Toilet Tales, 4-6 of 9: Expect the Unexpected

Toilet Tales, Pt. 4: Slovenia, Border Checkpoint   Do My Eyes Deceive Me?

Climbing the mountain via steep, tight switchbacks in a Passat we’d rented in Munich, we crossed the border from Austria to Slovenia and stopped for border control at the top where passports and visas would be checked. While we were there, we took advantage of their on-site restrooms as we didn’t know how long it would take us to get to Lake Bled where we had reservations at the Hotel Toplice.

I was told to go to the end of the room and turn left down a hallway where I’d find the ladies room at the end. As I reached the turn I was facing an open door where I noticed a man standing in profile emptying his bladder into a urinal. He looked at me in the same instant I saw him, but nonchalantly continued his business as if this kind of thing happened every day. The door had been left open and I wondered why. Was that conventional here?

Bill assured me that was likely the case. It’s an accepted practice in many places. Compared to many peoples in other parts of the world, Americans are prudish and uptight about everything, but here, and in most parts of Europe, this is a “so what’s all the fuss about” kind of thing. Why not leave the door open in plain view of the office area where what few people, who seemed to cross the border at this junction, came? Everyone does this, and to most, it’s as natural as breathing – and we don’t hyperventilate over breathing in other people’s presence, do we?

Granted, this was quasi-public, sort of, but in Amsterdam they have “pissoirs” on sidewalks in the cities and they come in different forms, the most common is made of metal. If a towel is wrapped around a man’s waist when he goes in there – a towel made of metal, sometimes with cutout designs, sometimes not – anyone walking down the street will see everything but the toweled area. And some pissoirs are wide open and circular. Four individuals, all standing in a circle can take advantage of it at the same time – a public urinal that’s public in every sense of the word. I never saw one of those for women, but I’d have to be absolutely dying before I’d do that on a public street. And the likelihood of my being able to be successful, even if I tried, would be zero, just like at the castle at Heidelberg.

“Checkpoint Charlie” was totally unfazed. I was, well, just beginning to see that things were going to be different from here on out.

Toilet Tales, Pt. 5: Slovenia, Erasmus’ Castle   Balance is Everything

First encounter with a Turkish Toilet…

A couple of days later, we hiked up to the site of Erasmus’ castle, aka Predjama Castle (Predjamski Grad), carved partly out of a high cliff on a mountain of stone in the 12th century. Most of what can be seen today was built outwardly from the stone in the 16th century. On the way up, one finds concessions. They are common here, like they are in the states, but unlike in the states, seem so out of place in this setting.

People selling things to make money off tourists – people are the same everywhere you go. The first person to confront me was a man holding a plate upon which sat a pig’s head. A small one. A piglet. Eyes and all. It was staring at me with its mouth open, its teeth stuck in an apple. A kind of taxidermy at its best. I declined, heading for a restroom I was told I’d find in a little shack – “over there.”

It reminded me of the outhouse of my childhood, but opening the door, I found a ceramic square on the floor and a chain hanging from the ceiling. I presumed, for flushing. No toilet, no seat. It took a bit of figuring out how to approach this task but I managed, albeit with some degree of difficulty. I’ll spare you the details here, but suffice it to say, I don’t know how people manage this without getting into some amount of trouble. You know, with clothes and all. And water gushes out from holes in the porcelain square on the floor when the chain is pulled. The first time you’re caught off guard because you’re not expecting a geyser to erupt, but it does and your gut reaction is to jump up and out of the way. Your second reaction is to catch yourself, somehow, so you don’t slip and, uh, fall onto the square itself.

I never thought I’d be thanking the powers that be for the “normal” toilets we have at home.

Toilet Tales, Pt. 6 Albertville:  All One Can Do is Laugh

Second Encounter with a Turkish Toilet…

Travels, especially those in another country, are replete with strange things you don’t find here. Travel also, I believe, carries with it the responsibility to learn, and with two ceramic squares now to my credit, I have learned some interesting things. The Turkish toilet goes by several names, one of which is the “squat toilet.” I’ll spare you the other names used. You can find them on the internet if you really want to know what they are. And there are several different kinds; the ones I’ve encountered are the “older models,” meaning they are flush (no pun intended) with the floor – they don’t have a raised seat like the toilets we have in the states, and this one didn’t have a “hood” as you will see in pictures. You do not sit; you squat – hence, the name squat toilet.

Laura and I have traveled together in Europe a number of times. One of those being to Albertville in the French Alps, south of Geneva. We took a bus from Lake Annecy, near the small village of Faverges where she lived for a time, and stopped at different towns before arriving there. Albertville is picturesque, quaint, and was the setting for the Winter Olympic games in 1992. We walked through the streets taking everything in, but finding a bathroom became urgent, and Laura suggested we use one in a bar. People do that all the time, she said, and they’re not required to buy anything, either. I was hesitant, but when ya gotta go…so in we went.

We found it, and she went in first. I waited by the sink. Behind the curtain that separated the sink from the room’s reason for being, I found – yes – that infamous ceramic square, aka “The Turkish Toilet” inside what looked like a small, and confining, shower stall with a chain hanging from the ceiling. This little dandy was new to her but not to me. Both were the “older models,” maybe circa 17th century (a wild guess), and this one looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since then either. She’d have to place her feet on the ceramic “pads” on either side and squat, then pull the cord to “flush.” Only the flushing part was like a tidal wave of rushing water when it came. Worse than my geyser had been. That’s when she yelled. It sounded like she’d fallen – and that would have been disastrous indeed.

“What Happened?”

“I slipped,” she said, “and all I could think was, I’m goin’ down!” In an automatic response to impending disaster, she slammed her hands against the walls on either side to keep herself on her feet – testimony to how small an area we’re talking about here. It wasn’t easy, and I grabbed her hand to pull her back up because the entire floor was wet and slippery.

It only took a minute for one of us to break down, and we were soon laughing so hard I could hardly make out what she was saying. “I slipped and almost went down completely,” she said, whereupon we broke out in another round of uncontrollable laughing. She had managed to stay on her feet, thank goodness, but tears of hilarity were streaming down our cheeks.

We knew those walls were paper thin and that those old men sitting on the other side of it could surely hear us and were wondering what we were doing in there – and that seemed even funnier. What if she had fallen? We didn’t have extra clothing she could have changed into. And if she’d fallen at the wrong moment, the water she’d have been soaked with would, well, not have been clean. Would they have even let us back on the bus? This incident, so incongruous, so ridiculous, so incredibly funny when you could stand back and separate it from all its possible consequences, was an absolutely hysterical event.

But only one of so many we have had over the years. Life with Laura – one hysterical event after the other.

We were still trying to get ourselves under control as we walked out of the restroom and, as fast as we could, made our way outside – with every single of those men watching, their eyes trained on us as we walked past them and out the door.

What else can one do in a situation like this, but laugh? Without a sense of humor, we’d all be doomed.

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