Today I will write mostly about toilets. I’ve seen quite a few in my time, beginning with outhouses and holes-in-the-ground in the Maine woods in the 50s, but today will begin with the most amazing toilet I’ve ever seen, a public toilet on the streets of Paris.
It is an oblong building, with a drinking fountain at one round end, the sliding door to the toilet at the other round end. After a gentleman came out, I stepped into the spacious interior, but the door didn’t close and there was no evident button to push to make it do so. A stranger standing nearby came over to explain.
After each use, the whole space inside is sprayed and disinfected, then dried, so it takes a few minutes. “If you stay inside the toilet, you will get a surprise shower!” He said, thinking that was very funny. I stepped out, the door closed, and sure enough, I could hear the inside of the door being sprayed.
When it was my turn, the place was fresh and clean. What a wonderful amenity while walking for hours along city streets!
By the way, it is free. The restrooms in the Gare de Lyons cost 50 centimes.
Another fascinating toilet arrangement was in the Minoan Palace in Crete, which I saw many years ago. It consisted of a bank of stone seating around the edges of a large room. The banquettes had a depression carved in them through which water passed, brought down forcefully from the nearby mountains by a viaduct, as I recall. Everyone met there together; there was no privacy. But it was sanitary and far more civilized than the outhouse in Maine several thousand years later.
The ordinary Greek peasants found a favorite tree and made their way their every morning, evening, and whenever necessary, I am told.
There’s a lot more to say about our lavatory practices, but I’ll stop there, and comment on the sociology of toilets for a moment. In museums and other public places there are often separate restrooms for men and women, but in many places, such as restaurants and our hotel, they are unisex. You might find yourself, if you are female, washing your hands and combing your hair next to a man. It feels a little strange at first, but why not?
The manufacture of toilets remains quite different in Europe from America. No monopolies there. It sometimes takes some searching to find the button to push (which might be on the wall or on the toilet), or chain to pull. The designs are quite different from each other.
Back to art for a moment: we went to the Musee d’Orsay this morning and saw an array of impressionist paintings. I will forever take with me “Starry Night” by Van Gogh. You know how you see something, like a starry night, and you want to can it and put it in your pocket so you will never forget? This is what Van Gogh did. You look at it and see the essence of sentiment and awe that you wanted to never forget about those memorable times when the stars and the night inspired you. This is what art so often does – it packages a feeling or even a thought, and makes it portable.
Tonight a picnic in the Jardins de Luxembourg featuring food bought at the famous store, Fauchon. I need a nap first….