A day at the spa

There are days when I really love my job—and the Friday before last was one of them.
Nirvana Salon and Spa on Scott Street opened its doors on Jan. 12 and being a new business in town, it was only natural that I call owner Michael Tullio and ask for an interview.
What he suggested was far better than that.
Tullio asked if I would be interested in receiving some of the new services offered at the spa so I could write about them firsthand. Being a rather adventurous sort who’s nearly always up for something new, as well as a recent college grad who never passes up free stuff, I agreed.
He recommended I go for a pedicure, citing the luxurious new chair he recently acquired, but said I should come in and talk to an aesthetician before I decide.
So I went into the new spa later that day and talked to Rozanne Evans about what I should have done.
I had already had a look at their brochure, so I knew what was available, but I was rather intimidated by the number of choices, not to mention the names of some of the body treatments, like Peppermint Sea Twist.
I told Evans I liked the idea of a pedicure, but that since it was winter, no one would see my feet anyway. She agreed, and immediately recommended a facial and a hot stone massage instead.
Two treatments? I liked this woman already.
The next afternoon I showed up at the appointed time, and Evans was waiting for me. She had decided I should have the hot stone massage first, then handed me over to a second aesthetician, Tammy Brown, who led me into the back where a series of rooms have been sectioned off for spa treatments.
Tullio later told me he could not offer the full range of spa services across the street at Hair Paint, the first salon he opened in town about two years ago, which he closed when Nirvana opened.
“The set-up wasn’t there for our other services,” he explained. “The privacy factor wasn’t there.”
Privacy was not an issue here. Brown led me to a room where I could change into a soft white robe and slippers, and leave my belongings in a locker. When I came out, she led me to the massage room and explained the full procedure.
As opposed to regular massage, a hot stone massage involves using smooth lava stones of varying size that have been warmed up to just the right temperature.
While I sat up on the table, Brown carefully placed eight stones on the table, four on either side of where my spine would lie.
She then helped me to lie back on top of the stones, making sure the stones would contact important pressure points along my back. The sensation was a little shocking at first: very hot, but quickly dissipating to a warm, fuzzy feeling all over.
She then placed one more stone under my neck, one smaller stone in each hand, and one on my breastbone. I lay for about five minutes like that, and while it may not sound very comfortable, I soon felt as though I were wrapped in a thick, warm blanket.
Tammy explained to me that, had I chosen the full body massage as opposed to the back massage, I would also have had stones placed on my lower stomach, behind my knees, and between my toes.
“It’s amazing,” she enthused.
Once I was warm and relaxed, Tammy took away the stones and had me roll over on my stomach.
She rubbed on some oil and began massaging my back with two of the smaller palm stones in her hands, and the sensation was remarkable.
Brown explained that, while trained in other forms of massage, the Nirvana staff had to go to Toronto to learn this particular form, which was becoming quite popular in larger centres.
Never having had a professional massage of any kind before, I didn’t know what to expect, but with the soft lighting, the calming music playing, and the warm, smooth stones running along my back, I melted.
After she finished, I had a quick shower in the stall in the corner of the room to wash off the oil, then met Evans in the small lounge of the spa area.
She was just finishing up with another client, and invited me to take advantage of the iced water, fruit juices, and fresh fruit available while I waited.
So for the next few minutes, I luxuriated in my incredibly thick, white robe on a black leather chair, sipping pineapple-banana juice and eating green and red seedless grapes.
I also had a chance to admire the design of the building and the overall atmosphere.
“My clients have been wonderful so I built this for them,” said Tullio. “I wanted to give back to them.”
The salon is divided into four sections, each with a different entryway, be it Greek columns or French doors, and each with its own colour scheme.
“I’ve brought a salon that you would see in any city, without the price tag, so it could be used by anybody,” Tullio remarked.
Evans soon came to fetch me, and had me change into a wrap so my neck and shoulders would be exposed. She then had me lie down on a sort of adjustable bed with my head elevated slightly. My hair was pulled back in a towel to keep it out of the way.
She began with a cleanser and toner, then a hot towel on my face to open the pores. Then the facial began in earnest.
What I was getting, Evans told me, was a four-layer facial, which involves layering four different products on the face to seal in moisture and nutrients.
“You can get this facial if you go to New York or Paris,” she told me. “It’s won all sorts of awards.”
The first layer was a concentration of vitamin C, which she very gently massaged into my face with her fingertips. The second layer was a moisturizing mask, which she worked into my neck and shoulders, as well.
The third layer was a little more interesting. Evans opened two pouches into a small bowl and began mixing them together. This, she informed me, was the seaweed mask—made of only the best, and most expensive, ingredients.
It has to be mixed just before use to ensure freshness.
She began brushing the cool, lumpy mixture all over my face and though I’m sure I looked rather silly, the sensation was nice. Evans explained the seaweed contains vitamins A and C, as well as lactic acid—all of which nourish the skin.
The final—and heaviest layer—was the mineral mask. Evans said if done carefully, we may be able to remove the entire mask in one piece.
As we waited for the layers to dry, she massaged moisturizing cream into my hands, and it was about then I decided I never wanted to leave.
Once the layers appeared dry, Evans began carefully rocking the mask back and forth, lifting at one end and then the other. Unfortunately, the mask cracked and had to be removed in pieces. Otherwise, I may have had an interesting memento of my visit.
She carefully brushed away all the bits of dried clay, and when she finished, I immediately went to the mirror to see if it made a difference.
It was subtle, but my skin was glowing slightly—and felt a little more firm. (As a woman about to turn 30, I didn’t realize I had begun deflating already. Who knew?)
Evans said different people make different recommendations about how often you should have a facial. Some say to start out with two a week for three weeks; some say once every six weeks.
“I would say once a season, at least,” Evans said.
Later, when I sat down with Tullio to ask him why he decided to open a spa in Fort Frances, he replied, “I was listening to my clients. I noticed people were getting into spa services. They were travelling to Thunder Bay and Winnipeg for them.”
Tullio and his wife, Brenda, moved to Fort Frances in 1997. He worked as a hairdresser at Tracy’s Hair Studio until he bought the business from her two years ago and turned it into Hair Paint.
“It was very nice, but it wasn’t quite enough for me,” he explained. “It didn’t have the right feel yet.”
After much planning and hard work, Tullio opened his own little corner of heaven. And his clients appreciate it. “The response has far exceeded my expectations, particularly for this time of year,” he noted.
And after being primped and pampered by knowledgeable and friendly professionals, my expectations were exceeded as well. Nirvana, indeed.