My mother is arguing with my grandfather in that weird, clipped way that they do in front of other people; looking down, words bursting in short eruptions, with hushed breath. If we were at home, they'd be shouting, in English interspersed with German and the occasional Yiddish. We're in a dining room at the Sheraton Hotel on East Ave in Rochester, NY, near the door to the kitchen, and there are people working and talking, getting lunch ready. The rattle of cutlery and china coming from the kitchen contrasts starkly with the deeply quiet, nearly empty restaurant around us. It's all very dark, with dark wood panelling, leather seats that are slightly too high and cushioned, so that I'm perched with feet out in front of me, and little pools of white light on the tables.
Opening my mouth for the next piece of bread, savoring the sweet tartness; I was relieved of interactions and the risk of accidental rule-breaking, which gave me time to be lost in the carpet. It had an intricate, bold and ornate pattern, with dark reds and a brighter gold, perhaps browns and blacks. There was an interleaved effect so that while it definitely repeated, the eye could wander and shift, starting the pattern on this floral filigree or that pair of arcs, completely hypnotic. The closest I've been able to replicate the way that carpet attracted my eyes is a scene from the film "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," when Thompson is tripping and the carpet flows and surges. I had recently been introduced to music theory, and the flowing nature of that repeat made chords in my head.
Now I know that the soft bread with the golden crust was Challah, and that people do eat yoghurt with honey. My grandfather was a gardener, a Lenteboden, and a strong proponent of eating simple, whole foods. My father told a story of working for him when my parents first moved to NY, and how after a morning of back-breaking landscaping, he'd be handed a chunk of bread, a tomato, and some hard cheese for lunch. My grandfather sitting crosslegged on the ground and solemnly dividing up a head of lettuce between them. My mother would dismiss this with a snort, so it's not clear how much of an exaggeration that was.
The Sheraton has grown, changed, moved, been redecorated, and I couldn't find a photo of that particular carpeting, but did find a postcard from 20 years earlier, of two different dining rooms. Unfortunately the only thing I find familiar is the heavy wood panelling on the walls. I've always associated the glimpses of this moment with the Christmas season, and studying the scene before me, I remember patent leather shoes, a heavy woolen coat, hampered movement, and worry about sitting still and keeping clean. At the heart of this memory is the calm state of just sitting still, allowing my eyes to float over that amazing patterned carpet, perched like a baby bird, opening my mouth for the next soft piece of bread, dripping with sweetness.