Toilets: Good & Bad

Toilets: Good & Bad
Unusual Speciman: McDonalds in Milan, with wall foot-flusher.

I donít mean to offend anyoneís sensibilities, but when one travels in Italy, itís difficult not to become obsessed with toilets.

First of all, while it is a lot better than it used to be, they are still difficult to find, especially clean ones. With seats. I donít know if they have a theft problem (I didnít see a single person sneaking around with a toilet seat under their arm) or if they donít put them on in the first place because they are afraid people will steal them, or if they just break in half and fall off. I suspect the latter. In any case, toilets meeting the high standards of most American females are as hard to find as henís teeth. (I have seen grown American women, with bladders so full their eyes float, gasp at a typical Italian ďrest room,Ē and elect to hold it.)

Second, it is common to have to pay to use a public toilet, even one with no seat and questionable cleanliness. Although Iíve seen restrooms in train stations with turnstiles (and coin changers) most of the time there is some poor unfortunate who spends her days in the ladyís room (and sometimes the menís) collecting coinage and doling out individual tabs of toilet paper. Sometimes she works just for tips. (Think about THAT next time you donít want to get up and go to work.) I often wonder who hires these women or if they are self-appointed. In any case, for most North Americans, itís a memorable experience.

Third, there is very little consistency in flushing apparati. (One apparatus; two apparati?) While the thumb-spraining wall button is a favorite, Iíve seen foot pedals in multiple locations, push panels on the wall, and mini-plungers or buttons on top of the tank. Indeed the location of the tank, a big hint for finding the flusher, is sometimes so creatively plumbed that Iíve spent several minutes looking for it ! So amusing.

Fourth, Italians add a good amount of style and flair to whatever they do. They are surrounded by great art and Italy is, after all, the fashion capital of the world. The police wear uniforms designed by Armani, for heavenís sake. This filters down to the toilets as well, especially in fancy modern hotels where one is apt to find the newest and most stylish commodes. One of our hotels sported a rounded seat. (Not much grip, far too little surface area to make contact with, and it set both legs to tingling in under a minute.)

And finally, there is the great irony of the bidet. Borrowed from the French apparently, it is a low basin one straddles to bathe oneís private parts. Next to every great toilet sits a matching bidet. No Italian bathroom of any standing would be without one. (In hotels it speeds up the hand laundry process considerably. Itís just like having a second sink.) Humorously, bidets are included in many public rest rooms! Iíve seen bidets in restaurants, train stations, and department stores, why I havenít the foggiest. I have fairly good aim, carry my own toilet paper, and have absolutely no desire to prolong the experience any more than necessary, especially when there is a long line of women standing with their legs crossed on the other side of the door. Every single public bidet was without towels or soap, making them more practical as porcelain planters with their own water supply. It must be a cultural thing.

Behind each bathroom door is an adventure, a photo-opportunity, and a key to the Italian psyche. How could I NOT be obsessed with toilets?

And now for the awards!

The Best: For design and comfort, cleanliness and practicality: the toilet in our hotel room at the Hotel Brunelleschi.

The Worst: For filth, odor, no place to sit or hold onto, and emptying right into the lagoon: the ďconvenienceĒ on the boat from Venice to Burano).

Abominable Mention: For yet another reason to use the underpass to get to the right train track: the sign youíll find in the bathrooms on every train:

The Oddest: For a really bad way to accommodate everyone: the 2-holer at the Hostaria Romana in Rome.

Was I supposed to share the facilities with the next gentleman in line? Is that a privacy shield? A splash guard? Iím so confused. They do get extra points for the rotating plastic seat covers, but only if itís not the same seat cover going around and around.