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During the night at the end of a brutally hot July, the sizzling summer of hell finally took a powder. When I left my apartment the next morning I walked straight into a deliciously cool breeze. It had been so long since I had hit the street and not been assaulted by a blinding wall of sun and humidity, I stopped short to drink in the stunning coolness. Returning home and walking toward me, my third floor neighbor, who also always leaves early to buy his newspaper, smiled. Yes, we beamed. Wasn’t it a gorgeous morning.

At last New Yorkers could turn off their air conditioners, could walk in comfort on the streets again, amble anywhere, do anything outdoors we wanted. A celebration was in order. Maybe dinner at a restaurant with outside seating. Even better, a picnic in Central Park, the first of the Summer.

After consultation with a friend I offered to bring a pasta salad. Nice and simple to match my cooking level. But always impressive with lots of fresh veges from the farmer’s market and capers and olives thrown in. I’d also bring the wine. Thanks to biweekly trips to Trader Joe’s and their neighboring wine shop where I stock up on their ridiculously cheap, fine tasting, house brands, I always have an ample supply on hand.

My friend would bring a surprise dessert, something she is good at, always managing to find delectable, chocolate concoctions that hit the spot. She would also schlep the entire cutlery, dishes and cups, plus picnic blanket.

I checked my larder, which happily contained all dinner ingredients, so I’d have to buy zilch. Which meant a picnic both fun and frugal.

A little after 7:00 in the evening we spread beach towels on a smooth, stone wall under a large weeping willow tree beside Turtle Lake. Across the path, created for the 1939 World’s Fair, an impressive statue of Poland’s King Jagiello mounted on his massive horse, his swords crossed high in victory, watched over us.  At this hour the park was quiet… and getting quieter. Most kids had been packed off home. Nearby someone was playing a guitar with an accomplished rhythm, a pleasant accompaniment to our leisurely meal. As the sun went down we also had the entertainment of checking out occasional strollers on the main path crossing the park from east to west. Taking advantage of the cool respite, other night revelers were also enjoying dinner on park benches and further away, on picnic tables among the trees.

The darker it got, the more peaceful and bucolic, the quiet broken by faint distant voices and occasional splashes of picnic-bench-lake-treesducks diving in the lake. I thought of early childhood picnics when my family lived in an industrial city in a crowded six flat building with a tiny scrubby backyard. On Sundays we’d sometimes pack up picnic gear and escape to Sherwood Island, an oasis of beautiful lush trees with a beach on Long Island Sound. Bliss — a whole day of chowing down on grilled hot dogs and marshmallows, exploring the island and paddling around the clean inlet water, always impatiently waiting those 25 minutes after eating before jumping in the water again. Happy times…Like tonight.  Relaxed and with an all’s-right-with-the-world-wine-buzz, we slowly savored our desert.  My friend had done it again — luscious Belgian brownies from Le Pain Quoidien, a master Belgian bakery on Madison Avenue. Like those marsh-mellows of years ago, a sweet ending to a perfect picnic.

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