Friday, July 26, 2013














WE DIDN'T STAY IN A LOT OF HOTELS WHEN I WAS GROWING UP. Our family trips were mostly weekend adventures to one of several provincial parks in our area where we'd erect a tent or pop-up our trailer and roast marshmallows for two days.  But on the rare occasion we'd pull up to a Super 8 on a road trip to America, I remember feeling a sense of adventure. The moment you swung open the door to find a perfectly reset room, with impossibly crisp linens and an inexplicable number of lamps. Like most families I knew, we lived in a house, so having a balcony (despite its parking lot view) was pretty exciting, too. And I've always been a sucker for a miniature toiletry item.

Until Dateline NBC starting shining blacklights at the Howard Johnson, unearthing horrors beyond comprehension, these temporary homes were special.

When you check into a hotel, it's your shot at sleeping on the other side of the bed, an aesthetic test-drive behind a monolithic mahogany desk you'd never buy in a million years. Hotels are an opportunity to consider, for a moment, the merits of dusty rose and a chance to leave wet towels on the floor. After 6 months in them, they also remind you how they are not home

This trip, among other things, has been about letting go of stuff. Every detail of our apartment in Toronto was planned and created, nothing by accident; while it wasn't belaboured, I did consider every aspect. Since packing it into boxes, divesting ourselves of most material belongings, and hopping onto a succession of airplanes, I've come to care less about things. I take a lot of comfort in the simplicity of having one chair, a couple of bedside tables and a bed. I'm not sure what else I need.

But AirBnBs are something different. Where hotels are completely anonymous, these short-term rentals are quite the opposite; many people live in their apartments when they aren't renting them to international strangers. So they are homes, brimming with personality and the effects of a life. When looking for sharp knife, you might stumble on old income tax receipts or a rather telling prescription bottle. I have moments where I feel like a very slow-moving cat burglar with all the time in the world. It can feel weird to dig to the back of a cupboard for a coffee mug that isn't yours or develop genuine concern for the health and welfare of somebody else's houseplant. 

Hotels seem to design themselves by some unspoken international average, where something is bound to be familiar to each person who crosses the threshold. If you're not accustomed to windows without screens, fear not, the TV controls will be conventional. If the electrical sockets are foreign and off-putting, the toilet will flush as you're used to. It's a push-pull. A give and take.

But AirBnBs don't strive to make you feel at home. Their distinct function is to make you feel at somebody else's home. Everything is region-specific, be it weird locks, a washing machine in the kitchen, or a shocking German toilet with a shitshelf built-in. (I won't get into it. But, it's horrifyingly Googelable.) If you do the AirBnB circuit, you're meant to experience a place like an insider. There will be no faux-comforts for you here. 

And like that mahogany desk at the Comfort Suites Hotel, AirBnBs let you test-drive somebody else's toilet and their personal style. I've always wondered just how unbearable one of those chairs shaped like a hand would be, and now I know. Would I like a 14th century armoire in my bedroom? No thank you. Oh gosh, how annoying would it be to drink water from three-ounce shot glasses? Very! 

It's a great opportunity to take a spin in somebody else's life. If only for a week.

And I've been inspired by so many things along the way. When we go home, I know I'll drown in stylistic choices as we set ourselves up in a new place. I'll have to paint everything white or run the risk of becoming my worst nightmare: A post-travel, identity crisis-mish-mash of Turkish kilims, South East Asian pottery and kangaroo taxidermy. Louis XV thrones, Balinese water features and Union Jack flags. But, hear me now: There will be no Buddhas.




(Our current AirBnB in Berlin. In an old walk-up, the place has 12-foot ceilings, decades of tattered paper on the walls, and a cornucopia of styles. A large room at the back - 20x30, beautiful - is being transformed into the owner's studio space so sits disheveled. But lovely.)


CURRENTLY
LOCATION: Berlin, Germany
DATE AND TIME: Friday, July 26, 2013 6:55PM Central European Summer Time/Friday, July 26, 2013 12:55PM EST




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