Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I believe I've got a case of "saudade."


I’ve never thought of our treehouse as a subversive retreat, but when Erica and Michael stopped at U.S. Customs on their way from Montreal and the officer asked, “Where are you staying in the U.S.?” Erica responded, “In a treehouse in Vermont.”


“Pull over,” the officer said.


Fortunately, Erica had a printout of the Airbed and Breakfast site that lists Fern Forest Treehouse, and after studying the sheet, the officer waved them through.


This Canadian couple was looking for anything but excitement. They simply wanted a quiet place to relax, and that’s what we provided. When they arrived in the afternoon, we offered to make them reservations for dinner in Bristol, but they’d brought snacks and planned to hang out. Fine with us. H and I went for a late dinner at the Bobcat to give them some solitude, and when we returned they were snug in the treehouse.


It was 11:00 a.m. when they rose for breakfast on Saturday. While they grazed over scones and granola, we got to know them a bit. Michael is a disarmingly handsome Frenchman, slender with a new growth of dark beard, required for a role in a film set in ancient Greece and being shot in Montreal. “I play a chicken merchant,” he said. It’s a bit part, but he’s getting paid and pampered. The makeup artists try out products on him and massage his shoulders while he’s waiting for his scene. When he’s not acting, he’s studying for his doctorate in international law at McGill, writing his dissertation in French. His charming French accent disguises the fact that his mother was from Indianapolis, where he occasionally visits relatives. He holds dual citizenship, which comes in handy when he’s stopped at U.S. Customs.


Erica busies herself running a gallery space and hosting Airbnb guests in their extra bedroom in Montreal. They met at a party and married two years ago when Erica was just twenty. She’s a beautiful woman who presents herself with elegant grace except for moments when she erupts in joyful laughter.


Mostly Erica and Michael speak French to each other. Once Michael was describing someone—perhaps himself—and searched for the word in English. He looked at Erica and said something in French. “Hardheaded,” she said. “Yes, hardheaded,” he agreed. We didn’t find him at all hardheaded. In fact, we discovered that he is born under the sign of Cancer in the Year of the Dog, which makes him tender and loving, a good match for Erica, who exudes confidence.


She was born in Portugal, however, and no one understands romance better than the Portuguese. She taught me the word saudade, for which there is no suitable English translation. The closest she could come to its meaning is tormented longing. Nowhere on earth is yearning taken to such a high art as in Portugal.


On Saturday the couple took a stroll on the Natural Turnpike, a dirt road that meanders through national forest to Ripton. When they returned, they took over the kitchen, chopping almonds and tomatoes and boiling pasta. When dinner was ready, they invited us to join them, and we seasoned the meal with a couple bottles of red wine. Well fed, they hung out with us in the evening, the tension of the city melting away.


Erica has never learned to drive, and on Sunday Michael gave her a lesson on Lincoln’s back roads. It was a lovely Vermont spring day, and they lingered until afternoon, kicking around a soccer ball and reluctant to head back to work and traffic and city noise. As for us, we were saudade to have them stay just a little longer.