A house swap is the ideal way to visit somebody else’s neck of the woods.
After all, it eliminates one of the biggest financial burdens of many holidays. Though people the world over do it with strangers via the Internet, a house swap is better yet if the people you’re swapping with are friends.
Once you’ve arranged the swap, it looks like you’ve got it made in the shade… until the day of departure approaches and you realize you’ve set yourself quite a task.
My husband Stanley had plans to speak in New York. An outgoing and socially networked fellow, Stanley knew through Facebook that a university friend had recently moved from France to Brooklyn, one of New York’s five boroughs. So, out of the blue, he asked this fellow if he’d like to trade his Brooklyn condo for our place in North Van for a while. Turned out he did.
For this newly minted Brooklynite, a bit of our wilderness should be a pleasant respite from the grit of the city. We’re going to New York for the first time as a family and, of course, intend to go to concerts and plays and explore neighbourhoods as well as engaging in the usual touristy pursuits.
The trouble lies in the prep. Somebody I’ve never met, whom Stanley hasn’t seen in more than 30 years, will be staying at our house. We don’t want him to be, at the very least, disappointed, and, at the very most, severely traumatized. If he decides to make a formal complaint to our government, both Franco-Canuck relations and U.S.-Canada trade could be affected for years to come.
How clean will he expect our place to be? No idea. At least he’s French and not Swiss. Then we’d really be in trouble.
How disgusted will he be by our weedy garden? Je ne sais pas.
We had the option of leavng our dog with him, even though he's never had a pet. But luckily, the owners of our dog's best canine friend stepped in and offered to take her on.
We once went on a trip, giving our house and dog over to acquaintances, only to have them call us a couple of days later to say one of them was severely allergic to the dog and they’d have to bail, leaving us to make other arrangements from Hawaii. It wasn’t their fault, but it was a problematic glitch.
We’ve been slowly sprucing up our place over the past few months but we’re now getting down to the nitty gritty. All expired prescription drugs have been turfed. Bathroom cupboards have been sternly edited. The linen closet has lost its rattiest towels. Carpet cleaners have been hired.
It’s not that we know this fellow to be a snob; actually, that’s highly unlikely. It’s just that when we – and I should really say “I” here – look around us, it’s the flaws that always pop into view.
It’s strange. I don’t feel particularly anxious about the place we’ll be using in Brooklyn. We’ve seen pictures of his place and it’s modest, in a Democratic-minded, ethnically diverse, middle class area called Prospect Heights that looks ideal for our purposes. Joan Rivers, to the borough born and bred, supposedly lives there, though likely in a much fancier section. I’d love to bump into her bawling somebody out.
Obviously, the chief charm of most New York area neighbourhoods is their proximity to Manhattan. My sister and her husband lived in Harlem for a few years, more than two decades ago. I’ll never forget one night when I was staying with them at their apartment. My sister decided to pull down the blind in the kitchen for privacy’s sake and was showered with live cockroaches. We were all only mildly grossed out. Pregnant, I happily slept on a pull-out mattress on the floor, where more bugs were likely scuttling. It was New York. Who cared?
They lived there, without a working oven, their fridge dominating their tiny apartment’s living room, and I never heard a word of complaint. They were at the centre of popular culture in North America, doing stimulating work, and going to see great live music, art and theatre. While I was there, we accidentally spotted celebrities like Jackie Kennedy Onassis on a casual stroll through Central Park, and Lou Reed taking out money at the ATM in his leather jacket, sunglasses and all.
With any luck, our guest will feel equally content here, though for less glamorous reasons. The North Shore is heaven for anybody who loves nature, the ocean and peace and quiet. Do scruffy bathroom floors and dingy grout matter in the great scheme of things (she asked hopefully)? He’ll be away from the muggy stench of the Big Apple, close to swimmable water and hike-worthy trails. Across the street, he’ll have a forest walk in a park that’s a mere throwaway by local standards, but is spectacularly beautiful if you’re not from here. He’ll have the total rainforest experience.
What’s not to like?