When in Paris, a girl’s thoughts naturally turn to urination. ‘Do I smell pee?’ asked the guiless PDDs, sitting beside me on the metro as it pulled away from Charles de Gaulle airport. ‘Of course,’ I pompously asserted. ‘Just wait until we get into the city. There will be rivers of urine flowing by, as French men wearing berets and holding fresh baguettes under their arms shamelessly pee in the street.’ I paused before adding, ‘Not in a good way,’ in case my friend had watched those stupid ass romantic movies about Paris, which I absolutely fucking hate though I have never seen any myself. [Aside: rant alert!] Paris is not about wine-filled boat tour picnics delivered by young ladies sporting long skirts as they ride bicycles laced with flowers. That useless ‘City of Love’ stereotype makes me want to take a giant lock breaker down to the Pont des arts and have at it, if you know what I mean. Paris is so much more than that, so much better: it features the unforgettable stench of unwashed flesh, smoke-coated walls, insanely small bath tubs, and the sheer joy of peeking in at your neighbours as they scratch their armpits while opening the fridge in a separate apartment only two feet from your window. It is about being chilly before suddenly being steam heated on the subway, and then sweating profusely while carrying six one-litre bottles of water up the seven flights of stairs in your elevatorless building. Paris is about viewing the most beautiful exterior spaces, the most fantastic art works, all the while worrying about the terribly unclean toilet you will soon be forced to squat over. Ah yes, Paris is indeed for lovers. Lovers of antiseptic wet wipes, that is.
This satisfying rage release—fuck you Sarah Jessica Parker!—brings us back to the matter at hand, namely men peeing in public: Sadly, I have witnessed this atrocity twice since arriving, though one tottering old fellow was potentially suffering from a spell of dementia. Why else would he say hi? I will spare you the details of these stories which technically speaking do not involve bathrooms. In another instance of sexist unfairness, ladies usually cannot relieve themselves in public, in broad daylight, while walking their dogs. Instead they must hold it in, experiencing, for instance, Michelangelo’s gloriously sculpted slaves to the beat of a poundingly full bladder, which compels them to rush away in search of a sheltered pee hole. It is always better to pay for a clean one, as pictured below. Might I recommend, in my usual know-it-all manner, the toilet rental shop in the Carrousel du Louvre, the best mall in France?
In any case, while travelling in Paris or anywhere else, the body won’t be forgotten, making itself materially present at every opportunity. As as sign of both respect for and recognition of this fact, a few weeks ago I issued a general request for narratives related to bodily needs and bathrooms, now pasted below. I will begin with one of my own tales, which (fingers crossed) marks a new low—I mean high—in my usual narcissistic shame bragging. Called ‘My Humiliating Kidney,’ it was first posted as a ‘friends only’ facebook note on July 15, 2010:
Tuesday July 14 was a day like any other, at least at first. I got up at 6 am, fed my cat, and then headed off to the gym for a challenging plyometric workout that included sets of box jumps, and one-legged hops up and down the stairs. Although I’d had pain in my side for a few days, I felt fine that morning. At about 2 pm that day, the pain returned with a vengeance, throbbing on the left side rather than the right. By 5 pm I could barely move, and was breathing out in short bursts as if I was in labour. Luckily my Long Suffering Partner was able to drive me to the doctor, but first he selected gigantic cloth ‘man-pants’ and helped me put them on one leg at a time as I was hunched over, unable to move. ‘Is this a glimpse of our old age together?’ I mused. ‘Oh no,’ he reassured me, ‘I am the one who will need to have my diapers changed.’ He is my rock.
The trip to the doctor’s—way the hell out by the West Edmonton Mall—was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life. When we finally arrived, I rushed into the office, shouting ‘I need to use your bathroom!’ The receptionist gave me a tiny cup to provide a urine sample, but I barely made it. The urine test showed a 4+ blood and 4+ glucose level and I had a fever. When the doctor pressed lightly on my left kidney, asking me if it hurt, I actually screamed. She wrote me a prescription for antibiotics and Tylenol 3s, advising me to head to the hospital for an IV. Oh no. I wanted that fracking Tylenol 3, so instead we drove to the Shoppers Drugmart on Jasper Ave. The pain kept getting worse and I started to cry. When we finally got to the pharmacy, I was bent over and red, with tears streaming down my face. I handed in the prescription and pathetically begged to use the staff washroom. Both the pharmacists and the check-out people refused. In desperation, my partner and I walked slowly across the street to Teddy’s Pub, a slightly shady bar that had been featured in the news because a 17-year-old girl gave birth there, leaving the baby in the toilet. Let’s just say that when I shambled in, clutching my abdomen and doing Lamaze breathing exercises, the staff was not pleased. I rushed to the bathroom but did not make it in time. I peed my pants, standing up, with the stall door wide open. It didn’t show that much because I was wearing thick granny underwear and outrageously roomy jogging pants. I went back out and told my LSP: ‘I am likely the only person who has peed herself in Teddy’s without even being drunk.’ He could not help but laugh.
We went back to the Shoppers where the pharmacists were filling my order as slowly as they possibly could. I sat on the cloth chairs in the waiting area for what seemed like a long time but may have been about 10 minutes. Finally, they called my name. When I stood up I noticed that I had left a large wet spot on the chair, but I was not embarrassed. I was glad. Take that bitches! I went home, swallowed four pills and drifted into delicious unconsciousness.
This next story was generously provided by a student in the Cortona program:
It was in the middle of a busy day of touring Rome and our group just finished exploring the Pantheon. It being a severely hot day, we were trying to keep hydrated and the liquid loading caught up with us. In dire need of a restroom we were instructed to this little market that would let us use its facilities without having to sit down and eat. You think relief would hit you when you get to the toilet, but I was met with nothing but desperation and fear. First, the toilet paper was stationed outside of the washroom so it could be shared between the men and women’s washrooms. This was odd, but didn’t make me question how bad I really had to go quite like actually seeing the toilet that I was expect to use. There was no seat and what was there was covered with remains of guests past. The smell was almost as bad as it looked. I realized that I wouldn’t make it back to the hostel if I didn’t just do it, so I hiked up my dress and popped a squat at a safe distance from the bowl, far as I could. By this time I was gagging, hurrying to finish and escape. All finished up we went outside happy to be rid of this tarnishing experience on our otherwise great day. We were congregated together around a map figuring out our next location to explore and this is when I was tapped on the shoulder. Surprised, I looked blankly at this woman who informed me that my dress was tucked into my underwear. My eagerness to escape the bathroom had resulted in me flashing my bottom to the entire group of Pantheon explorers. That was the cherry on top of a great bathroom experience.
The third story is from another Cortona student—thanks!—but is actually about her mother:
When my Mom was traveling on a train in Holland she needed to use the loo, she found some personnel who directed her to this little room with only a urinal and a sink. In a bit of a panic, and reallllly needing the toilet much more desperately than before, she was terrorized by this ‘bathroom’ until she saw a little door beside the sink. She opened the door and lo and behold there was a more feminine bathroom with a sit down toilet so she went in, shut the door and was greatly relieved. Upon exiting the room she had to go back through the ‘men’s’ room to use the sink and wouldn’t you know it but there was a large man filling up the room and in the middle of using the urinal… Completely taken aback, and in a rather primal attempt to fly out of there as quickly as possible, she dashed for the exit bumping the slighty stunned and still peeing man on her way out…oops.
Ah yes, startling a peeing man. Nice one. Anyway, I just returned from another trip out to Charles de Gaulle, collecting the vivacious Fitbabe. Hooray! Her first question: ‘Is that pee I smell?’ No word of a lie.