house is fine -- I like it well enough.
It’s small; it’s dark. It has no garage, so its basement is crammed with the stuff that normal families put in their garages – bicycles, camping gear, snowboards, memorabilia, tools, spare dining room chairs and out-of-season clothing. Oh, and one bedroom. Luckily, aesthetics don’t concern kids much.
When we bought it, in 2001, it was the best we could afford. It seemed charming compared to our last place, in Calgary, a stucco bungalow on a nondescript street with few mature trees. By contrast, North Vancouver was so lush that we decided we’d be spending a lot of time outside.
And so we do, when it isn’t raining, though the outdoor time we spend is usually away from home. Our deck’s too small for entertaining. The house can’t accommodate more than four guests without feeling cramped. We’re used to it, though -- we were muddling along fine, until the flood.
As I mentioned in a previous column, that happened when my husband started to run a faucet into a pot to soak it overnight, then absent-mindedly wandered off to bed. Thank goodness for insurance – in came the restorers, who said the flooring on the main level of the house would have to be replaced along with some other, minor repairs. They brought in giant, noisy dehumidifiers and fans in an effort to dry things out, which began to drive us insane. After less than a week of feeling like we were living in an active airplane hangar, we were told we could move at the insurance company’s expense. We were given a choice of three properties suitable for a family of four, plus dog.
I wasn’t optimistic. I figured that insurers must take a look at what their clients are used to and then find something equivalent for their temporary domicile. Surely, then, we were bound for some Fraser Valley goat barn, the four of us sprawling at night over an aged, leaky waterbed set up amidst the straw. We were told by the folks who provide the temporary housing that there was nothing available in our neighbourhood, which didn’t bode well.
We mulled over the three options open to us – two in Burnaby, and one downtown, then picked up stakes, en route to False Creek.
So this is how some people live -- gazing through floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the dragonboats slicing smoothly through molten pewter, and the Aquabuses chugging east to Science World or west to Granville Market. On marble floors that beg you to walk barefoot, to meet the smoothness of cool stone with the soft, warm pad of your flesh, watching stormclouds gather at one end of the living room as the sun sinks at the other.
Suddenly, I remembered bright light, and how much I like it, and how dim my own house is. I also recalled that some people actually plan their domestic environments so there’s nothing extraneous. This condo has a galley kitchen. There are no ancient food processors and blenders and crumby, thumb-printed toasters and mismatched containers of flour and sugar and rice gathered in motley, anarchistic crews on its countertop – it’s just two parallel lines of immaculate marble and stainless steel. The bedrooms, each with a spectacular view, contain giant beds with clean white duvets and countless pillows and large flat-screen TVs. There are two bathrooms, with tubs so deep your whole body can be covered at once, and, in one, a separate shower where the water rains down on you like an army of tiny, faceless, enterprising masseurs.
The high-rise is not well-populated. Those of us who are blissfully in residence stare down from our balconies on the denizens of Yaletown, who are constantly jogging, biking, or walking their lap-dogs, when they aren’t tanning themselves on nearby yachts or meeting for French meals at Provence Marinaside. I saw a robed monk and his parents (I supposed) heading there one lunch-time. I wondered if the monk would spend the noon hour murmuring, “Oh, nothing for me, thanks, just still water” as the waiters hovered anxiously and tried to tempt him out of self-denial.
Sightings of children are rare here. This is a land of singletons, of young urban professionals doing God knows what to afford this savagely ritzy lifestyle. There are usually a few affluent-looking older men loafing outside at Starbucks ogling the over-exercised young females. I suppose there may be regular folk in the dragonboats practicing daily. By regular, I mean people who don’t routinely buy their groceries at stylish Urban Fare, where no matter what you’re purchasing – even if it’s just a newspaper and a dozen bagels -- you will spend at least $26.95.
It’s quite an eye-opener. The first week we were here, I wondered how I’d ever be able to readjust to my real existence on the North Shore of Vancouver (the one we can almost afford) after the splendour of this short-term upgrade. How had a queen-sized bed and one and a half bathrooms once satisfied a nascent aristocrat like myself, so obviously better suited to trendy urban living? How would we return to our dark and weedy backyard, with its shed so full of angry wasps that we could no longer safely extricate the lawnmower? Would we need post-traumatic stress counselling?
Then, true to form, I started spotting the flies in the ointment. The condo’s balcony is so small it only seats two. Compared to the lush green giants of my neighbourhood, the trees along the downtown waterfront aren’t much more than saplings. Yaletown is quiet, yes -- it’s also sterile.
The kitchen is lovely, except there’s no cupboard space. It’s really for people whose most ambitious dinner is the stir-fry they whip up on the rare occasion that they aren’t flitting from restaurant to club.
Our kids, too, at first reveled in the condo complex pool, hot tub, steam room and billiards room, inviting their friends over to bask in this unfamiliar world and admire the view. Soon, though, its distance from these friends and the things they all like to do together became an issue. For them, pretending to be someone other than what they are – middle class kids from the ramshackle suburbs of North Vancouver --grew increasingly inconvenient.
What a great treat, though, to get the opportunity to live large for a month in another part of your own city. My compliments to home insurers who treat upset families with such respect.