Remembering Italy
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A long time ago in the '70s, Susan and I assessed our bodies one sunny Roman day and decided we both needed serious revamping. The logical solution was to do what Europeans do when revamping is in order: we went to a spa, one of my favorite things to do on the planet. Having heard that the tiny spa town of Montegrotto in the Veneto had the exact same mud as its famous next-door neighbor, Abano (which claims to have the best mud in Europe), we opted for unfamous Montegrotto at half the price: two weeks for me and a three-day weekend for Susan, who didn't require a major overhaul like I did. We went up on the luxurious Rome-Florence-Padua train, sitting in deep swivel armchairs, doing what we loved best, chatting and sipping espresso.

Montegrotto was utterly charming and our hotel had large, beautiful rooms with balcony and private bathroom. At eight o'clock, when we went down to dinner, we found the dining room crowded with mostly Italians and Germans. To our dismay, enormous amounts of food were being scarfed up at every table with alarming speed. There was artery-clogging, cheese-drenched polenta and pasta, inch-thick steaks, fried potatoes, vegetables in butter sauces... And the desserts were dazzling whipped-cream concoctions of gargantuan size! Susan and I gaped in horror. Uh-oh.

Our waiter explained that most guests believed mud baths mightily depleted one's strength and bodies had to be fed heartily to make up for it. Susan and I cast a dubious eye around the room. Well, not these bodies, we decided. We ordered a light consommé, salad and fruit.

At 7 a.m. I was called down to a small white-tiled cell for my first mud bath. I liked everything except the part where they stood me up in the shower and turned the water on with full stinging force to blast the mud off. Hanging on to the steel handlebars for dear life, I wondered how Susan was doing.

Back to my room, a masseuse worked me over for a half-hour. Then came breakfast in bed. Aaahhh, what a life!

Lolling poolside, I looked up to see Susan coming toward me, suitcase in hand, a decidedly unhappy look on her face. She was leaving! Unrevamped. The mudbath had completely unnerved her. She couldn't stand being "stuck in the mud."

Nothing I said could persuade her to stay, so off she went, back to Rome, while I continued lolling for another couple of weeks. Besides the mud baths and massages, there were facials and pedicures and all sorts of health and beauty experiences. Besides the spa, there was bike riding, hiking, day trips to Venice, a 30-minute ride on the cutest little train you ever saw, and the hotel's excursion up the Brenta Canal to visit the Palladian villas.
By keeping a careful watch on what the hotel fed me, I managed to lose twenty pounds and returned to Rome feeling I had done what I set out to do, get revamped.

But it had been a battle. I'd had to say no to an awful lot of food, especially polenta, a staple of the Veneto. Here's an easy dish I make when I have some left over. Slice it into three-inch squares and bread it in flour and egg. Let set a few minutes, then fry the squares and drain on paper towels. Slightly overlap them in a baking dish, spoon on a little ordinary red pasta sauce and sprinkle with parmesan. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. You can make this less caloric by not breading and frying the polenta. Hate to admit it, but I don't find that method as tasty.

by Rosemary Torigian, Los Angeles

Click here for a selection of hotels where you can still enjoy the spa services today.

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