Housing Swap: NYC for Mexico

No matter how many times I’ve done it, it’s always thrilling to arrive at a New York airport, grab a cab, and head in to Manhattan. The city crackles with energy and possibilities, even when it’s grey and slushy like it was when I arrived a few days ago.

I’m doing a house swap: I ended up in a very designy, minimal, perfect studio right near Union Square, which is convenient to just about everything. I met the guys who are swapping their place for a week in my house in Mexico (www.casitalaurita.com), and they seemed as pleased with the arrangement as I am. There’s nothing better than having a great, free place to stay in Manhattan, and you don’t have to have a house in a foreign country to do it. I have plenty of friends who swap houses with people in Italy, France, all over the world, in exchange for their own places. I’ve swapped my place in San Francisco before. It’s harder to swap your own home than a rental place, but since you’re swapping with someone else’s own home, there’s a level of trust there you wouldn’t have with most people who are otherwise complete strangers. There are some things you can do to insure your peace of mind, too. I put a bolt lock on one of my closets and stash away things I want to make sure no one can access. I’ve never had a problem. Friends who do foreign trades tend to use invervac.com. I did this particular swap via craigslist. Another great place to find an apartment for a week (a much cheaper alternative in a place like Buenos Aires or Paris than a hotel) is VRBO.com.

Being in New York this trip has made me a little nostalgic for when I lived here on and off for a year around 1982. I was an intern at Rolling Stone magazine (Xeroxing for cokeheads) for awhile, and then lived here the summer after college graduation. What I loved best at that time were the funky used bookshops all over Manhattan, the cool boutiques, and the cheap ethic food. Now–perhaps because I’m staying near Union Square–I’m struck by how corporate everything is. Same stores as everywhere else in the world. Of course that’s not true when you go to the East Village or the Meatpacking District, but still. I miss the small bookstores.

I’m struck by what a different culture New York is from San Francisco. Take food shopping. I often shop at Trader Joe’s in San Francisco for things other than produce (I hate their over-packaged produce). Sometimes it’s annoying to have to wait in line for two or three people. Here on 14th St., you have to wait in a line that snakes all the way through the store, and if you want to grab some cheese on the other side of the line, beware. It’s strange, too, because New Yorkers don’t drive up with their SUVs to make that kind of a wait worthwhile, the way we might wait at Costco to get a lifetime supply of dental floss or V8 juice. They’re standing there in line forever for the stuff they picked up for dinner. Whole Foods, the next block over, is even worse. Standing in line at Whole Foods reminded me of standing in line at a ski area before they got the high-speed six-seater lifts–hordes of people merging.

The farmer’s market was quite a different experience from San Francisco, too. First of all, the paltry selection of winter produce made me realize just where on the planet I am, and how blessed we are in California. Most everything this time of year in NYC is prepared foods, or apples or potatoes that have been in cold storage. Another big difference from the SF farmer’s markets is that you can’t taste things. I guess there are too many people, too many folks who go just to snag the apple slices. But no tastes. That kind of takes the fun out.

Still, I came home with some crusty, wonderful cranberry pecan bread, quite a variety of apples, some microgreens, and best of all, some pumpkin ice cream from Ronny Brook Farm Dairy.

Today was a gorgeous, sunny day in New York, though a little cold. I took a walk on the new High Line, which has great views of the city, and wandered around Greenwich Village.

I love New Yorkers’ style, but this time of the year everyone is wearing long puffy black coats and Uggs, with headphones.

A few NYC tips:

  • Broadway show: Fela! Great African dancing and music.
  • The literary scene: I can’t wait to hear Mary Karr at Joe’s Pub on Monday, and Ted Conover at the Strand on Wednesday.
  • Yoga: I stumbled into some great Intermediate yoga classes with Brian at Om Yoga.