I had never experienced a mosque spa before. When I found out that one of my favorite Parisian gems, The Mosque Tea Room, had a spa hidden in the building, I imagined it as luxurious, relaxing and beautiful. I promised myself that the next time I was in Paris, I would pick a day to go. I imagined a fluffy robe, sweet scented candles and lotions, and copious amounts of hot steam.
Well, there was hot steam.
I arrived back at the Mosque at the end of my five months abroad, while taking a six-day trip to Paris by myself. The goal of the trip was to people watch, find the perfect pain au raisin, and relax at my favorite familiar spots.
Walking in, I had done a little research; I read reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor, saw a couple red flags but overall chalked it up to a lack of cultural curiosity.
It was…an interesting experience, to say the least. None of the workers spoke a word of English; my French level was conversational. Somehow I was able to get across the package I wanted, including a body and face mask, an exfoliation, a massage, and a cup of tea. I was given no instruction, and definitely no fluffy robe. The Mosque spa was not the pure marble, glossy floor and walls that I had imagined, but rather a somewhat dingy and old interior. I received my body and face mask, covered myself in the thick, smelly mud and sat in the steam.
Sitting there, I saw three other women; two seem to be friends, and the third was seemingly doing yoga…butt naked. “Must be a regular,” I thought to myself.
I waited. And waited. Eventually a woman comes to get me. She has me lay down on a hard bench, and starts exfoliating my skin with a rough yellow sponge. I knew it would hurt, but man did it hurt.
After shedding approximately three layers of skin, I was herded back into the main room for my massage. To be fair, I am someone who enjoys a deep, deep massage; this one sort of felt like I was getting sun-screen rubbed on my back. Not to mention, the woman giving my massage clearly had a case of something, and she kept rubbing her nose and coughing into her hands. Even so, my day quickly turned around and became a memory to look back on with joy.
My luxurious spa moment had come to a close, and so I asked the lone naked woman if she wanted to sit and have our tea together. Turns out, she wasn’t a regular and she was just as confused as I was! Her name was Simone, she’s from Australia, but currently lives in New York, and she is just as in love with and excited about traveling as I am. We laughed about our interesting mosque experience and shared stories about our travels and our lives. An hour went by, and I hardly noticed. It felt like we could just talk forever. Simone seemed to radiate positivity, and I really admired her cultural awareness and her drive to see the world. We exchanged information with the hopes of grabbing coffee (or tea) in New York in the future.
I was never angry or upset about my Paris Mosque experience. For one thing, I knew from the start that I would potentially be putting myself in an odd situation; I was glad I stretched out of my comfort zone, and I knew I would always be wondering what the spa was like if I hadn’t gone. Yet the real silver lining and the reason I look back on the experience with positivity and fondness is because of Simone. I loved getting to know her and hearing about her travel history; it reminded me how extraordinary the world is. We were both a long way from home, yet our dual openness, willingness to try new things and desire to meet new people brought us together.
The Mosque may not have had any luxurious silver décor, but its silver lining is one I will not forget.