Wednesday, December 15, 2010


It's been cold lately in Brooklyn. And in the 100 year old creaking apartment building I live in that's means the start up of a "difficult" steam heat system. Which means moments of sauna like blasts from the pipes, alternating with cool, and withholding radiators. All of us who live here are in a constant state of negotiations -- with these radiators, the windows, our fellow apartment dwellers, the super (poor Nick!) and building manager, who is always on vacation. And lately, I've added my medicine cabinet, in an attempt to quell all the cold symptoms I've developed.

The best advice I've received for this tiresome cold -- which everyone it seems has just come through or informs me that "yeah, it's going around" -- comes from Luba, a new friend, of sorts. I met Luba, while walking my dogs -- Violet and Princess Jo -- in Prospect Park the other day. I'm pretty sure that Luba comes from some part of the former Soviet Union because of the exercises she was performing when I saw her which reminded me of old films I"ve seen about Communist Youth Movement. (Luba could have been a child during the 50's) They're very energetic, what we used to call calisthenics and seem to require a lot of grunting, audible breathing, and occasionally spitting. Luba's style conflicted with my t'ai chi and on this first day we were together, sharing one of the park's rustic wooden platforms (which overlooks the most private, even exotic section of the 'lull water,' a stream engineered by the Olmstead crew a hundred fifty + years ago) I wasn't sure I ever wanted to be in the same vicinity as this heaving, stretching, bending woman again.

But on another day, a few weeks later, when approaching this same platform, there she was (I groaned to myself) doing toe touches -- 95 or so a minute -- and as I came near, she beamed. I coughed. My Russian friend frowned and without any of the social niceties of "hello" or anything, offered advice, and I have to confess, it was the most charming advice I've yet received for this problem. It involved mashing a large quantity of garlic. Her English is still a work in progress. I had to interpret. "You take the garlic and oil. Then you jump (mix?) with the oil. And then you compress, she said haltingly -- on your chest, and sleep. Sleep the whole night." Luba nodded. "You breathe it in (she demonstrated, sniffing deeply while grimacing and smiling simultaneously) and in the morning, you see, you feel great."

Luba also advises breathing in warm salt water through one nostril and expelling it through the other. "Start with water the same temperature as your body and then the next time, use cooler, room temperature."

I'm positive that both of these would keep me "innoculated" against these regular, dry heat colds. As soon as I get the courage to test them.

And then Luba returned to twisting from the waist, elbows held high, leaning over the railing occasionally to spit. I settled into my slow, far less strenuous I Chuan exercises. I think Luba inwardly was wondering why I bother.

And for all of this, I love Prospect Park, and can't see living anywhere that wouldn't let me get to it in less than a ten minute walk.