This is the second installment of my tale about Ute. You can find the first here.
By 1998, I was finally on my own after a decade of living off men after leaving my parents’ house—frying pan, meet fire. I was living alone in a ridiculously affordable Prospect Heights floor-through with a backyard, rotating through a series of lovers, free-lancing as a copy editor, working out at least once a day, and writing the occasional magazine article about holistic health. Back then you could make grownup money as a journalist but working full-time in a magazine would’ve cramped my yoga girl lifestyle so I resigned myself to pitching articles that would earn me coin while I learned about something that already interested me. Getting paid a buck a word to take a vacation where anorexic me could manage the food always felt like a good call.
The magazines I wrote for were mostly the kind of rich-people vanity projects that were long dead by the time everything crashed in 2008, and their editors were usually inexpert enough that they were desperate for my “boho girl” ideas. So when I pitched a raw foods spa I’d read about, they bit though back then nobody ate raw; my friends thought it meant I’d be eating steak tartare by a pool.
I don’t exactly know what I was expecting—spa treatments and beautifully arranged greens and fruit, probably–but it wasn’t what I encountered. The Hippocrates Health Institute was located in West Palm Beach, which is a lot grittier than Palm Beach. Think gravel and gutted strip malls instead of white sand and perfect vistas. Founded in the 1950s by raw foods advocate Ann Wigmore, it was in definitive decline by the time I showed up—all peeling pink stucco, diseased palm trees, unfilled pools, moldy wall-to-wall carpeting; pale people with insipid smiles and desperate eyes.
Shit was bleak.
At the orientation meeting, laminated folders were passed around and my heart sank. Our diet was to consist solely of raw cabbage, spinach, pea shoots, watercress, wheatgrass and cucumber juice, and sprouted grains. In between meals we would be learning about the diseases we’d apparently already incurred from eating cooked food, and submitting to regular fasts, enemas, rigorous tests of our organ function, and electromagnetic and infrared therapy to draw out the many toxins impeding our body’s “natural processes.”
There wasn’t so much as a massage table on the premises.
As our guide—40ish and clad in 70s cult whites—droned on about the benefits of eating raw I gazed around the circle sitting cross-legged on the dirty floor. These were the people with whom I’d be spending the next month of my life, and everyone looked lumpy and wan. The only other person under 40 was a blond woman with angry eyes wearing a long-sleeved floor-length dress though it was 90 degrees in the meeting room, air conditioning apparently counter-indicated for cleanses.
This woman of course was Ute, and though I could usually take people in without them noticing, she looked up and met my gaze hawkishly before I got a chance to register more than a general dislike for her. Continue Reading →