Motherhood, Medicine and the Moon: Mezzaluna

Stephanie LaCava

“The barn burned down and now I can see the moon.” Kate Sofranko alluded to one of her favorite sayings in a prophetic conversation we had nearly a year ago, sitting on the large leather couch in the Barge. She had been explaining lessons learned on maintaining balance and perspective in an ever-changing world as her youngest son climbed over her to take a bite of bagel and sample some hot chocolate. Years earlier, she had relocated – her two infant sons in tow – to the North Pacific island of Guam. It was during her stay there that she began to map out her ideal career: a practice in midwifery and body care. While in Guam, she enjoyed the companionship of a massage therapist from Bali and trips to Buddhist temples, but it was her relationships with locals that truly influenced her perceptions of balanced living. She had arrived with a rigidity of lifestyle – she left with a new perspective evidenced in her mantra of moderation regarding “the barn.” “I moved there having a standard: organic food, cloth diapers, a baby playing with little wooden toys with non-toxic paint,” Katie said. “But when you move abroad – no matter where you go – the great rule becomes moderation.” It is this ease that allowed Sofranko to locate her business in upstate New York when life brought her to Hamilton.Sofranko’s vision has undergone many incarnations, proof of her adaptability amidst unpredictable pressures. She is the only woman to name three businesses in Hamilton. The first was Healing from Within – the spa that Sofranko created, designed and founded, which still operates downtown. Many people doubted the choice of the basement space next to Rosita’s, although when it opened, Healing from Within proved its potential almost immediately. Despite its success, Sofranko’s ultimate vision led her to pursue perfection in a new raw space in January of 2003, “a hidden oasis above the Barge.” The location above the coffee shop had been a collection agency before it became Heart & Hands. With $100, Sofranko began remodeling on a Thursday morning, and was up and running Monday – with the help of the Colgate community. Assitent Professor of Economics, Marc Tomljanovich painted the walls a carefully chosen celadon. It was during this time that Sofranko met the woman who became her business partner, Katherine Robinson, the wife of Associate Professor of History David Robinson.When Robinson showed up – six pack and cleaning supplies in hand – she offered Sofranko her help. The two women had more in common than their first names (Katie was adopted to distinguish the two; her full name is Kathryn). Robinson, too, has traveled extensively, spending time in China and Japan while her husband was on sabbatical. She has her Masters in anthropology from Yale, yet finds fulfillment practicing massage therapy. “When I think of Katie & Katherine, they are such people who have kind of been around the world so much – and when you do that kind of travel it broadens your horizon,” says Professor Omid Safi. “Usually people think that makes you a worldly kind of person. It’s that, but it gives them a deeper appreciation for what it means to be human. Both have deep interest in spiritual traditions.”Sofranko and Robinson also balance motherhood with their passion for people and work. Mutual admiration of each other’s talents is apparent when they are together. “Katherine is an amazing body worker,” Sofranko says. Robinson admires Sofranko, though — the more reserved of the two — she remains smiling and quiet. “They have just such warm, caring personalities,” says Safi.

