Continuing quest for lighter spirits, had a blast helping Santa find surprises for my tribe yesterday in the very center of Paris at the Forum des Halles , admiring the big tree and giant ornaments in the Cour Carrée. Exited the mall to check out shops on rue Montmartre and rue Montorgueil, pouring rain, Nature called, very little cash in my wallet, limited options. Popped into a vintage tabacconist hoping to use the facilities. Basic French etiquette demands that one say bonjour and order an expresso at the bar before asking for the toilettes. As I was doing this, the owner saw me looking desperately around his establishment trying to figure out if it was upstairs, downstairs, in the courtyard, or non-existant. He motioned towards a miniscule stairway in the back, “It’s on floor one and a half, up the stairs to your right, but take off your coat and leave your packages here, it’s very tiny.” I thanked him and obeyed, feeling like I was in Being John Malkovich, Paris style.
A flight and a half up, I found a sink, an automatic hand dryer, and a door, which I opened. There waiting for me was a vestige of the old Paris I discovered when I first got here: a ceramic rectangle with two raised platforms for your feet and a forbidding hole designed to squat over. Most Americans I have known would rather explode than go inside one of these (right Vicky?). Thank heavens I’m pretty limber, could fit inside, and knew what to do. Also the light switch was duct-taped into a permanent “on” position so I didn’t have to lock myself in before the light came on, the way these things usually work. How many times did I crouch and pee, terrified, in semi-darkness, clutching the door at the same time so I wouldn’t fall into the hole or be interrupted by someone else trying to get in, back in my student days before I figured things out? You didn’t always find toilet paper then and the other shocking thing was how you would pull the flush chain with the clammy white ceramic handle hanging at the back under the water tank perched near the ceiling and a cold mini tsunami would burst out from a pipe over the hole and soak your feet and ankles. This time I remembered to jump out of the way in time. After emerging and washing my hands, I took a nostalgic photo for posterity. The “other side” of Paris:
I couldn’t resist congratulating the owner on preserving this historical “à la Turque” monument and we discussed how experts now say this model is healthier than throne versions. For the record, one of my friends credits her two easy childbirth experiences with having one of these in her first apartment, before renovations. My first apartment on the rue du faubourg Saint-Denis had a shower in the kitchen and shared one of these not only with my 3 roommates, but with the entire floor of the building… I survived! Very happy to now have my own throne and bath.