My sister’s criterion for travel is that she won’t go anywhere where she’ll have to sleep on a mattress less expensive than her own. On a recent trip to visit my in-laws, I didn’t have that problem. Vacations often involve the new and exotic. Having lived my adult life around the poverty line and barely hovering above it now, this vacation was a delightful trip into the unknown.
I told myself it’s because I was in a guest bedroom that the mattress had no dip in the middle like mine at home, but I’m just kidding myself; it’s really because this acre of comfort is worth orders of magnitude more than what I normally sleep on. I’m told it was a king size, but it must have been a Henry VIII king size, cause I could swim around and get lost on it. It’s in a room about half the square footage of our whole apartment, that has its own on-suite bathroom. There’s a delightful balcony with a table and chairs that overlooks what I’m sure is a lovely view of the landscaping, and from which you can hear the pleasant murmur of one of the outdoor fountains.
The house and landscaped grounds are liberally dotted with art. My partner’s mother is an accomplished potter, and it’s not always clear to me which pieces are expensive acquired ones, and which were made by her. The house was custom built, and, as design is a closed book to me, I wonder about how such wide-ranging aesthetic choices are made. On our last day there, my mother-in-law showed us a totem pole in her garden that she’d made out of exquisite pottery pieces positioned vertically running up a metal pole. The pieces were in an oceanic motif: starfish, shells and other sea creatures. I was dazzled!
My partner and I were reassured to hear that even sighted people occasionally get lost in the house. After 4 days I could usually make my way to my bedroom from anywhere, but getting a glass of water in the kitchen still took time and concentration. Hallways fork, and there are large open spaces. My worst case scenario (which thankfully didn’t happen) had me slipping on the top step of the basement stairs and pitching headlong in an ignominious tumble down into the exercise room. Of course if I could have managed to control my descent, I might have been lucky enough to take a few corners, hit the door, and roll right into the outdoor hot tub, and that would have made everything better.
Complex geography, and the need for GPS technology to locate one of the 8 bathrooms weren’t the only impediments to my partner and I being self-sufficient. The house’s internal workings are wired together in one complex system, and managed via I-devices using an inaccessible specialized house-managing software tool, which tacitly recognizes the fact that, if you can afford it, you’re probably not blind. From any I-thing, one could: control the geothermally regulated thermostat; inspect and communicate with someone at the gate and let them in if they don’t look too shifty; operate any of the several TV’s including the huge one in the theatre room; close the curtains in said theatre room; play music anywhere in the house; and undoubtedly do lots of other things I can’t even imagine and wouldn’t understand.
The kitchen is equally sophisticated: as modern as next week. There’s a tap for boiling water, a microwave drawer, a induction cooking top that boils a pot of water in about 10 seconds while leaving the surrounding surface cool as a cucumber, a coffee maker that you could exchange for a return ticket to Australia, and a double fridge distinguishable from a beautiful wooden cabinet only by its ice dispenser. (I’ve always wanted an ice dispenser!)My partner and I were spared the obligation to help much in the kitchen cause everything’s controlled by touch panels. Indeed, I walked around paranoid of touching the wrong thing, and inadvertently getting pulled into a convection oven, or rapidly freeze-dried.
As hard core science fiction fans, my partner and I inevitably slid into the conviction that the house is self-aware. Frequent, discreet beepings, whirrings and blowings are common. Sometimes we tried to figure out what they were, but we moved towards not questioning them too closely, lest the house begin to notice us. When a gadget failed to perform with utter seamlessness, we would say that, “The house could do that if it wanted to, it just doesn’t.” In the basement, there’s a ceiling-high equipment wrack containing banks of servers that are the brains of the house. We alternated between joking about going down and kicking it as a remedy to the occasional technological glitch, and sidling warily away from it before it could make a positive identification.
Being there was like staying at a luxury resort I could never afford, and being the only guests. What’s more, we were welcomed for ourselves, and generously hosted by a relaxed and affectionate mom who happens to be an amazing cook. Vacations often make one’s daily life seem narrow and “ho-hum.” Being there, my perfect, happy apartment seemed small and cramped in my memory. We get used to luxury so quickly. My spatial sense expanded easily to fill the available volume, which was capacious. Just for fun, I took mental stabs at imagining what it would be like to live in such a house; it’s not difficult. I’m glad to be back to our cozy wonderful home, but it sure was fun to sprawl out, roll around, use the fitness equipment, enjoy good company, and take the elevator up from the basement to the top floor so that we didn’t have to dress after steeping in the hot tub at night: thanks mom!class=”alignnone size-full” />