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Bathrooms I Have Known

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

In our apartment in the art nouveau section of Barcelona, my parents, my mother’s two sisters, the live-in maid, and I all shared one bathroom, which consisted of two separate rooms. One held a sink, a bathtub with the gas heater suspended above it, and a bidet. The pull-chain toilet was in the other. I remember well the roll of stiff brown toilet paper, and especially the wrapping it came in, which had a picture of a bull elephant holding an uprooted tree aloft in its trunk. (I often think about the contrast between that bull elephant and the cuddly bears and angels that decorate the wrappings of American toilet paper.)

I don’t remember being inconvenienced by our bathroom arrangements, but then, I was a kid. The smallish cottage where my spouse and I now live has two full baths. Nobody thinks that this is extravagant or bizarre, and if suddenly one of those bathrooms were taken away, I would feel seriously deprived.

How far we have come in our bathroom addiction! Now even the seediest roadside motel provides private bathrooms. At the other end of the scale, the designers of Mac Mansions invent ever more outlandish bathrooms, with enough floor space to swing a cat, state of the art shower systems that make you feel like you’re standing naked in a rainstorm, bidets (finally!), and swimming pool-size tubs. But do the owners of these houses, who must work 70-hour weeks to afford them, really have time for bubble baths? I don’t recall taking baths during the years when I was a working mother–a quick shower and jumping damply into my clothes was all I could usually manage. (This weird inverse proportion between the size and sophistication of the facility and the time available for its use also applies to those restaurant-style kitchens that function as mere symbols of a home life redolent of gourmet cooking and cozy family meals, but not available to the busy homeowners, who mostly subsist on take-out.)

We are addicted to our bathrooms, with their endless supply of instant hot water, their receptacle for making things disappear that we’d rather not think about (I wish they made fixtures to flush away guilt, anger, envy and other sins), their heated floors, fogless mirrors, and Hollywood-style light fixtures. If you’ve seen Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut you may remember the living room-size bathroom that featured, in addition to the usual appliances, a sofa and a rosewood writing desk. Yet when indoor plumbing first became available, Victorian homeowners shrank with disgust at the thought of housing the water closet under the same roof as the kitchen, dining room, and bedrooms.

Which goes to show what creatures of habit we humans are, and how quickly we get used to, and come to think of as necessities, things that we barely knew existed. Unfortunately, getting used to doing without stuff is a different story.

In the years that we spent in Ecuador, in the late 1950s, the country had not yet evolved into the mecca of eco-tourism that it is today. When my parents and I, and the three other members of the Catalan string quartet went adventuring in the Andean páramos or in the Amazon forest, mod cons were nonexistent. I squatted behind many a bush by the roadside, with my mother standing guard, while the quartet turned their backs to us, lighted cigarettes,  and gazed at the silent, empty landscape.

The hotels where we spent the night seldom had indoor plumbing; instead, each guest room was provided with a chamber pot. For their morning shave, the quartet would stand under the downspout and rinse the lather off their cheeks with the ever gushing rainwater. On one of these trips we arrived, tired and sore from bouncing along stone-paved roads built by the Incas, at the then tiny hamlet of Puyo, in the jungle on the eastern slope of the Andes. We pulled up in front of the hotel and inquired about dinner and rooms for the night. After the proprietress showed us to the dining room, the viola player, a courtly gentleman who wore a tie even while hiking through virgin forest, asked her, “Señora, would you kindly direct me to the nearest bathroom?” She looked at him wide-eyed, led him to the open window, and gestured mutely to the ocean of green stretching all the way to the Amazon.




5 Responses

  1. I finally have – after sharing with four sisters, and then the husband and kids – what is supposed to be ONLY my bathroom, right across from the second bedroom where I have my desk and usually sleep (I twitch too much to sleep with the husband).

    It is clean, uncluttered, and has everything I might need neatly stored in drawers or containers or behind the mirror.

    It is always functional. It doesn’t have hair anywhere but where it belongs. It (now that I need them) has grab bars everywhere. It is the biggest luxury of my life, even though the walk-in shower is next to the ‘master’ bedroom.

    Before we had this apartment, we lived in a 1-BR, 1BA apartment for five months, surrounded by all our stuff in boxes, but near Dining (which had restrooms), and where I often made a nest on the living room floor to sleep without bothering anyone. More than once I headed toward Dining in the middle of the night!

    Sharing is for predictable people. I am now content, bathroom-wise, to have one place where I don’t have a mess. Some day, maybe the rest of the rooms will join us.

    What you don’t have the energy or the resources to change, you must tolerate as best you can. It helps to have a hidey-hole.

  2. Oh, for a second bathroom in this house! That said, it’s not a vacation until one has peed outside at least once…

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