By Richard Ammon
January 7, 2010
The most interesting objects of desire, curiosity, fascination and entertainment for humankind are other people. We spend our entire lives entwined with others, either of our liking or not.
And when we get a chance to see other people from different perspectives, from the inside, sideways, in public or private we usually go for it. We want to know how others live, feel, work, cook, party, raise kids, dress and have sex (but won’t admit it).
Well, there is a highly legitimate, socially approved way to snoop in on others and see how they live, to an extent. It’s call a Home Exchange–swapping one’s primary residence with others who are interested in the same switch.
For LGBT (gay) couples and singles there are a handful of home exchange websites with listings of willing swappers around the world. The two most popular are Home Around the World and Mi Casa Su Casa. For a small sign-up fee, members can list their condos, cottages, mansions, houses, or tepees for others to view and select for an exchange, usually between a week and a month’s stay. From Paris to Auckland, members post photos and descriptions of their property and short bio’s of themselves along with their e-mail addresses. It’s that simple. (See this page for more home swap websites.)
Of course both parties have to agree on a commonly convenient time but once that’s done the process goes fairly easily, as it did recently for my partner and me when we agreed to swap with another gay couple, they from Copenhagen and we from Laguna Beach in southern California.
After a few e-mail messages of greeting and sharing ideas about the deal our dates were set and airline tickets purchased. Some swappers prefer to meet their new friends by overlapping a day or two, at the beginning or end of the stay, to get acquainted and orient them to the new ‘home’.
So it went; we both left home and arrived, with instructions, to the others’ casa and settled in for three weeks, agreeing to overlap in Copenhagen at the end. Answering further questions (where’s the laundry soap? where can we buy pancake mix?) was easy by Skype or e-mail.
A distinct part of the fun is encountering the many differences, from obviously large to minute, beginning with the type of home: ours is a one-story, two-bedroom house with an ocean view; theirs is a fifth-floor (walkup) two-story, one bedroom condo with a view of a park/cemetery (Hans Christian Andersen in there). Both have the requisite WiFi. The kitchen is the hardest to navigate given all the utensils, dishes, food spaces and food types at our disposal. Theirs is Danish which means modern appliances such as the touch-control stovetop that took us three days to figure out.
After a few days of finding the grocery markets, schwarma shops and a Thai soup kitchen (Copenhagen is very culturally diverse) and getting our bus passes to discover the best routes into the city center (about two miles away) we were off to the many museums, royal palaces, architectural gems, high and low fashion shops, churches, the ultra-stylish national library on the harbor front and indoor swimming pools.
We felt as if we lived here and could relax knowing we were not wasting a couple hundred dollars a day for a hotel bed. Each day brought variation and variety: the design and organization of the excellent bus system; the risks of stepping into the designated bike traffic lanes and the many types of bicycles (child carriers) and the garb of the riders (a woman wearing a mink coat); the short days when the night comes on about 4:30-5:00PM; the church concerts; gay venues such as Oscar cafe/bar and the national LBL LGBT organization; and one day coming upon the Danish Queen Marguerite’s coach and horsemen departing in full regalia from a formal function back to their not-so-humble palace.
The smaller details of others’ lives are intriguing as well: the books our hosts have on their many living room shelves (the second story living room has a cathedral ceiling with large slanted skylights that look out onto the park). The photo of an Indian guru (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar); modern Danish-Ikea table, chairs, lamps and sofa; wooden floors; the neatly hung and piled clothes in the walk-in closet, gym bags, sports equipment, an office with desk, in-out trays. computer and printer, an ironing board and two menorahs (but only one with wax drippings).
Among the impressive features here is the heating system–hot water radiators–that are heated not in this apartment building from a cellar furnace boiler but from across the city on the other side of the harbor by the huge steam generating plant (natural gas fueled) backed up by giant modern windmills (for 20% of Denmark’s power). The entire city area is heated by this plant making the air quality of Copenhagen one of the cleanest of world cities. (The steam plant is seen in the background of the mermaid photo above.)
And of course, it snowed one night while we were here, three inches on top of the four already on the ground. In the morning the city was a hushed landscape of whiteness. From our apartment the park and cemetery looked almost sacred in their soft white purity. Dark skeletal deciduous trees, lonely park benches, frosted evergreens bowing with the weight above the gravestones.
Later the city came alive with people and vehicles making scars and foot holes in the snow as they trudged and drove (and bicycled!) to work among the architectural charms of this city of half a million.
A must-mention is the firework display that took place here on New Year’s night, a spectacular colored blitzkrieg of (legal) individual firings of rockets bursting in mid-air, loud bursts, bangs and crackling of noise. Thousands of light flashes and explosives across the entire cityscape, seen perfectly from our big fifth-floor windows. The spectacle went on for over an
hour. Firecrackers and fire, sound and light. It was dazzling. Another wondrous difference about this foreign culture.
Needless to say home-swapping has it rewards and recommendations–even in the middle of winter in Copenhagen. And for all the obvious and subtle differences, this gay couple’s home was very similar in quality, class, style and comfort to the gay home we traded off to them. Once again, I am reminded of how much more similar people are than different.