Men never give a thought to toilets; they have a whole planet that works equally well. For obvious reasons, women do.
The toilets in Paris are a thing of beauty (as far as toilets are concerned). When there, I am almost tempted to drink even more coffee than usual just so I can use them.
I'm not talking about the ones in the bars and cafes, which can range from 'perfectly' to 'barely' adequate.
I'm talking about the ones right out on the street.
The Paris outhouses.
One pays a euro to use them. After each occupant leaves the entire interior is washed down and dried before the next person can enter.
How cool is that?
About 10 years ago New York thought they were so marvelous that they ordered a bunch for their streets.
Unfortunately, they are not handicap-friendly, and there were protests that non-handicapped people were being treated preferentially by being given these outrageous outhouses to use, so the whole lot of beautiful toilets were sent back.
New Yorkers just have to piss on the street, I guess…
Barring the Paris outhouses there are other things that can trip up the unwary.
I shall never forget the first time I was faced with a 'necessary' that didn't have, what is to me one of the necessary requirements: a toilet.
I walked into a perfectly proper bathroom in the Turin train station. I went into a perfectly proper stall in said bathroom. There was no toilet; just a porcelain basin set into the floor with a hole in the center.
I walked back out and went into the next one: same thing.
And the next.
And the next.
There were little, old decrepit ladies hobbling out of these stalls with their canes and walkers so I knew it could be done; I just hadn't a clue how.
I'm not stupid; I've pissed in the woods and behind bushes; on camping trips, mountain walks and golf courses – even out of a moving car once in real desperation, but I wasn't wearing a skirt, hose (tights) and heels on those occasions. I have since learned that a skirt is better than trousers but, definitely, no pantyhose.
I digress. I went back in and sussed it out. There was no clue if one was to face forward or backward; there was no place to put my bag (balance it on my head?) and no bars or handles on the wall to grab on to.
I remained utterly clueless.
I left unrelieved.
One crucial thing I didn't think of at the time (but learned on a subsequent occasion), one must have strong legs. In the privacy of my very own bathroom I started practicing the fully-clothed squat. Not as easy as one would hope – and I weight-train on a regular basis. I think it's a combination of proper balance and knowing that a single misstep can be, uh, disastrous. I have since added deep-knee squats to my exercise routine – both fully and partially clothed.
Then, once you've figured out how to use it, there's flushing: do you pull a chain? Push a plunger? Pull a knob? Press a button?
And what about the ones that give you two flushing options: an eco-friendly low-water flush or the all-out everything-down-at-once gush?
So many variations for such a basic activity.
In conclusion I recommend reading about toilets before leaving the comfort of your own, and eating this Spinach Gratin for strength (Popeye never had such problems – of course, he was a male cartoon character…)
Fresh Spinach Gratin
Fresh spinach cooks quickly, with a bit of stock to keep it moist. It's topped with a seasoned mix of bread crumbs and shredded cheese for a quick, healthy side dish.
12oz (350gr) fresh spinach
2/3 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup shredded cheese
1/3 dry bread crumbs
1 tsp thyme
2 tsp olive oil
Remove thick stems from spinach and roughly chop: pile the leaves up and cut through 2 or 3 times. Put spinach in oiled baking dish just large enough to hold it. I used 8 X 11 inch (20 X 27.5cm) oval ceramic dish. Heat stock and pour stock over spinach. Mix bread crumbs, thyme and cheese and sprinkle over spinach. Cover with foil and bake at 375F (190C) for 30 minutes. Serve from baking dish.
Note: I could barely get all the spinach in my dish; I had to press it down. Heating the stock helped wilt it so that it wasn't higher than the sides of the baking dish. As it bakes, it collapses, and the gratin topping comes together.