What are we all doing here anyway?

February 14th, 2016, 11pm

A couple of weeks ago I was lying in bed in my Airbnb, up to my ears in blankets, listening to the wind howl outside and seep in through cracks in the windows next to me. The heater in the hall outside my room wheezed and rattled unpredictably, going from a buzz to a shake and a roar and then back to a purr. The bathroom, a few steps away, contained a toilet that didn’t flush properly and a shower that alternated between a useless trickle and one continuous, violent stream. Everything from the drawers in my room to the counter in the bathroom was coated by a thin layer of dust.

I had never come across a place on Airbnb that so poorly matched its description or the enthusiastic commendations from past guests. It had five stars and every single guest had raved about the place.

But, perhaps that was okay. Aside from wanting a decent night’s sleep I had also decided to book the room for another reason. The owner of the place was a landscape artist, the kind you see in urban centers and corn fields turning the world into a series of oil-based impressions. I have seen many landscape artists in my life but had never talked to a single one.

In the apartment there were photos of two young men. At first I thought they were photos of the artist’s son and grandson, but I after taking a closer look I realized they were all photos of him at various times in his life. There were photos of no one else - no parents, no siblings, no children, no spouse. There were various certificates and newspaper clippings from two decades ago about a few art shows. To give his guests a bit of privacy as they navigated between the bathroom and bedroom he’d hung a bed sheet with faded blue flowers in the hallway.

In the mornings he laid out a breakfast: an almost empty pot of honey, old cereal in derelict mason jars, some oatmeal and burnt coffee. None of the utensils looked completely clean.

The artist’s landscape paintings were of various European cities. I thought I recognized Barcelona in there. Maybe Paris. They were neutral toned, slightly abstract and they reminded me of many paintings I have seen of Europe: well rendered but limited by a sense of enchantment specific to North Americans nostalgic for a sense of history they can never lay claim to. I found more than one book scattered about his apartment that indicated he spoke multiple languages. In conversation he admitted to speaking Italian and French and that he was learning Spanish.

He was in his seventies. White haired but youthful in his demeanor. He walked and sat like a much younger man, with flexibility and energy. I walked in one night to find him balancing his computer on his knees while he lay on the couch that was also his bed. He seemed perfectly comfortable though I realized that I probably wouldn’t be comfortable myself - that my back would hurt or my legs ache.

He was kind. Attentive without being invasive. Intelligent and thoughtful without being pedantic. One morning when it was raining he gave me a choice of two umbrellas and waited for me by the door to ensure I took one. He wished me well and warned me that the rain might turn to ice.

edited on March 30th after a few people remarked that they wanted to know more about the artist/ the general story/his paintings

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Dani Z

The hardest thing about getting older is realizing that I might, in fact, be a minor character in someone else's story. (I keep changing this bio. I'm not sure I'll ever nail it)

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