Healing arthritic knees and broken hearts
Swimming is an easy amenity at The Lodge at Sonoma
Sixteen years. Two cities, one mortgage, two kids. It’s a long, winding road, marriage is, and easily the longest interval I’ve done any singular thing, childhood excepted, though just barely.
Over the years, as the thrill of newness gave way to a companionable partnership, a satisfying habit of collaboration set in. Should we reseal the back deck? Is it wise to refinance? Might the chore of laundry be more equitably assigned? Are the children thriving, are they really all right?
A famous essay cautions couples to allow “space in their togetherness,” warning that we “stand together, but not too near.” That’s great advice, if longevity is the goal. And yet. And yet.
—F. Scott Fitzgerald
On the back nine of our second decade betrothed, running hard to keep up with the hustle and flow of our busy, two-career lives, with the pressures of children and aging parents and our own headlong rush into middle age, a jumbo jet could land in the space formed between The Mr. and me. Perhaps a stay-cation (or two) could help close that wide gap. Make mine of the luxury spa variety, please.
Renaissance Lodge at Sonoma is a grand, imposing place: colossal lobby, manicured grounds, vast pool. With the entrance at one end and the spa at the other, a long string of cottages connects the two left and right. We’re greeted like dignitaries and walked through the amenities, then sent on our way with the keys to cottage 4C. It’s on the lower floor of a two-story building surrounded by rosemary and lavender, clots of deep purple salvia scattered between. The heavy front door swings wide with a sigh, and inside, the large suite is beautifully done: a cloud-soft king bed dressed in fine linens, a sleek leather couch, a fire dancing merrily in the hearth. The bathroom stars a deep tub framed with wide shutters, beyond that, the vanity, and in its own little room, shower and loo. The room is big but not massive, scaled for comfort, not show. At every turn there is luxury: thirsty robes, fragrant lotions, a pristine stack of white towels, lots of nice light. We settle in quickly, bounce the bed like school kids, think about just lingering the evening away.
But there is dinner to be had mere minutes out the door at the Carneros Bistro and Wine Bar.
In the bar before dinner The Mr. and I order champagne and wonder how easily this could become a habit. The restaurant is busy, packed with locals and guests. An open kitchen hugs one wall of the big room; we watch the chef and his crew whirling dervishly. It’s almost balletic, the way they pivot and shift, each move integral, every garnish, every dash. Chef Andrew Wilson anchors the cast, recruited in July when the last chef bailed for reality TV. In collaboration with sommelier Christopher Sawyer, the menu is a savant’s guide to eating/drinking Wine Country: each dish paired dandily with wine, the flavors multilingual and complex. But I’ll confess, after the pot pies and nuggets and one-note pastas of real life, it’s all just a bit overwhelming.
The Mr. and I stroll back toward our cottage enjoying the sights; it is pitch-dark now and The Lodge is aglow. Pots of flame between couches, fire pits here and there, twinkling lights in this corner, a wash of soft color in that. The big pool glows too, wet and blue and cold-looking, but we hurry past, heading home.
An hour passes, two at the most, and then, our phones begin ringing. It’s our son, Little Man, he’s feeling homesick; his voice sounds all trembly in my ear. Little Man is a homebody, he likes his own family best, and though he’s spending tonight with some of our oldest, best friends, he can’t get to sleep, he just can’t.
We spend the rest of our luxury Wine Country night with our son sprawled diagonally between us. Once collected from our friends’ home he is benevolent and calm, cheerfully assessing the hotel’s amenities. He likes the big bed, thinks the fireplace is snazzy; he can’t wait to bathe in the big bathtub. Little Man falls asleep in the middle of some sentence, and The Mr. and I trade looks and clasp hands: It wasn’t the night we’d expected to have, but if this isn’t real love, then what is it?
Early the next morning our son pops up with exuberance: He’s ready to go back to his friend’s house. The transaction is made and The Mr. returns. We’ve got spa appointments! We’re back! It’s on.
The Spa at The Lodge is a well-conceived thing, soft surfaces, dim lights, good hands. We spend 30 minutes before our appointment reclined on a wide, welcoming couch. The lighting is moody and the music is hushed. Tired from last night’s restless to-and-fro-ing, we’ve got that wired/buzzed feeling of bad sleep. But on the plush double lounge we begin to relax: thigh to thigh, hip to hip, hand to hand.
It is rare to find soul comfort in our fast-moving world. We are—all of us—tasking, multitasking, just running in place. The luxury of soft surfaces and an unscheduled interval opens a portal: It takes a minute, but eventually, The Mr. and I make real eye contact. Not the quick-scan exchange of our day-to-day lives; we really look at each other, we actually see. Here is the man I promised to love until death; here is the father of my children.
