Saturday, July 11, 2009
WELCOME to the world's only therapeutic body massage performed by writhing snakes.
At Ada Barak's Carnivorous Plant Farm, an hour's drive north of Tel Aviv, the ophidian rub-down comes with optional extras.
"Live rats to nibble your feet," offered Ms Barak, a 54-year-old biologist whose vaudeville show seems more suited to Mark Twain's Mississippi.
"Tamed Australian rats," she added. "Specially bred to interact with humans."
Who could resist?
Not just the Herald. A few weeks ago the pop superstar Madonna called.
"Not Madonna herself, but her people," Ms Barak made clear.
With Madonna scheduled to bring her Sticky & Sweet world tour to Israel on September 1, her people had phoned to ask about a private session.
"It's a very sensual experience," said Ms Barak, giving serious thought about why any sane person would pay money for such a thing.
"Some have even described the massage as being something more than that."
According to Ms Barak, a Parisian woman came to her recently complaining that she hadn't had a man in her life for several years.
"She told me the snake massage gave her the push of a lifetime. It kicked her right into heaven."
Ms Barak said she got the idea to start offering snake massages four years ago when visitors to her plant farm showed an interest in her pet snakes.
Word began to spread after the US talk show host Tyra Banks flew her to California to perform the snake massage in front of a live studio audience.
Motioning to the massage table set up under the shade of an umbrella on her front lawn, Ms Barak said it was time to get things started. Next to the table stood a white baby's bath, where the snakes, unable to contain their excitement, lay writhing in anticipation.
Among them were a California kingsnake and an albino corn snake, each measuring more than a 1½ metres.
"They seek the warmest parts of your body," Ms Barak said. "They find the knotted muscles that need the most attention."
Not advocating the heavenly heights of the aforementioned Parisian, Ms Barak agreed that this massage did not have to be a full body experience.
The snakes did their thing, the larger ones sliding confidently around the back, the smaller ones wrapping themselves around the neck and poking their way into the ears and nostrils. It didn't seem so awful after all. Almost soothing, even.
Even the Aussie rats, which tickled the feet more than nibbled, seemed pleasant enough.
With the massage over, Ms Barak brought some of her pet plants out for show: a Venus flytrap, a Nepenthes pitfall trap plant that dissolves its prey in an acid bath, and a member of the Sarracenia family that resembled a cos lettuce with green tubes growing from the centre.
Ms Barak thrust an index finger into one of the tubes, observing as it shut tightly around her knuckle.
"If I do not cut the plant loose, I could lose another finger," she said, pointing to what was left of her other three fingers on the same hand, all of which had been severed.
Later, she admitted she was only joking about her fingers. She had actually lost them as a child when she and her brother played with a lawn mower.
So has Madonna signed up for her snake massage? Ms Barak was tight lipped about the details. "At this stage, nothing is confirmed," she said.