.
The tkissila turned my world upside down, bringing me back to earth with the sense that something wonderful had happened.
So what happened to that aspect of flying in a plane? When did it become so mundane and inconvenient?
I suppose that if I had needed the loo, or been hungry or overtired I wouldn't have enjoyed my tkissila very much. I guess it's all about having our needs met, and if I had got on the last place having had enough sleep and food I would have enjoyed it more.
I guess the answer is simple, too many of us now don't look forward to the experience of flying enough to treat it with care. If we showed up looking forward to a few hours or reading, or music, prepared for the odd bump, we'd probably enjoy our flights more than we do when we arrived tired and hungry – thinking we'll catch up on our sleep on the plane, and grab a snack (only to find the crew haven't packed any food or drinks – yet another flight back from Morocco).
I've learned to go to the loo before I get on a plane, and eat (or pack snacks) and I try to make sure that my back is feeling okay, so maybe the last lesson I need to learn is to stop saying "I'll sleep on the plane" and get my very much needed rest before I head for the airport.
Either that or start packing my yoga mat in my hand luggage so that any airport in the world can be transformed into an impromptu yoga studio (and a place for a snooze). Maybe it could be my modern day flying carpet!
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(c) Pearl Howie 2015. All rights reserved.