Living in someone else’s home: A meditation on Airbnb
All we know of Maya S. is the back of her head. Her thumbnail indicates she is blonde with a bun and a floral-print shirt. There are no photographs of her face in the apartment even though it’s otherwise lived-in, cozy. Just as her Airbnb ad described it. When I borrow a pair of mittens that hang from her coatrack, I hope to whomever that she doesn’t accidentally catch me wearing them around the neighborhood, masquerading as Maya S. on the cobbled streets of Copenhagen.
We touch other things around the apartment too, not just the mittens: a DVD set of My So-Called Life, knit blankets she hadn’t left out for our use, shampoos and conditioners in languages we can’t read. We flip through her coffeetable books and watch her copy of Party Monster during an unanticipated snowstorm. I marvel over the magnetic strip on her kitchen wall that holds all of her gravity-defying knives, and once I use her shoddy internet connection to email her: “How much for the mirrored Michael Jackson Bad magnet?” She writes back, “I’m glad you like it, but I love it too much to sell. Sorry!” I love it too, and am also sorry.
Maya S. has a shower I would never think to call a shower. Here, there are no glass doors or mounted showerheads. Instead, it goes like this: Enter the tile-floored bathroom. Unfold the shower curtain — which hangs from a circular rod on the ceiling — until both the door and the toilet are hidden from view. Stand in front of the sink, where you stood earlier to wash your hands and where you’ll stand later to apply your makeup. Find the handheld showerhead, which dangles limply from the wall. Apply water as needed. Our first few days, we consult with one another on how to best avoid drowning Maya’s foreign elixirs and spare toilet paper rolls but soon it becomes intuitive, like how else would one shower?
Many things go this way — lighting the stove, restarting the wireless router, making the coffee. There is no abundance of empty outlets; when we need one we have to be very particular about what deserves to be unplugged and what doesn’t. But by Day 3, we know where the wireless signal is strongest (the intersection where hallway meets living room, on the right-hand side) and which room is most suitable for blow-drying our hair (the bedroom).
Coming home after a long day of walking and shopping and drinking becomes a routine we quickly adapt to. This key opens that gate, and this one opens the door facing the courtyard, and this last one lets us into our third-story apartment. Her third-story apartment, we know, but for now it’s ours. We have rituals: Take off the shoes, turn on the lights, adjust the heat. Then we put away our bounty — dishware shoved in suitcases, goat cheese thrown in the refrigerator, bottle of wine in hand. One of us opens the wine and readies the DVD player while the other cooks, then we gather on the couch and screen the night’s selection from Maya’s collection of DVDs. Each of us has our own blanket to warm our feet.
The two of us are used to living together, just not here. In college we shared bedrooms and once we got places of our own, we shared our couches with one another — hers in Chicago, mine in Brooklyn. In Copenhagen, we share morning coffee and long walks along Nyhavn and beers in dark taverns where everyone smokes indoors. We share meals of cheese and bread, falafel from the restaurant down the street, and train rides we don’t know how to pay for. We share the not-shower and the floating knives and the coffeetable books. We share Maya’s life, even though we’ve never met her.
We do try to meet her, though. Maya tells us she is staying in Copenhagen, in someone else’s home, while we have our visit. By Day 5, we have stared at her bookshelves and closets and lotions long enough to decide that we like her and want to experience her Denmark. We ask her out to a drink and she politely declines, referring us to a bar she likes in the neighborhood instead. We drink in every bar on our street before we fly back to our respective lives.
A year later, I will search deep in my inbox for information on Maya’s apartment that was ours for 10 days and find that it is no longer listed. Perhaps she’s moved or grown tired of sharing her life with people like us.