So there are certain topics that I tend to avoid, whether in blogging or conversation or thought. I don’t talk about sports. (The only team I care about is the University of Oregon Ducks football team and as we won the Rose Bowl over New Years, what more is there to say?) I don’t talk about politics. (I have opinions but I keep them to myself: far too risky a topic for a person who hates conflict.) And, most of all, I don’t talk about sex. (I turn scarlet and involuntarily hiccup.)
I also do not talk about bodily functions.
Today is no exception.
I am, however, going to talk about something which skirts on the edge of second-grade humor.
No, not the mundane throne sitting in my upstairs bathroom, but rather the exceptional porcelain gods that I have experienced in my traveling life.
Well, none of them were porcelain, actually.
For at least 20 years I have wanted to write about the Toilets I Have Known.
Now’s my chance.
There really are only two which stand out in my mind. There used to be more but I’ve forgotten their details. These two, however, will never be forgotten. Especially now that I’m immortalizing them in blog-land. I’ll tell you about the first one today, and the second, even more exciting one, on Thursday.
EXCEPTIONAL POTTY #1: Location: The Soviet Union, February 1988.
When I was in 12th grade, I went on a school field trip to Russia. Living in West Berlin at the time, this wasn’t that big of a deal. We drove to Schoenefeld Airport (putting up with scrutinizing East German check-point guards as we did so) and boarded a lovely Aeroflot jet. (Okay, “lovely” is not true. Though they did have real silverware, as I recall, none of this decadent Western plastic stuff.) I remember – though this was the return flight – that someone’s balalaika slid back and forth the entire flight in the open overhead compartment with a slightly musical crunch every time it hit the end.
But that has nothing to do with toilets.
We spent several days in Moscow, where, from our historic hotel across from Red Square we shopped at the famous GUM department store, photographed St. Basils Cathedral more times than traditional film cameras deserved, and avoided Lenin’s tomb (crazy-long lines). We saw dancing bears at the circus, watched a newly-wedded couple be photographed in front of the 1980 Olympic ski jump and wondered, constantly, if we were important enough to be followed.
Though they did tell us that our hotel rooms were likely bugged and we reveled in making cryptic comments and writing notes about items of national security just in case.
We then moved on to a small town – its name now lost to my memory – where they make the famous Russian black lacquer painted boxes. After a long bus ride, we arrived and were told that we could use the facilities if we needed to before entering the factory.
Thankful for the opportunity, I walked eagerly into the barn where they told us to go.
Yes, the barn. As in BARN.
I walked through the OPEN barn door. No, it did not close. I’m fairly certain it was frozen open.
I stopped in horror. HORROR, I tell you.
Before I proceed allow me to remind you that it was February. In Russia. No, not Siberia, but it was frigid, just the same. Frigid and frozen and icy.
There, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but barn stalls, doorless, each with a hole in the ground.
And the stench!!!!
I cannot begin to describe it. Suffice it to say that that was the day I learned that even frozen waste can smell.
Despite my discomfort, I didn’t go. I just couldn’t.
And that is all I remember about that particular town; the entire tour of the lacquer plant was lost in my discomfort and decadent western standards.
I wonder, sometimes, if the political changes in Russia have brought hygienic changes as well. I shall probably never know.
Thursday: EXCEPTIONAL POTTY #2: Location: The Andaman Sea, Thailand
PS – I found these two frozen barn pictures at http://www.pbase.com/lindasolan/barns – there are a lot more neat barn pictures there.