The Postscript: Banishing the owl while searching for talismans of travelers past

Published 8:52 am Thursday, November 8, 2018

By Carrie Classon

As my husband, Peter, and I prepared to pack up from our stay in the Airbnb in Pamplona, Spain, I imagined what advice I would offer my past self about these kinds of rentals, as I feel I’ve learned quite a lot during the stay. (As usual, I have no good advice for my future self, who will have to stumble along as she always has.)

First, and most certainly: there will never be a sharp knife. Do not expect one, do not kid yourself when you see knives in the drawer. Bring a knife if you ever expect to cut bread or vegetables. The knives in the drawer will disappoint. Always.

There will be peculiar decorations in the worst possible locations. I am sure this is for the lovely photos that were taken to persuade us to visit the apartment, to begin with but, once on site, it will be necessary to remove the ceramic owl from the writing desk, the glass vase filled with over-sized dried flowers perched precariously on the (already tiny) dining table, the bric-a-brac from the top of the dresser. Horizontal space is at a premium and all owls, oversized floral arrangements, and model ships must be immediately banished.

Seemingly contrary to the previous advice: resist the urge to tamper with someone’s previous fix. In this particular apartment, there is a square, ceramic plate under the bathroom sink beneath the blow-dryer. I have never personally seen the need to put my hairdryer on a plate (and the plate looks like it might come in handy for serving appetizers) but I have resisted the temptation to remove it. There was a reason that hairdryer was put on a plate, and I will leave it, undisturbed.

Be prepared to figure out the systems. Turning on the heat when, overnight, the weather turns from a t-shirt to puff jacket temperature, is not intuitive. The washing machine and the oven each have thirteen hieroglyphic symbols on them to indicate how they are operated and no words in any language to assist. The stove has an arcane method of being turned up and down and squeals uncontrollably if it becomes wet (which makes cleaning it a challenge). All these things require patience and, with enough time, become routine.

There will be odd things left from other travelers. This is actually a lot of the fun. While a hotel strives to have a hundred rooms that all look alike and appear as if no one has ever stayed in any of them, the goal of an Airbnb is a bit different. The place has a history: the handblown bubble glass that matches absolutely nothing, the two books in English (one of which I read and was very good), the frozen peas in the refrigerator (after some inspection, we added them to the soup—why not?), the minuscule quantity of chocolate ice-cream left in an oversized container (that was thrown out), a lot of tea in a lot of flavors (it will stay here, waiting for the next tea drinkers who will, in turn, buy a different kind). The closer we look, the more peculiar talismans from travelers past we discover.

We are already sad about leaving our little home-away-from-home in Pamplona. We’ll do a last load of laundry (now that we know what the snowflake symbolizes), return the owl to its entirely inappropriate location, and leave some spices, most of a bag of rice, all the tea, and a pair of much-needed pot holders for the next guests.

If they don’t bring their own knife, that’s their problem.

Till next time,


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