Friday, January 15, 2010

Paradise found: for the scrub of many lifetimes

I must be still ringing in the New Year, because I finally got around to my semi-annual treat of a body scrub at Paradise Sauna in Chicago (on Montrose near California) on my day off. Yeah, people tell me about the great salt scrub they had at a special resort, or an energizing sugar scrub they received at some other chic spa. Believe me, as humble as the place is, there's no where else on earth where you will experience a cleansing body scrub of the caliber that Paradise offers. This Korean-run enterprise, which is to me one of Chicago's hidden gems, has the hottest, strongest jet spa tub I've ever hopped into, a dry sauna, a cold plunge pool and quite excellent steam room, as well as body scrubs and massages at an additional charge. Men and women have their own complete, separate facilities.

My exfoliator, Catty (emphasis on first syllable), was a little grumpy and bossy early on a Friday morning (if you can be bossy using hand signals and grunts, since she speaks only Korean). However, she delivered a dynamite, if somewhat brutal, body scrub using special mitts that must be a Korean secret or something, because I've never seen them anywhere else.

It reminded me of the rough treatment Tony Bourdain once received in a Turkish hammam on a "No Reservations" episode. The Chicago Tribune calls the Paradise experience "a once-in-a-lifetime scrub." I wager I've had many lifetimes scrubbed away at Paradise, and for some reason, I keep returning.

I've dragged numerous skeptical friends to Paradise who claim they scrub thoroughly every day in the shower with a loofah. Ultimately, they are shocked by the amount of dead skin one of these samari ladies at Paradise roll off their hides. Admission to the general spa room is $18; a half-hour body scrub is another $30.

When Catty finally slid me off the scrub table as if she were pulling a slick martial arts move, it was a good thing I landed on my feet. It was all over and, only then, she cracked a sly smile. Was this her repayment for the war or something? Wait a minute. She's Korean, not Japanese. My father-in-law fought in her country for their freedom. Maybe she's just bored, or awfully mad I got her out of bed so early for the appt.

As I drove off with newly smooth, silky skin, I felt more rested and glowing than ever. Strange how such an intense experience of relentless due diligence could leave me feeling so light. Then, I turned a corner and suddenly found myself in front of Rod Blagojevich's house on Sunnyside and Richmond. Not wanting to spoil my good mood, I hit the accelerator. Ah, only a block away from Paradise, but for Blago, it might as well be 10,000 miles. ◦

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