My friends in Lisbon and Barcelona no longer give me the time of day after 2:30 in the afternoon. Glued to their phones, they await the arrival of another wave of guests to check in at one of their apartments in the historic neighborhoods. Writers, journalists, bohemians, lunatics, the economically bewildered, down and outs living it up, and once-upon-a-time artists from back in the 90s are now real estate “entrepreneurs”; they bought property during the 2008 crisis, when Portugal and Spain had nowhere to live, renovated houses into file cabinet sized studios, giving them that Ikea touch, and now they live on what they earn from short-term rentals.
Every day, at the same time, no matter with whom they are or what (or whom) they are in the middle of enjoying, they break the spell, interrupt the moment, push away whatever or whomever is in front of them and cut short their lunch, which in the past had lasted easily beyond four in the afternoon. Why? To let in their new friends-for-a-season, who they show off in photos and reviews like proud parents displaying their kids dressed as pilgrims in last year’s school play. Ah, yes, and the conversations! Existentialism, politics, the last trip to Asia Minor, the steamy fling of the month, the epic night at the club? None of that. These days, the conversation revolves around everything you wanted to know about rentals and were/are afraid to ask, and the answers are exactly as dull as you imagined.
Nights of drinking have been traded in for field trips to Zara Home to buy more of those wine glasses the English guests had broken in another Homeric, pre-dawn dousing of 3 euro red. And these unlikely businessmen are greedy: not content to rent out only the tourist apartments, in the high season they toss their own homes into the mix, giving their tenants full run of what was once kept exclusively for insiders – the intimacy, the home comforts, the front door key, the Wi-Fi password, the family china, the silver!
In exchange for some money, they’re not averse to going homeless for a day, or two, or three while the others, the tourists, sleep the sleep of the righteous in their beds. The righteous? I’m the righteous one, sharing my bed with friends who call every Friday to seek a roof over their head, and not asking for a dime. From human primates to wild capitalists, my heroes have grown, matured, become almost responsible adults and, well, I’m still living a sailor’s life, financially a child, renting, at the most, their time with my novels and stories and dramas and ridiculously unsuccessful love affairs, here and there, between the walls of hotels and, even though it’s prohibited, of Airbnbs.
Without paying extra.