We started hosting travelers through AirBNB about 16 months ago. As an intensely interior person I was somewhat reluctant at the outset, but my amazing wife pushed my objections aside and signed us up.

I just spent the morning washing and changing linens, re-setting the bedroom and bathroom on our second floor for a guest arriving this afternoon from Vietnam. It doesn’t take long, and I’m a teacher off for the summer, so it’s no big deal. Our current guests are from a rural part of Illinois…they pulled up yesterday afternoon. Their daughter is a violinist, visiting Johns Hopkins and the Peabody Institute to audition for next year. Last night the father and daughter did a tiny performance on the front stoop, guitar and violin pieces, French Cafe jazz kind of stuff, a few classical bits. Our neighbor Everette requested the show and was enthralled. I like talking to guests about Baltimore history, about its current positive changes, and about the challenges we still face here. I like recommending food and sites. I’ve not been traveling myself as much as I’d like, so living vicariously through our visitors has been a totally pleasant experience. Little impromptu concerts, deep, wide-ranging conversations, and exquisite dinners are not uncommon when you host via AirBNB.

People find our house very cozy, and I like reading their recommendations on AirBNB and the comments they leave in our Guest Book. When I did the re-decorating on our first floor I was challenged to incorporate a bunch of mismatched shit from a variety of antique shops and estate auctions and modern shops like SCAN. What I came up with is a sort of late-Victorian Bohemian scheme with books and nick-knacks and wall colors from the late-18th century–which is the era our row home was built. I tried to incorporate objects and photos from our travels, and pieces by artists who are local and also who are friends. I often feel like the decor is a bit schizoid but we always get very positive, warm comments recommending our house as a great place to stay in Baltimore. Our link has been on the Baltimore home page at AirBNB lately!

We had a social worker from California stay for three nights last weekend, and because he was so busy I didn’t even meet him until Sunday morning when he checked out. He was effusive that our home was a “sanctuary” that made his very busy stay quite pleasant. He was visiting homes of foster kids from L.A. placed with relatives here, and though he was rushed and stressed he wanted to ask about several art pieces before he left.

Before him we had a Belgian actress stay for four days. She borrowed my wife’s bike all week, and I loved watching her in her short French dress, sandals, and long ginger hair pedaling merrily off through the mean streets of Reservoir Hill on her various social errands. She would return in the evenings and tell me about encounters with people all over the City, guys hitting on her, kids yelling “lookit the crazy white lady!” I also had an opportunity to speak French, which happens regularly–often we have guests from France or Quebec–and the guest from Vietnam tonight will likely give me more chances to practice.

I’ve read the various horror stories of AirBNB hosts who’ve had gigantic sex orgies staged in their homes, or guests who wouldn’t leave, or thefts of objects…I’m sure we’ll run into an asshole or a thief at some point. But so far we’ve had a totally positive experience, and have met and become friends with people from all over the USA and the world. If you have a spare room give it a shot! If you live in a place you’re enthusiastic about, be an ambassador and welcome people there. Give them the inside info, share your enthusiasms, and forge new bonds. Plus, the extra cash is really sweet!

Let The Great World Spin

Life as high wire act: relationships a problem of tension, control, focus, flexibility in the face of variability. Is it possible to connect with another in a true and meaningful way? Or is life more a performance art, a continuous series of dramatic gestures, a dress rehearsal for an opening night which never arrives?

Extravagant acts of courage and strength pull us out of the mundane and banal of every day life. But is every day life really mundane or banal? Is not every step, every action, every breath an act of bravery? An extravagant gesture worth attention? Is not every interaction with another precious and thrumming with potential beauty?

A really good novel, this–for fans of DeLillo or Franzen or Toibin. Complex and meaty but not difficult. Lovely prose, interesting characters, a nice reconstruction of a sort of Indra’s Net of interrelated beings and situations. The characters are not always able to see the causes and effects and connections, wrapped up as they are in their own webs:

“Experience is never limited, and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider-web of the finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness, and catching every airborne particle in its tissue. It is the very atmosphere of the mind. ” Henry James, The Art of Fiction

Struggling to get back into the discipline of daily blogging, BTW. Excuse the unfleshed-out jottings, but I must restart somewhere.


What I saw today:

I saw the younger brother of one of my very best friends eulogize his older brother, dead suddenly at age 44.

I saw another of my very best friends eulogize this same friend.

I saw this friend’s 15-year-old son eulogize him.

I saw this friend’s wife of 18 years eulogize him.

I saw this friend’s 3-year-old daughter, the youngest of six, dancing in the aisle of the church during a song about angels.

I saw intense love and bravery in the face of disaster.

I saw that joy and beauty and grief are by no means incompatible.

Melbourne Beach

The town is empty. Most of the homes are owned by Northerners who winter here. We have the beach to ourselves, a lovely house with a salt-water pool. The enrippled sun creates a luminous net of golden lines on its bottom. I could float around watching that all day.

I felt my soul stitching itself back together today. I swam, I watched tiny lizards dart comically after fat lazy beetles. I got up close and personal with a heron.

I journaled, read, and played guitar during a gorgeous thunder storm. I took an epic nap. Six more days here! I’ll be all Zenned up by the time we roll back to Bmore….

Heat and Dust

For many years I admired Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s screenwriting prowess–several of her scripts for Merchant Ivory became some of my very favorite films. I found out shortly after she passed away that she lived not only in the same building as my sister and brother-in-law in NYC, but also on the same floor. Mrs. Jhabvala was a fan of their little dog Chalupa, and they had no idea who she was until they saw a linked obit on my Facebook page!

Heat and Dust is the first of her fiction I’ve read, and I highly recommend it.

The novel is set in India and is largely focused on the experience of India and Indians through the eyes of British colonialists. There are thematic similarities with E.M. Forester, but also a bit of Conrad or Graham Green in there as well. The novel is short and breezy but feels larger. The prose is tightly controlled and reminiscent of Nadine Gordimer.

I note that the most lush scenes all involve cemetery settings or death. Most of the “civilized” settings are moribund, dusty, derelict. The English are cut off from sensation and emotion–they busily build and fuss like worker bees or ants, never feeling the hot pulse of life. The Indians who become Anglicized wilt. The English who “go native” become sick and moribund. Everyone struggles to find an oasis, a respite, a flourishing patch of Earth in an oppressive landscape. Mores and traditions are challenged and break down. More than the climate becomes hot and steamy. The intertwined and interrelated cultures are sunbaked and confused but aim for a higher spiritual truth, as aloof, distant, and full of mysterious promise as the icy peaks of the Himalayas.

Small Victories

Last year I taught an advanced reading class to seventh graders. We read Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. The kids tackled the Turn-of-the-Screwish aspects of The Haunting…how much was the house haunting Eleanor? How much was she haunting it?

This year I took several of those same kids to Center Stage to see Twelfth Night. At intermission two of the girls rushed up to me. “That lady sang ‘journey’s end in lovers meeting,’ just like Eleanor!” I asked them to watch for more connections in the rest of the play. I can’t wait to see what they come up with. The plot of Jackson’s novel does rather follow a marriage plot, with the house as a kind of Malvolio who wins.

The play was really well-done. I’ve not seen such good Shakespeare at Center Stage in ages. I recommend you see it soon!