respite space / area, area of respite

It’s Midsummer Eve, the day before St. John’s Day and Midsummer Night, on which we can dream about reveling with the fairies. High summer, fiercely hot — I’ve been poleaxed by the heat for several days and trying to write this before today’s shimmer fells me once again — and Stanford (the edge of which is, like, six blocks from the Palo Alto house I’m writing this in) is in day 3 of a PG&E power outage crisis (my electric power is supplied by Palo Alto Utilities, which has so far coped with the heat demands and the occasional small fire, though it all seems distressingly tenuous to me).

Stanford has shut down everything it could and told staff and faculty to stay away if at all possible. But there are all those students in university housing, which is without power for cooling, for lighting, for charging electronic equipment, for opening (keycard-controlled) doors. For them, the university has provided places — spaces or areas — that have emergency power sources and can provide temporary relief in the form of cooling, lighting, and charging. What to call such places?

Stanford’s solution was expressions using the noun respiterespite space, respite area, area of respite — which were new turns of phrase for me, though they probably have a history I’m ignorant of. They have the advantage of being general (cooling station, which has been used in other public heat-crisis emergencies, covers only one of the students’ needs), but not so general that it’s uninformative (as, say, emergency area would be), and not, at least yet, associated specifically with the excretion of bodily wastes (as expressions with the nouns rest, comfort, and relief have become). (Not that excretion is irrelevant in a power outage; the lighting supplied in respite areas lets people see what they’re doing in bathrooms / toilets there, and that’s a very good thing. Meanwhile, back at the dark stifling dorms: flashlights.)

The outage and the response to it. From the San Francisco Chronicle, “Stanford power outage: University preparing for a restoration that could ‘take days’”, on 6/22 by Annie Vainstein” (crucial expression boldfaced by me):

The power outage that forced Stanford University to cancel classes for a day had no end in sight Wednesday afternoon, after Pacific Gas and Electric Co. said it could not access an area where repairs are needed to fix an equipment failure due to a nearby grass fire. The university said that officials are “preparing for the possibility that it may take days” to restore power and announced classes are now canceled through Friday.

Stanford’s campus was on its second day of a power outage Wednesday after a PG&E equipment failure that apparently coincided with the Edgewood Fire — the grass fire that has since been 20% contained in unincorporated San Mateo County.

Stanford’s campus — along with other customers in portions of San Mateo County — lost power Tuesday afternoon, prompting university officials to cancel all classes, child care, day camps and conferences through Wednesday. On Wednesday afternoon, university officials announced that summer session classes were canceled for Thursday and Friday “given the increasing possibility of a multiple-day disruption and the time required to re-start classrooms and equipment even once power is restored.”

… “The university is working on plans for academic continuity and continued residential care for students living on campus,” university officials said, adding that people living and working on campus should conserve energy and stay hydrated during the outage. “Respite spaces [AZ: in other bulletins from the university: respite areas, areas of respite] with cooling and charging [AZ: and lighting: meanwhile, students have been issued free flashlights by the university] continue to be available to students at Arrillaga Family Dining Commons and EVGR [Escondido Village Graduate Residences] Pavilion [with its pub and beer garden].” [AZ: and now at three other locations as well; two of the respite spaces are open 24 hours a day]

Alternatives to respite. From my 4/21/17 posting “rest stop”, on three N+N compounds with rest as first element, data from OED3 in the order of their appearance: (U.S). restroom for (eventually) ‘a lavatory in a public building or workplace’; (N. Amer.) rest area for ‘an area at the side of a road where vehicles may pull off the road and stop’ (typically, with signs indicating what amenities the area can provide: scenic views, shade, picnic tables, restrooms, etc.); and (chiefly N. Amer.) rest stop ‘a lay-by or roadside stopping place, often provided with facilities for travellers’ (those facilities usually including restrooms).

And then from NOAD, on another alternative, comfort:

noun comfort stationNorth American, euphemistic a public restroom for travelers or campers.

And for still another alternative, relief, this NOAD subentry for its base verb:

verb relieve: … 5 (relieve oneself) urinate or defecate (used euphemistically): train your dog to relieve itself where you want it to.

The noun respite, however, has a penumbra of associations, but none of them excretory, so far as I can tell. From NOAD:

noun respite: [a] a short period of rest or relief from something difficult or unpleasant: the refugee encampments will provide some respite from the suffering | [in singular]:  a brief respite from a dire food shortage. [b] a short delay permitted before an unpleasant obligation is met or a punishment is carried out.

The noun has been used in the semi-technical expression place of respite, referring to spots — often outdoors, in a park or garden — with places to sit, that can give medical patients moments of pleasure during difficult treatments.

To my ear, then, a good choice for naming Stanford’s temporary-relief locations during the (alas, continuing) outage.

Midsummer. Meanwhile, here we are on Midsummer Eve. From my 6/25/18 posting “Midsummer cartoons”:

From Wikipedia:

Midsummer is the period of time centered upon the summer solstice, and more specifically the northern European celebrations that accompany the actual solstice or take place on a day between June 19 and June 25 and the preceding evening. The exact dates vary between different cultures. The undivided Christian Church [the church before the split into the the Roman and orthodox churches, and then of the Roman churches into Catholic and Protestant] designated June 24 as the feast day of the early Christian martyr St John the Baptist, and the observance of St John’s Day begins the evening before, known as St John’s Eve.

These are commemorated by many Christian denominations, such as the Roman Catholic Church, Lutheran Churches, and Anglican Communion, as well as by freemasonry. In Sweden, the Midsummer is such an important festivity that there have been proposals to make the Midsummer’s Eve the National Day of Sweden, instead of June 6. In Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Midsummer’s festival is a public holiday.

Many different customs in different places. As I’ve written, in my 3/30/18 posting “Pride Time #5: on Barceloneta beach”, in Catalonia it’s the de facto national day and also a big gay day

Well, it comes in the middle of Gay Pride Month.

[Update, Friday 6/24 morning: service is being restored, in steps, and everything is expected to function more or less as normal on Monday. Cautious optimism prevails.]

One Response to “respite space / area, area of respite”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    I’ve always been puzzled by the fact that respite is normally pronounced /ˈrɛspət/, although I see that at least one online dictionary gives the more-expected /riˈspɑɪt/ as an alternative.

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