Cambridge Comforts


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Helen Kobek's picture

Places and spaces for we who are alive and sometimes miserable

The word "Stress" in red capital letters, with many darkened cartoon hands rising up from word.

Isn’t comfort the last thing you think about as you move through your sometimes harsh day? As people bump and squish you on the T? As worry sets in about being late? As your boss puts you in your place and you’d like to grab them by that little piece of vertical flesh between their nostrils (it’s called a columella), pull them to you and scream, “I am not your bread machine!!”? Does it actually ever spring to mind, “[Heavy sigh] Gosh, I could sure use some comfort right now.” Yeah, there are likely other things that splash to mind when you’re tired, panicky, beset, angry, distressed… STRESSED. Like eating a drawerful of buttery popcorn or a seven-layer revenge sandwich. Almost never do we think quickly about comfort.

But we should. We should because comfort helps us through. Comfort accompanies us, calms our heightened minds and bodies. Our Cambridge has a great many comforting venues – both public and private – to ease that panic, anger, stress. You don’t need to empty your turtleneck drawer, fill it with buttery popcorn, and then have to clean it later. You don’t have to fumble for your boss’s columella. (Yes, in your fantasy, it’s easy to grab that columella on the first try. It’s probably rarely that easy.)

Do something easy. Visit these places:

Mount Auburn Cemetery (Mount Auburn Street, towards Belmont). This lovely-in-all-seasons place won’t remind you all that much of your own mortality, that’s how life-affirming this space is. Lush with all varieties of trees, birds, rolling mini-roads, five or six ponds (one large and sweet, another little and frog). Every week, in every season, there is something new happening with the trees, something blooming, or something new rustling during the winter. You can wander round and read memorials, be touched by courageous things people did. Be comforted by how much longer you’ve lived than probably a quarter of people buried there. Try your hand at gravestone rubbing and bring the results in to your boss, in a delighted, competent, non-threatening way.

The Sunken Garden in Radcliffe Yard (Off Garden Street, across from Cambridge Common). This a meditative space in an academic setting with a comforting water fountain you can sit very close to and ponder what would happen, socially, if you took off your shoes, walked over, and stepped into the fountain. That thought shows how enticing and soothing this feature is. This area is a nice place to sit by yourself and rest. There’s an ample open green area, too, where you can just gently stroll around, and there’s a quiet upper level. Or set yourself down in the one-person seat just at the left of the garden entrance. Sit and be glad you’re you are not Glendis Glottifdoffen, the bitter second grade bully who seemed like she needed this place very badly.

Cambridge Naturals (Porter Square). This decades-old, comforting gargantua is a haven for everyone portaging colds and bruises to aspirations of being a calmer person (they sell CBD oil), to finding the right mildly-overly-personal-and-sick-of-the-overt--rigidity-in-the-workplace birthday gift for your boss (they sell yoga mats). You can go in there, walk around, trying lotions and essential oils, and putting your nose to scented candles. If you are there because you’re lonely, or believe no one cares about you, or are convinced that no one cares if you are alive, you can head to the back wall where there are 100+ kinds of probiotics (beneficial bacteria), and leave the store with eight billion new friends (organisms) that need you to survive. Or sign up for a free chair massage with a visiting massage or Reiki practitioner. The bulk herbs section is impressive (hundreds of containers) and you can spend all the time you need there, smelling them, planning comforting teas and poultices you can buy to bring that comfort home with you. They bring in new items every week, so you can find comfort in knowing you are exploring what someone else finds joy in creating. There’s healthy, safe stuff for babies, if you have one, make one, or feel like one. Samples? You want samples? To try a product, just ask for a sample to take home. And, if you come in with an unheard-of malady, like Varcand-Spizzozy-Domby nasal syndrome, someone at Cambridge Naturals is virtually certain to have had it, known someone who had it, or avidly studies it and wants to help you with it. Emily Kanter, Second Generation Co-owner, emphasizes the ever-present customer service aspect of Cambridge Naturals. “If you are looking for something, we take you right to it. We don’t just point you in the direction.” And, en route to that product, the staff listen – really listen – to what you’re struggling with. So take your self there for comfort, and breath, explore, sample.

Alewife Reservation Constructed Wetland (Near the Alewife T stop). The Constructed Wetland is populated by a variety of species of plants, birds, and other creatures. It’s an easy, comforting boardwalk stroll through and around. It never annoys you. You can go to the end of one boardwalk and hang out on a bench, watching the ducks below swim around, mate, not have careers, ask each other for advice, reject each other unceremoniously. That thing about watching them reject each other unceremoniously is nice and we can learn something comforting from these ducks because you know they don’t keep grudges about being snubbed, whereas we humans tend to do that. Lest you think it’s because they don’t remember, it’s not: They are enlightened.

Marathon Sports (Massachusetts Avenue). “It all starts with your feet,” observes Peter Gilmore, Store Manager. And you know that’s true because you used to suck on our feet and toes when you were a baby, and you wouldn’t have done that if you didn’t love your feet. Ah, you loved your feet back then. Then you learned to walk and got shoes. And your parents mistakenly believed you were throwing your green beans across the room while yelling “No!” because of Temper Tantrum. But it was really because you didn’t know words like “instep,” “pinch,” and “hellish” to describe your uncomfortable shoes. Now you’re an adult. You know those words, you can be free to eat your green beans, and you can walk into Marathon Sports and try on shoes that are soft and squishy, open and ventilated, structured or libertarian. “What can I help you with today?” you will be sincerely asked when you go into the store. If you’re looking for shoes, they will offer to watch you walk, noting in how you tread, noticing if your ankles roll, or whatever, and help you. Super comforting: You can talk with a total stranger about your feet, even tell them what you like about your feet. I also guarantee you that if you went in there and said, openly and with raw despair, “Ya know, I’m pretty sure I was born with someone else’s feet,” they would be kind. They would show you lots of shoes to choose from, and ensure you have what “someone else’s” feet need. No pressure at this store. Exchanges and returns are easy. It’s comforting to take care of your feet, and it’s comforting to use your feet to do new things with your feet, even simple things like starting a new walking routine. “With well-fitting shoes,” notes Peter Gilmore,” people can try new things and surprise themselves.” All truly comforting, even if you can’t really suck on your own feet at this point in time.

There are so many other Cambridge comforts: The Hurley Street Farm in East Cambridge. Lopez Park Community Garden in East Cambridge, which has a sweet, soothing, swinging bench. The MIT chapel with its shiny, golden plates that reflect sunlight as it streams down through a yurt-like sunlight above. So we can find our Cambridge comforts. So can your boss. You just might want to try not to go to the same Cambridge comfort at the same time as your boss, because you just might not want to. Then you won’t even need to think about their columella.

Do you know of other Cambridge comforts? Please login or register to share them in the Comments section here.