I’m thinking of the word “respite,” and what a cool, calming word it is—and its synonyms are appealing, too: lull, pause, breathing space.
All summer I have felt like I am walking through a dirty soup that stains my mood a dingy grey or bilious lime green, as it was on Saturday August 18th, again in the high 80s with almost as high a humidity index. I was beyond sour—bad tempered and petulant and not looking forward to visiting my 91-year-old mother in “the home” in Brooklyn, to the blast furnace of the subway platform on the way there, to seeing her toothless visage, now shrunken in on itself like an old-fashioned apple doll. I had misplaced a whole skein of yarn I needed to finish the linen top I was knitting, the only activity that could reliably calm and focus me on the long subway ride. I was yelling at my husband, just inane things like “I HATE NEW YORK IN THE SUMMER” as if bellowing like a hurt cow at the man who dutifully accompanies me on these visits would help the situation.
Yet, somehow while sitting in the square of pavement that constitutes a “garden” in “the home” I found respite. It was just as hot. I was coming to the end of my skein of yarn with no more yarn on the horizon. My husband had left us to go walking without so much as a peck on my cheek, a cheek that burned with shame for my bad behavior towards him. My mother, though, had surfaced from the usual fog of dementia to express interest in us. Even if she asked me the same question over and over again (What are you knitting?) she was asking. I was moved, too, by the small pleasure she gets eating a Dixie cup of Häagen Daz chocolate ice cream. I massaged her hands with lotion I bring and lift them to her nose so she can smell the Inis lotion made of seaweed from Ireland.
A Breather and a Biscotti
Is that a hint of a breeze I felt in the dank air, too? The weather was supposed to be changing. I felt hopeful in the garden. And I decided there was a culinary pleasure that would finish the job of pulling me out of my funk: a pistachio biscotti at Cousin John’s Bakery in Park Slope. It’s a block from a newish yarn store, String Thing Studio, which boasts a garden, though one reminiscent of the one at the Home—a plain rectangular space with picnic tables. The first time I went there I bought two skeins of brilliant turquoise Zooey yarn, one of which was now the missing skein. That day I walked a block away and spotted the old-fashioned window of Cousin John’s. This is not a Park Slope hipster bakery. It has an old-fashioned tin ceiling, ice cream parlor curlicue ironwork, periwinkle blue tables, paper straws and absolutely no pretension. In fact the baked goods display was a little ugly: rustic fruit tarts with the berry filling slopping over the lattice work, crumbs littering the cookies and pastries on display. However, there were baskets of delicious chocolate bread to sample on the counter. The ice coffee was delish and the biscotti (pistachio, chocolate chip or cranberry $1.00/ea.) were not those hard, crown-cracking spears but stubby, almost cake-like, and filling.
On the Saturday of my distemper, I pecked my mother on the cheek and left her in the dayroom, and took myself to String Thing Studio to buy yet another skein of turquoise Zooey yarn (even though the Chef found the errant skein, as I suspected he would, under the seat of our car the next day). As my mood shifted into the blue-sky gap between clouds, I looked up and around me at the varied beautiful architecture of Park Slope and snap, snap snapped away on my iPhone (see photo gallery). But mainly I wanted an excuse to go back to Cousin John’s to find respite after yet another bittersweet visit to mom, in the full-on sweetness of a pistachio biscotti on a periwinkle blue table.