Thursday, February 17, 2011

Treehouse Waltz

Fern Forest guest Arthur is in his first year of law school at Yale. His girlfriend Juliana works in health care policy at a non-profit think tank in Washington, DC, focusing on improving access and quality of care for low-income people. A year ago they met at a party of mutual friends. I don’t blame them for falling for each other. Both have good looks and brains. I’m not sure if it was smarts or a spirit of adventure that caused them to book a cold February weekend in the treehouse for their anniversary and an early Valentine’s Day.

Arthur attended junior high school in Ivory Coast when his father was stationed in Africa working as a senior economist with the International Monetary Fund. After that they moved to Haiti, where they lived for three years before leaving in ’86 when dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier was forced out of office for plundering tens of millions of pounds of state funds. Arthur was happy to come back to the States, where he enrolled at Princeton. His parents moved to Paris and his brother works in China, and he visits them both.


Even at age 23, Arthur has had some fascinating experiences, and we learned lots about him in the three days he and Juliana spent with us. When I asked Juliana to tell us about herself, she said she grew up in New Hampshire and went to Swarthmore. “There’s nothing interesting about me,” she said. I asked if she played a musical instrument, and she admitted that she was a trombonist in high school. Then I asked her about health care, and she lit up. Juliana knows the business and has special expertise in meeting the needs of uninsured children. She is one of the only people I’ve met who can make health care sound interesting.


The temperatures dipped down below zero the nights they were with us, but they didn’t seem to mind. The treehouse has heat and stays toasty, even in the wind that blew through the maples. On Saturday they went skiing and at the end of the day they were beat. They joined us by the wood stove, and we ate some popcorn and drank a couple brews. When they wanted to have a dip in the spa, H offered to pick up a pizza while they were soaking because none of us had eaten. They thought that would be preferable to getting dressed and going out. I sautéed some kale because I need the greens for my bones and added walnuts and maple syrup to make it palatable, and we feasted on our laps in the living room while we watched “The Last Waltz.” Here they were, younger than our own children, watching a video of a concert held a dozen years before they were born. They’d never heard of Levon Helm, Van Morrison, Robbie Robertson or Ronnie Hawkins, but Juliana knew about Joni Mitchell and of course they recognized Bob Dylan. Whereas H and I are enthralled each time we watch the video, for Juliana and Arthur, it was background for talk.


Arthur did offer that his father is an avid Rolling Stones fan and has all their records on vinyl. I tried to imagine his father, a dignified man with international sophistication dancing on his veranda while “Hey, you, get offa my cloud” blasts on the phonograph. Arthur says he heard Mick Jagger goes into the hospital every few years to have his blood completely recycled. I wonder if his health care plan covers that—Juliana would probably know.


Even though Arthur had a paper due on Wednesday (due Monday originally, but his prof took pity on him because of his Valentine’s Day treehouse adventure), they dallied on Sunday. Finally in the early afternoon they got ready to hike down the driveway to Arthur’s aged Audi convertible that couldn’t make it up the hill because no one bothers with snow tires in New Haven. They planned to stop in Burlington to check out a few shops and coffee places before heading back down to Connecticut, where Juliana would catch a bus back to D.C.


And, about that paper? “A couple all-nighters and I’ll get it done,” Arthur said. Then he kissed Juliana on the cheek and carried the bags out to the car.

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