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I arrived late to my La Prairie facial. Power walking through the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria (right in the heart of Beverly Hills), I caught a glimpse of early risers eating their petit dejeuner. A gentleman escorted me to the correct elevator bank (it goes express to La Prairie’s 5,000 square foot spa). Even the hotel’s elevators have some serious looking art and mirrors installed, cushiony carpets, and a grand largesse. I could have ridden them for hours. Without batting an eye, La Prairie’s front desk rearranged my appointment, correcting for any lateness on my end (the staff seemed to love what was in store for me, and wanted no part abridged, as there are only three La Prairie spas in all of North America). Escorted through a heavy door down a long hallway, I was dropped off in the Women’s Lounge. The walls hugged me. The atmosphere was supremely private. I stared at a pair of restorative beds, low slung chairs, a side table with teas and coffees, as well as bite-sized treats kept fresh by a dome of glass (Florentine biscuits?). The drab Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards continued to run below, but without my seeing them. The sheen of Los Angeles was tempered. Inside La Prairie Spa, you are somewhere else. Time slows to a restorative tempo.
A Swiss company with a storybook history, La Prairie begins with Dr. Paul Niehans. The original chalet is on the shores of Switzerland’s Lake Leman. Renowned for its skincare formulas, La Prairie perfects its collection over the decades in cordoned labs. Theirs is an elite and loyal clientele.
The facial experience I had was entirely sumptuous. It was also exacting. An austere scientism (advanced cellular therapy) meets with superior ingredients. I had the newest skin caviar collection applied to my face. I swear I shone differently in the days after. The rich omegas from pearly fish eggs counteracted the dryness of East LA air. La Prairie describes its own spa services as “high-touch,” “jewel-like,” and “precision-designed.” This might sound like I pulled it from their brochure (I did), but it’s an apt description.
Facials are therapeutic exchanges: preternatural even. Someone holds you up to the light. An esthetician gets to the root cause of any cosmetic blemish through tender analysis. Mine introduced herself as Amy. Amy looked like she could’ve been the relative of the French actress Marion Cotillard. When she first entered the lounge, I almost gasped out loud. Her skin was luminous. Radiant.
Together, Amy and I walked towards a private treatment room. She closed the door while I changed out of my robe and slippers. I slipped under the heavy covers of a treatment bed. This was after I moved a great, green palm leaf decorating the bed (this made me think of the Wallace Stevens poem that starts, “The palm at the end of the mind / beyond the last thought, rises / in the bronze décor.” My treatment bed was raised and curved to meet my lower back and legs, relieving them of pressure. I tried to store away details and points of superb feeling to relive later. It was futile, though. Like rubbing your stomach and patting your head, you can’t be both inside and outside of a La Prairie experience. You are gradually and gloriously submerged in it.
Our skin suffers because we neglect it: what we deny ourselves and gorge on to compensate eventually gets writ large across our face. Skin is a tell-all. It reminds us—with its dryness, or oiliness, blemish points or irresolvable flair-ups—that we are sensitive to the world; porous to its elements.
The facial began with a soft question or two. Amy wanted to know more about me through my skin. Pathways of breath, feeling and thought—long dormant—began to move again. She gently held my hands, dragging a warm cloth over arms, the neck, making sure to brush my hair back. No complement felt distorted. Everything that Amy noticed I wished so many others had. At points, I did want to cry. Not out of pain, but deep release. We talked between different intervals of the facial. I remember there being a cleansing and an exfoliation. Did I eat dairy? “Yes, and more than usual these days.” We did a gentle extraction. I usually write about art. So when Amy used a weighted brush, evenly painting La Prairie product over my face and neck, I got to experience something a canvas usually does. The facial is equal parts eye massage, hand ritual, and moisture mask. Air was blown from a contraption. A steamer opened all the pores. My eyes drooped to a restful close. My breath slowed and deepened. By the end, I felt like Amy had intuited and found every spot that was blue (whether of the heart, mind, or body). La Prairie flooded in to address the rest.
I left aglow, floating. Had I “been up to the rooftop?” No, I hadn’t. The La Prairie staff pressed the ROOF button for me. I was practically alone on the roof. All around were verdant hills and palms, gray stretches of street, all the places that hold after-parties and luncheons. A man with a belly swam laps in the Waldorf’s pool. I had to FaceTime my mom, then my sister, who was buying something at a pharmacy in Queens. I wanted to bring more people up there with me. It seemed only fair.