Friday, May 25, 2012

Les Toilettes: The French Folly

Traveling and multiple sclerosis go together like chocolate syrup and sardines. So those of us with this disease appreciate the little things that make globetrotting a little easier, like easy-to-access public toilets. Which, I discovered on a recent escape to France, virtually do not exist in a country that mandates diuretics—coffee, wine, champagne—at most meals. So I’ve come up with a handy set of rules to make it easier to navigate the bladder wars and dampen (no pun intended) your panic quotient when you’ve gotta go.
  • That cute café? The bathroom is down that narrow spiral staircase. And it might be an Indian-style toilet. If you are lucky you’ll have a grab bar so you can pull yourself off the ground after you’ve peed on your pant leg. And now you need to consume a beverage (more liquids!) as a thank you for using their marvelous facilities. 
  • Do not assume that the largest train station in Paris with dozens of tracks and thousands of visitors daily has a plethora of public bathrooms. They have three… toilets. There is always a long line and you get to pay for the privilege.
  • The vineyard-rich countryside of France is blissfully free of commercialization and such pesky things as devices that flush. Fortunately, the French love to cycle. Cyclists have to pee. They usually pee on the side of the road. Voilà!
  • Toilet seats are a luxury. Seek them out. Celebrate them.
  • You found a gas station? Great! Use caution when getting out of that car as that may turn on your I-gotta-go-now switch. They probably won’t have a toilet. And they’ll point down the way to facilities you now are guaranteed not to reach in time.
  • Notre Dame Cathedral.12 million annual visitors. 9th most visited tourist attraction in the world. 0 toilets. I am serious.
  • There are good odds you will not make it to a bathroom at least once. It’s in the MS rules. Pack accordingly and don’t beat yourself up when you have an oopsy. Heck, you are on vacation.

Now with all these issues, there are the odd restroom finds that make travel so special (in a good way). These gems make it feel as if you’ve found the lost Toilet of the Covenant. Like the hidden handicapped bathroom at Pier 2 on the Seine outside the Eiffel Tower (staff will guide you if you ask, and tuck a piece of paper in the door jamb so others will know it’s occupied—there is no lock). Or the line-free handicapped toilets tucked into corners at the Musée d’Orsay. Or the deluxe, sparkly clean bedroom-sized stalls at the Charles de Gaulle airport. No, you can’t live there, but you’ll want to.

No matter where you go in the world, you will have to, well, go. Just don’t fret about it. You are human. And with each adventure you’ll have more stories. I mean, how many people can say they’ve peed in a French mall parking lot on a sprig of a tree planted on a traffic island? Or on the banks of the Seine in the middle of Paris in broad daylight surrounded by pedestrian bridges? Or under the disapproving eyes of gargoyles at Notre Dame de Paris? Okay, that last one was a bit unfortunate. But I’m absolutely sure I’m not alone. And neither are you.

3 comments:

Rachel Romano said...

As an American living in Italy (about 5 miles from the French border), I can totally relate to this post. Had a good laugh, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Well living in India - I'm always glad to find an Indian style loo (that's what we call it here!)
Easier to sit on my haunches (over an indian loo) than hover over a toilet (No way I'm sitting on one!). I've had MS for a few years now, and there are times when after running to a bathroom, being sure I'd pee my pants, I discover that 'I have no pee'! Argh!

Dave Bexfield said...

Ha, I hate when I run to the bathroom and then nothing happens. I second your argh!