We share a mustard bath in a huge tub, where we are left soaking forever. It is quiet, it is fragrant, it’s kind of intense. Just as we think of running—sweatily—from this mustard-infused place a soft knock comes from beyond and they’re here: Natalie and Leslie Ann. The women lead us toward tables and gently lay us down, and for the next 80 minutes they tend us. Aching backs, arthritic knees, stuck shoulders, broken hearts. For nearly an hour and a half, they labor to fix us. It costs $435 (before tip) to be served in this way, and that knowledge forms a kernel of dismay somewhere under my ribcage. But The Mr. looks so blissful that it’s hard to dwell there, he looks like a new man, he looks young. When we leave there at last, we are transformed, but far from finished. Next stop, MacArthur Place.
Situated on a swath of historic garden, the immaculate grounds are the soul of MacArthur Place. They meander and wind, not a leaf out of order, each twisting turn revealing a new delight. In the shade of a broad-leafed tree, a checkerboard table set with black and white stones; a field of rich green funneling into a pergola; everywhere abundance and beauty and art. The botany looks effortless, it looks artfully unplanned, like it sprang from the earth precisely this way. Further on, a broad lawn bordered by boxwood stretches grandly away from the front porch of our suite. The quarters at MacArthur Place are named horticulturally; ours, number 40, is the “Azalea.”
We key the big door and step carefully in to a room easily bigger than our first apartment. There’s a massive, high bed, just tremendous in scale, which, later, I’ll need a running jump just to mount. And a wood-burning fireplace set and ready to go. There’s upholstered seating four portly adults could comfortably sprawl in. And a bathroom bigger than our kitchen at home. A flat-screen TV with amazing surround sound, a wet bar, a dinette, fluffy robes. The room’s muted palette is spiced with real art: not the bad cookie-cutter landscapes that hotel chains use, but original canvases of real beauty and wit. It. Is. Incredible.
The Mr. and I take stock like we’ve landed from Mars, we gawk and exclaim like real tourists. A phone in the water closet! Jets in the huge tub! A shower that echoes back when we shout! The champagne we’ve found waiting is uncorked and then poured, and we’re happy, so, so happy; we are giddy and garrulous.
Our treatments are scheduled for four o’clock, and at three-thirty we head towards the spa, passing a phalanx of gardeners on the way. They avoid eye contact and keep on with their snipping, perfecting what appears perfect already. Behind a low picket fence is the pool, surrounded on two sides with chaise lounges. A bit of shade-dappled grass sprawls just behind, with a pair of Adirondack loungers stationed under a tree. A small hot tub is set on one side of the pool, and a well-equipped gym on the other. The Garden Spa at MacArthur Place is not huge, it is scaled to suit its surroundings. We are given spa slippers and agree to meet in the steam room, which surprisingly, The Mr. and I have to ourselves. The hotel is nearly full, we’ve been told, but we have yet to encounter another guest; a deep sense of privacy pervades. When we’re steamed and showered we regroup in the lobby, and soon, our attendants arrive. I’ve selected the Golden Goddess treatment for myself, and The Mr. has ordered the Adam. For the next 100 minutes we will be polished, wrapped, bathed and massaged, and it will cost $520, tip included.
It’s lovely, no question, to be spoiled this way. It’s oddly thrilling to pretend economic largesse. But it’s so far beyond the real facts of our lives that both of us have trouble with buy-in. The Mr.’s treatment has involved vigorous scrubbing, and he emerges looking bemused, though rosy. Mine has exposed me to various gold-colored compounds: golden creams, golden oils, golden glitters, golden gels. I’m told it will last several days. I arrive newly bronzed, like a Goldfinger Bond girl. But as I look at my newly soft, glittering skin, proletariat thoughts bubble up, unbidden.
Complimentary wine and cheese is served nightly in the MacArthur Place library, a free-standing building where books and CDs are made available to guests. We’re late, but the hostess insists that we stay, and she fetches us food and drink. The library is soft-lit, the furnishings cozy, it’s a place I could really sink into. But there’s dinner to be had yet, and then that big room to enjoy, so we thank her and exit, trailing gold.
If you are not the carnivorous sort, then MacArthur’s Saddles restaurant is not for you. But if a good steak is part of your culinary canon, then Saddles is Mecca and Stonehenge and the Ganges in one. The menu is thick with premium cuts, cooked to perfection and sauced savorily. The service is crisply efficient. The decor is cleverly cowboy absent all traces of schmaltz, and the vibe is casually elegant. I, gold-dusted, and The Mr., exfoliated, had to restrain one another from licking our plates clean.
Our room has been refreshed when we finally return: bed neatened, shades closed, lights dimmed. On the bedside table are chocolates and a little graphic predicting tomorrow’s weather. It seems we will wake to a day clear and cold.
In the morning we linger, not wanting to leave. We read in the big bed with a fire blazing nicely, we take turns in the tub, we use all the toiletries. We stroll the gardens and ogle the art, we play a slow game of checkers. We’re only five minutes from home, from the kids and our lives, but it feels like we’ve come a great distance. S
mag winter 2011