Toilet Tales, Pts. 7: Avignon When Nothing Works
We were in Avignon when my friend, Sue, got locked in the handicapped stall in the Pope’s Palace. I’d been waiting for her in an alcove where everyone was taking photos before ascending the stairs to the upper level where Van Gogh had roomed for a time and where he immortalized his stay in his paintings. The room and everything in it had been recaptured down to the smallest detail, and adjacent rooms held a collection of his paintings.
The tour director wanted to move on and told me where to find them when Sue returned. I continued to wait, eagerly listening to the Quiet-Vox with an earpiece that connected me to the group and the guide’s running commentary, hoping they didn’t get too far away to maintain the connection. But Sue failed to reappear – and no one else came out either which seemed odd. The sound on the Quiet-Vox began cutting in and out, and I began losing contact with the group so I went to see if she was okay.
But there was no one there. I called out to her and heard her voice as if emanating from an echo chamber: “I can’t get out. I’m locked In here.” I tried the door from the outside. Nothing. She tried yet again. Still wouldn’t budge. The door is floor to ceiling making it impossible to crawl out from underneath – not that one would want to anyway. But, hey, you do what you have to if there’s no other choice. In this case, there was none, so I said I’d go for help (hoping I’d be able to find someone) when a man walked in.
“Is there a problem?”
“Well, yes.” I said, my friend is locked in there – she can’t get the door to open.”
“Turn it to the right,” he told her. She did again several times but still, nothing. He turned his back to the stall door and faced me, motioning with his right arm and hand, saying “turn it to the right” and looked at me and asked, “this is the right, yes?” His English was passable – better than my French.
“Yes,” I said, though Sue couldn’t have possibly witnessed his demonstration, “that’s her right.” – She’d been turning in both directions unsuccessfully long before he arrived on the scene. She knew full well her left from her right. It seemed so ridiculous and I would have laughed myself sick had there been time for it just then. Finally, he pulled a heavy metal ring with numerous keys from his belt. Next to the keys hung several tools, one of which worked by loosening the lock somehow as one would use a screwdriver. I thought he must have to do this all the time, simultaneously wondering why he didn’t just open it the first time instead of making Sue keep trying when she’d already said, and I confirmed, that she tried those things already.
But Sue was “free at last!” And that’s all that mattered. We rushed up the stairs and found our group In one of the galleries, but could hardly explain what happened, we were laughing so hard. It’s easy to see the humor in something, after the fact, though at the time, our husbands funny bones weren’t working.
I’ve considered getting her one of those mini-tool kits she could carry everywhere she might conceivably go in the world in case another extraction should she find herself in this position again. As long as I’m travelling with her, she can rely on me to be right there with her – just in case.
Toilet Tales, Pt. 8: Vienne Conditions Aren’t Always One’s First Priority
The Mistral is a cold, northerly wind that blows across the Mediterranean coast of France some 200 or so days each year. It is, quite literally, “the dominant wind.” Because it generally blows from North to South, many houses are built with the Mistral in mind, and plants are placed in protective areas for the same reason.
It was blowing cold and wicked when we left the ship and took a brief walk to the bus. Two older women were nearly blown off the pier into the river. That Mistral was brutal. It was only marginally better in the town of Vienne, protected to some degree by the city walls, so when we had to stand in one place for a few minutes, we did our best to position ourselves in pockets providing buffers to the wind. The wind, coupled with the cold, served to excite our bladders as we walked from one point of interest to the next. We had all pretty much reached our thresholds for endurance against the wind and our growing discomfort, when we were given ½ hour of free time before a small train, like one you’d might find at a carnival, arrived to take us to the chapel at the top of a steep hill. So we all headed to the town wall wherein, we were told, there were restrooms we could use with a small café nearby that served hot chocolate.
A nasty stench assailed my nose when I opened the door. The stone floor was littered with debris and toilet paper, both used and unused (disgusting, I know), and a toilet with its seat in the up position even though this was a women’s restroom. The seat, too, was considerably less than spotless. A tiny sink stuffed into a darkened corner offered no soap of any kind. And, you guessed it, no paper towels either. With time at a premium, I had no choice but to disregard the urge to look for someplace else to go.
I could hear Bill and Joe just the other side of the paper-thin wall, complaining about the urinals being stopped up and full of all kinds of garbage – nope, didn’t ask and didn’t want to know. They’d also found that infamous and all too familiar ceramic square in the floor that they would now have to use. By this time I was frantically trying to manage, with fingers essentially beet red and frozen stiff, my jeans, my coat, my sweater, belt, zipper, and the Quiet-Vox audio equipment each of us had dangling around our necks – making sure none of my clothes touched anything in that trash bin of a restroom.
The situation took on the surreal quality of a Saturday Night Live skit, and I started laughing out loud. Sue was standing outside waiting and when she heard me, she started laughing, too. We laughed our way down the block and across he street to the square where we ordered some hot chocolate, sitting close to the radiator to warm up, waiting for our Disneyland-like train to arrive to take us to the chapel at the top of the hill.
If we had to use the restroom before we left the Chapel, it couldn’t be any worse than what we’d just been through. It couldn’t, could it?