A worldly friend gravely informs me luxury is dead. Now that Gucci purses and Hermes scarves are being snatched up by a larger public, he explains, they’ve lost their cachet. Luxury has gotten too democratic. It’s like the line about the restaurant: “Nobody goes there any more: it’s too crowded.”
The new luxury, he tells me is about being pampered, being taken care of. A higher level of service and convenience. Life at the push of a button. Love For Sale.
This, to me, sounds even more repellent than the old luxury. As Sam Goldwyn would say, “Include me out.”
The darkest moment in my life came recently after a relative gave me a 4-day weekend at a renowned spa. Friends told me I’d love it, “Be good to yourself,” they told me.
So I went. I had massages: shiatsu, hot rocks, cranial-sacral; I practiced yoga, meditated, my chakras were balanced, went through the motions of Tai-chi, did breathing exercises; I took exercise classes, strapped myself into Pilates machines; I had a facial, a pedicure, a manicure. I sweated in a sauna; I steeped in a swirling Jacuzzi. I dined on vegetarian cuisine presented like works of art; I sipped green tea. I thought I was dying.
“This Evening at 8:00 P.M.—Bloodletting In The Berkshire Room.”
Whenever I took a break from the sybaritic regime to lounge on the terrace, a velvet-voiced attendant would promptly appear to ask if there were anything I required. With envy I observed the landscaping crew raking and weeding in the blazing afternoon sun. My manicured hands were itching for a trowel.
After 48 hours of pampering, I could take no more. I was reminded of the “Twilight Zone” episode in which a man who has died arrives in the afterlife. He finds himself in a paradise where he can have whatever he wants. There are no obstacles to his pleasures. Finally, he tells a person in authority, he has had enough. He pleads to go to the “other place”. “This is the other place,” he is informed.
In desperation, I called an old friend who happened to live nearby. He was surprised to hear from me; it had been some years. And, he noted, it was 3 AM. “Rescue me,” I implored. He gently asked if I could survive the night. Heroically, if reluctantly, I agreed to wait until morning. Dawn really dawdled that day. What was the sun doing?
True to his word, my friend met me in the spa’s airy lobby at 9 on the dot. My bag was packed and at my side. He took in the scene. The clients lounging like pashas in their terrycloth robes. The whispering, hypervigilant staff. The steaming raku cups of green tea. The modish furniture’s soothing tones of celadon. The orchids serene in their vases.
He pointed to a tasteful taupe silk hanging with Chinese calligraphy. “You know what that says?” No, I did not. “It says, ‘Let’s get the hell out of here’ ”.
Paul Gauguin, the painter, noted in his journal, “Work is leisure.” I agree with Paul. And for me, the converse is also true, “Leisure is work.”
Everyone who gardens or cooks knows the feeling. At work in the garden or kitchen, my spirit is set free. What is discordant becomes harmonious. The out of kilter is balanced. Time? What is time?
Engaged in the task at hand, I feel not as if I am working, but being played like an instrument by a divine virtuoso. My senses are engaged by color, scent and flavor. I am in the blissful junction of recreation and re-creation. This is what it means to reap the fruits of one’s labors. Devotion is the New New Luxury.