Parisians relax on their touchy-feely Metro

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The Independent Online
TOUCHING PEOPLE in the Metro is usually discouraged. Joel Savatofski believes that this is a mistake. The problem with the modern world, he says, is that we incessantly communicate but rarely touch.

Joel, 45, and a team of nine touched 1,200 people on the Paris Metro in two days last week. They will be touching another 1,200 or so in the next two days.

The Savatofski technique - a five-minute, fully clothed, anti-stress, touch massage, already deployed with great success on the French motorways - is being offered free to commuters at two Metro stations by a health magazine. "There is no reason why this should not be a permanent service, paid for by the Metro to attract more customers," Mr Savatofski said, as another tense but willing victim sat on his chair before the curious eyes of fellow passengers.

"We concentrate on the shoulders and the back and that area of the forehead where people store all their cares. How do I know they do? Because that's the place people rub when they're worried."

Mr Savatofski, who runs a School of Massage and Touch in Dijon, insists that there is a spiritual value in being touched by another person, just as beneficial as the physical effect of the massage. "I should really call this a touching point, not a massage point, except that, if I did that, no one would come."

There is nothing wrong with traditional, elaborate massage techniques, he says, except that you have to make an appointment, get undressed, and give up an hour of your day. He developed his method - the light, brief massage of the fully clothed - as a way to de-stress people in the midst of everyday life. He is, if you like, the Ronald McDonald of massage.

For the last five years, Mr Savatofski's teams have been employed by the companies which own two of France's busiest motorways - the A6 to the south and the A13 to the west - to give free five-minute massages to stressed drivers at service areas. The service is advertised on the motorway radio, as a way of encouraging drivers to take a break from the wheel.

He is also much in demand to teach nurses - especially geriatric nurses - how to touch and soothe the people they care for. "That sums up the problem we all have in the modern world," he said, "when you have to teach nurses how to touch their patients."

Customers sit on American-made massage chair with their faces buried in towels. Mr Savatofski and his staff start by shaking their drooping arms, as if they were rag-dolls. They move on to gentle rubbing of the back, shoulders, head and forehead, before shaking the last drops of tension from the fingers. "It's amazing. Bizarre," said student Aurelie Misery, 24. "It was as if I fell asleep. I couldn't hear him talking any more. Now I feel strange but wonderful, kind of tingly all over. Quite different from how I felt before. Much calmer."

Capital Sante, the magazine which paid Mr Savatofski to massage commuters at the Auber and Charles de Gaulle metro stations, had expected the idea to appeal to women more than men, but equal numbers have presented themselves for treatment. Many more preferred just to watch. "I am completely stressed out. My insides are all twisted. And I still have to go to work," said Mireille, an immaculately coiffured woman in a mock fur coat. Why didn't she sit down for a massage? "Me? In front of all these people? No, I couldn't," she said, scurrying away.

Here, perhaps, is the drawback with the Savatofski method. It provides no relief to the truly uptight, because they decline to be de-stressed in public.