The establishment of Heart and Hands was about reconstruction – a place once lent to evoking fear and delivering bad news has now became, in Sofranko’s and Robinson’s capable hands, a phenomenally successful business. Purely through word of mouth, the clientele – roughly 80 % Colgate professors – grew larger than the practice could accommodate. Even without a sign or advertising, the hidden studio became so popular that Sofranko and Robinson could not work at the same time. While working at Heart and Hands, Sofranko continued to practice midwifery and assist in at-home deliveries (this year alone, she has assisted in ten births). Perhaps it was her extensive knowledge of homeopathic medicine that led her to realize the potential for expansion and further change within her business – or it could be her nomadic ways, a trait she claims to share with her newest business partner as well. When Sofranko and Robinson formatted plans for a wellness center, they wanted to include therapy in their offerings. Indeed, it is a holistic view of healthcare that characterized the two women’s natural approach. Thus, plans for a meeting place for grief and support groups were added to the offerings. Classes in meditation and yoga soon followed, as well as the search for a therapist, which led them to Andrea Steffen. Sofranko and Steffen had not known one another before Steffen arrived upstate, but both grew up in the “old gold mining town gone Berekely hippie” of Nevada City in Sierra, California. Like Sofranko and Robinson, Steffen is well-traveled, having lived across the United States from Alaska to Washington D.C. “We’re all wanderers – gypsies who all ended up in Hamilton,” says Sofranko when the four of us sat down to talk over handmade sushi at Sofranko’s home. Like her current studio and past location, Sofranko’s house is only accessible through a door onto a landing and up a flight of stairs. This parallels Sofranko’s ability to create atmosphere and warmth – you step away from the outside world and into her inviting interpretation of it. Nothing about it is haphazard. The house smells of patchouli coming from a candle in the dining room, and sheets of seaweed lay next to a Japanese knife (a gift from Robinson) used to slice homemade kappa maki rolls and inari pockets. Photographs of Sofranko’s children are everywhere. There is a framed Vietnamese cloth – “a baby carrier; Katherine got it for me,” as the centerpiece of the wall and carved masks hang between wooden furniture. Sofranko sets down a plate of endamame on the trunk that acts as our table, and the three of us (Robinson has yet to arrive) eat greedily using our hands. When Robinson arrives, six-pack in hand – like the day it all began – she joins us as Sofranko hands her a bowl of homemade miso soup. Sofranko and Robinson encourage Steffen to explain her work. For the past thirty years, she has been providing therapy to women and teaching writing. Steffen found that the fusion of the two disciplines provided a means for her patients to find their “authentic voice.” “Some things that I’ve done, I can’t believe it.” Steffen explains that writing allowed her patients to contact deep emotions. “If I had known it would be that powerful. I would never have done it. It scared me to death.” Steffen realized that people were able to relinquish control when writing and simultaneously find healing in their ability to express emotion: “I’m interested in people learning skills for self-healing.” The conversation is interrupted when Sofranko runs in from the kitchen and proudly produces a can of Thai chiles to show Robinson. Cooking is a common interest among the three woman. Robinson talks about making Chinese food while she was in Japan (Szechuan style) and sips a Saranac. Sofranko drinks red wine and brandishes the chile can, seducing us to inquire about its contents. Apparently, there’s 80% chiles in there – and that’s a lot of chiles. Indian cooking is another favorite of the women, but it’s Sofranko’s sushi chef skills that are discussed. I learn the recipe for miso soup (fish flakes are the secret ingredient) as talk turns to Sofranko’s dreams.She has a recurring dream of giving birth, which Robinson insists has to do with the opening of their latest venture, Mezza Luna. After outgrowing Heart and Hands, the two women found a new expanded home across the street from the Colgate Inn and above The Peppermill (Five Madison for those of you who remember the days of ATO after-hours). There is enough space for two massage studios, as well as classes in prenatal yoga and meditation – and cooking. Mezza Luna has the same feeling that Sofranko creates within her home. “Katie and Katherine know how to set up an atmosphere that is relaxing and very comforting,” says Professor Padma Kaimal, a devoted client and friend with a standing appointment “almost every week.” “It’s not flashy. It’s earthy, homey – that’s more of who we are,” Sofranko says and looks to Robinson for confirmation. A lawyer shares the entryway of 5 Madison with Mezza Luna. Upon ascending the stairs, the center is to the right and the law office to the left – the two an unlikely pair. Inside Mezza Luna, natural tan trim lines the walls and knotted bamboo chairs, woven wood trunks and deep mahogany desks complement the wooden floors. There is no evidence left of the fraternity parties held when the space was student housing. Once more, reincarnation occurred at the masterful hands of Sofranko and Robinson.Underfoot is a maroon-lined carpet. Against the far wall is a selection of clear tea canisters labeled with care: “Organic Green Tea, Mother’s Milk Decaf, Linden Decaf, Ginger, Calm Chamomile.” The muslin teabags are visible through the glass, indicating a variety of brands: TAZO, Repulic of Tea’s round bags, another kind I had never heard of. Each has been hand selected for its properties and qualities. In Mezza Luna there’s no such thing as coincidence.The main room also houses a holistic library with books and CDs to borrow. On top of the vitrine is a Vietnamese water puppet in front of Matisse’s naked dancers splayed on a background of blue-green. There are three Beta fish swimming over glass rocks and under bamboo stems – they are the same fish that began with Sofranko at Healing from Within. The separate massage rooms offer retreat from a collegiate existence. “The thing that I like about the Wellness Center is that it’s a place that lets you remember that you are a whole person – that your body is connected to your spirits and emotion, especially in a college town because we live in our heads so much of the time, says Safi. “So much of our life is an intellectual life – just being in this place helps you realize the connections between the parts that make up a human.” On the walls of Robinson’s room are framed fabric squares her husband brought back from Vietnam. “I love textiles, I collect textiles,” says Robinson. Sofranko’s room is adorned with her own choice collectibles: masks and wooden folk art. An old man with a beard and a dragon from China hang on one wall, a yellow horned demon from Brazil on another. Many of the masks are gifts from friends. A red, pharaoh mask that Assistant Professor of Political Science, Michele Chang brought back from Egypt offers an artistic example of the Colgate community’s involvement in Mezza Luna. It was three members of the history department: Assistant Professors of History, Antonio Barrera and Robert Nemes, as well as Robinson’s husband, David, that did the literal heavy lifting from Heart in Hands on Lebanon Street to Mezza Luna. “Mezza Luna is such a wonderful opportunity for both of them (Sofranko and Robinson), but also for the community. They’ve set it up in a really holistic way – they will continue to offer their amazing massage services, which if you haven’t tried, I strongly suggest, but also offer pre-natal yoga classes, and other wellness-type classes that are really going to contribute to the health and overall well being of the community.” says Professor Carolyn Kissane. “I’m very excited to know that this type of center will be just a few blocks from my house and place of work.” Mezza Luna has already established itself within the community, but there’s still no sign outside. This time around, though, Sofranko and Robinson have something special planned. The sign featuring a man-in-the-moon motif is being crafted in gold leaf by a local artisan. Precious metal is an apt choice as the wellness center’s name was inspired by memories: Mezza Luna is Italian for “half-moon” and Robinson’s father once owned an antiquarian bookstore of the same name. As for Sofranko – now she can see the moon.