2019 has been a rather Kafka-esque year for me. Much of the time, I’ve been weathering a Dickensian shitstorm with family members in semi-chaos.
There’ve been a litany of broken bits — a broken engagement, a broken rib that broke my endorphins levels, a broken heart, a broken child in the grip of a debilitating anxiety disorder, etc. A friend describes my life as “complicated.”
At least I didn’t lose a body part this year.
As a result, when I’m not out and about on my geographical cures, I feel like I’ve been in hibernation, living a fishbowl existence. Sometimes I can hardly stand to be conscious. I've been a can’t don’t in a can do world. I want emotional ease, not soul-sapping, teeth-grinding strife.
My life reminds me of a book I read earlier this year, My Year of Rest and Relaxation. The recently-orphaned heroine thinks sleep is the answer to life’s problems. She puts herself in a chemically-induced Ambien and Xanax chrysalis, hoping to reemerge transformed with life’s problems at bay. I thought it was a well-written indictment of the wellness industry.
the non-existent Air Bnb in Montreal
In any event, it was in this fragile state that I took myself off to Montreal on a recent geographical cure. The last minute trip was designed as pure escapism, to swoop me away, however temporarily, from a recent garbage-y life hiccup.
I chose Montreal because it's a short flight and ever so European. With its cobbled lanes and ancient buildings, a Europe clone would be good for my soul, I reasoned.
There was just one problem. My escape started out with a problem. A major problem. And one that I wasn’t much in the mood for or emotionally equipped to deal with. One’s solace isn’t supposed to bite back viciously.
I felt a bit like this painting from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which is supposed to depict people's reactions to the indignities of the world
I was the victim of an Air Bnb scam. This is the offending place. Looks rather nice on the surface, doesn't it?
I’ve used Air Bnb a fair amount over the years. I tend to prefer it to hotel life because you have a better space to relax between bursts of sightseeing. I like having a wine fridge and lounge area. I only book apartments with 5 star reviews and typically only use superhosts.
My experiences have been largely problem free.
I once had a bathroom flood from a clogged drain, but it was promptly fixed. I once arrived to a dirty apartment, but it was promptly cleaned and the fridge stocked with wine. I've had trouble with Air Bnb parking garages in Europe.
cute little garden courtyard in my authentic 19th century townhouse in Arles in 2018.
But, still, those are all fairly minor things. Not outright soul crushing frauds.
This time, it was a nightmare, despite the unit’s seemingly glowing reviews. I had been given lockbox instructions to access the apartment, on the outskirts of the Old Port in Montreal. I arrived at the designated address around 9:00 pm.
But, f*ck me, there was no key in the mailbox. I triple checked to make sure I had the right instructions, the right mailbox, the right address. I did.
I texted the host, "Sam," at his contact number. No answer. I called the host and left a voicemail message. I repeated this procedure three times, each time feeling increasingly queasy. Then, I tried to message the host through Air Bnb. But my messages bounced back undeliverable.
It was as if the listing didn’t exist.
A cleaner in the apartment building saw my plight. She said that it had happened before — people left on the street in the dark with no key. And that was my fate.
Later, my daughter told me her boyfriend had been Air Bnb-scammed in Montreal. I didn’t realize the place was a hotbed of villainy.
a swishy problem free AirBnb apartment I had in Toulouse in an ancient building in the Carmes neighborhood
Panic set in, despite knowing that I was in a city with plenty of hotels. For me, fear survives perfectly well in the face of logic. And, when you’re overwhelmed by the vicissitudes of life, it thrives even better, like a lethal bacteria on a helter skelter growth spree looking to claim another cell.
The immediate problem was that I had forgotten my external charger, my phone was almost dead, and I wasn’t getting cellular service on my ipad.
I was also in a residential area. There weren’t any taxis in sight. I did the only thing I could. Haul my luggage to a street where there might be taxis. Eventually, I found one.
The first hotel I tried was predictably booked. Early September is a popular time to visit Montreal, before the cold sets in, frosting the attractions and darkening the mood. But the hotel was helpful. They recommended the William Gray in Vieux Montreal.
the William Gray Hotel in Vieux Montreal
So off I went. I was too tired and annoyed to investigate further. And extricating myself in a more successful way seemed impossible with a dead phone.
The William Gray was splendid, a beautiful boutique hotel, set amidst the stone of Vieux Montreal. It had a nice combo of grit and glamor. There was even work by street artists in the industrial-decor lobby. It was a tonic for my angsty mood.
But it cost a bloody fortune. Way more than I had planned on spending on my geographical cure. And once there, and once besotted, there was no way I was changing hotels.
I cancelled the Air Bnb reservation. Naturally, there was a “strict” cancellation policy with no refund. Scammers gonna scam.
Air Bnb customer support was also incredibly unhelpful.
They didn’t respond at first, asked for “documentary proof” of the incident, and still — well over 2 weeks later — haven’t issued me a refund. Not used to CYA tactics, I had inadvertently deleted my call log. Though I had screen shots of the unreturned text messages and undeliverable Air Bnb messages.
the 8th floor terrace with views at the William Gray Hotel in Vieux Montreal
I called my credit card company and reported the Air Bnb charge as fraud. Because I booked so recently, I hadn’t paid the credit card bill yet. Fortunately.
These days, I'm not very good at letting things go, letting things slide off my back like raindrops from a water repellant rain jacket. The next day, I felt jangly, like I had a “vulnerability hangover,” for want of a better descriptor.
I took solace in museums, nature, and the fabulous cuisine of Montreal. More on some amazing restaurants I tried later.
That night, I sat on the rooftop terrace of the William Gray. It has a splendid view over Montreal. It was worth every penny of my expensive chardonnay. It made me wonder whether I should continue using Air Bnb. Or bask in swishy boutique hotels in the future, for safety's sake and my own peace of mind.
smiling again, views from the "Mountain" in Montreal, the Parc Mont Royal
resting in the Montreal Botanical Gardens in a sort of nature igloo
I leave for Budapest shortly. I'm booked in a swishy boutique hotel in Budapest called the Aria Hotel, which looks divine. I'm then cruising the Danube River. But I have Air Bnbs booked for my road trip through Bavaria.
Wish me good luck. I don't need another Air Bnb headache. I'd prefer an easier time. Or at least an experience where I brush off the dirt, with a quick swish of the hand, and think "that wasn't so bad after all, was it?"