Nothing better illustrates the capriciousness of fortune than being quarantined at the Elm Tree House on Mount Hope Farm. For most, being at the House is unequivocally an incredible privilege. It is, after all, an archetypical Gilded-Age mansion built for John Rockefeller’s daughter, rivaled only in its luxury by its exclusivity. As a flu patient, however, my fortune of being at the House was considerably more ambiguous. It was often impossible to consider fortune in anything but the worst of lights while stricken by a disease that rendered me capable only of deliriously cursing the misery of my existence while lying prostrate under a mound of heavy blankets.
Yet even the most nihilistic flu patient would begrudgingly acknowledge the exceptional opulence of the 72-room Elm Tree House. I was in rather poor spirits when I checked in, but was nonetheless utterly mesmerized. Despite wanting to do nothing but curl up in the nearest overstuffed armchair, I felt compelled to spend long periods of time simply strolling through the numerous halls and passages of the mansion, marveling at the impeccable wood and marble paneling, resplendent chandeliers and intricate moldings, cornices and fixtures. Some of us attempted to estimate the home’s value, and quickly abandoned our efforts upon realizing that we could not even appraise the enormous crystal chandelier hanging in the grand staircase.
Our sleeping accommodations were considerably more modest. To avoid being non-egalitarian, the College did not assign any students to any of the six enormous main bedrooms; it instead relegated everyone to smaller guest quarters. No larger than a well-proportioned double, sleeping quarters brought a trace of familiar dormitory modesty to a place that otherwise lacked any semblance of it. As I began a 13-hour period of sleep, my majestic memories began to fade away, and I almost felt as if I had returned to my customary Greylock bed. Indeed, some did not wish to be transported home so quickly and chose to sleep in grander quarters, arranging bedding on the numerous couches in the drawing room, library and parlor.
What daily activities transpired at this magnificent Zauberberg? Nothing like those in the eponymous Thomas Mann masterpiece. Intense political and philosophical discourse, love affairs and vast arrays of allegorical characters were nowhere to be found. Sedentariness abounded. If not languishing on couches or in bed, we spent our days sprawled about watching whatever graced the large television in the parlor, whose programming ran the gamut from the Ephs’ heartbreaking Homecoming loss to Matrix trilogy marathons. When such a highly visual medium did not suit us, we played cards or board games. When we had the presence of mind to do so, we did schoolwork in the library, which provided a welcome change of venue from dull Sawyer or sterile Schow. Those of us who could stomach it ate meals whisked directly from Williams dining halls thrice daily by Dining Services on an enormous dining table capable of accommodating dozens, or else raided the enormous walk-in refrigerator and pantry for smaller fare. Regardless of our activities, we always remained social, even if the extent of our socialization was making glib comments about Keanu Reeves before bursting into fits of coughing. We treated Mount Hope as more than an exceptionally fancy infirmary: We treated it like a home.
While being in an exotic locale did not profoundly affect my own inherent behavior when sick, the splendor of Mount Hope did greatly benefit my health by reducing my stress. While other students confined to their rooms were probably in states of constant despair, as a Mount Hope patient, I was in rather high spirits due to both the grandeur of my surroundings and the many opportunities for social contact. At the very least, being at Mount Hope greatly increased my quality of life during an exceedingly miserable period, and, barring the possibility of the transmission of other diseases, facilitated recovery far faster than any in-room quarantine. While the fortune of being at Mount Hope remains ambiguous, it is indisputable that everyone at Williams is fortunate to attend a school that can care for its sick so well.