Train station bathrooms are terrible. You generally have to pay to use them and the whole area just seems greasy and smelly. We try to avoid them. So as we began to rumble down the track away from charming ancient Toulouse toward the countryside of South West France we stumbled and fumbled to hoist our bags onto the overhead racks with very full bladders. Once the heavy gear was stowed my husband Cam bolted for the nearest WC. He dashed into the closest one as quickly as possible….whew! After he was able to concentrate he realized there was no soap in the jostling men’s room so he decided to quickly slip across the aisle to grab some. That’s when she smacked him. A tiny, dignified looking granny cuffed him open handed with the force of a street fighter. She wasn’t done with him either. The feisty Madame then grabbed a big handful of his bermuda shorts and yanked for all she was worth. She pinched, pulled and raved at him with words ‘en Français’ that were definitely turning the air between the rail cars a vibrant shade of blue. Over her fragile shoulder he noticed the sign on the bathroom door. The unmistakeable international symbol he had overlooked in his bladder bursting hurry. The silhouette of a woman wearing a triangular dress. He had mistakenly entered the ladies room. This is how we learned that the word pervert sounds almost the same in French as it does in English.
Vancouver is just beginning to experiment with self cleaning public bathrooms. The French have been all over this concept for years. There are 420 Sanisettes in Paris that are used about 3 million times annually without incident. Much as they have done for wine and fashion, the French have elevated the porta-potty to an instrument of style. So, when we arrived in Biarritz for a lovely day at France’s surfing mecca I was intrigued to test drive one of these marvels. On the outside there is a system of lights. Red for occupied, orange for cleaning and green means go for it lady. We stood outside and waited for the wash cycle to be completed. The green light flashed and I pressed the button with the same level of excitement I imagine Agent Smart felt when he was permitted to lower the dome of silence for the first time.
As I cautiously stepped in to the futuristic pee pod the first thing I noticed was the smell. Clean, almost fresh with a hint of disinfectant. Not at all like a train station. So far, so good. I didn’t want to set my day pack down so I kept it on my back as I turned, unzipped and assumed the mogul skiing racer stance. Mom used to hold me suspended above the seat at the Army and Navy public bathroom while I tinkled so I wouldn’t catch anything. Those early lessons die hard.
Just as I released the valve on that morning’s 2 cups of tea, litre of water + 2 hours in the car the toilet seat began to rise…by…its…self. Uh oh. Suddenly my derriere felt like a cabbage in the produce section. I was being spritzed. Then the pressure increased and my garden was being watered. It was at precisely that moment that the lights went out. Complete and utter darkness surrounded me as I was being disinfected top to bottom. This toilette was out of synch! I was squatting with my shorts around my calves, piddling in the blackness while my butt went through the car wash. I was trapped!! This almost 50 year old bladder could not put the brakes on that 2 litre fountain fast enough. Note to self…keep doing the kegels. OK, what now? Wash cycle phase two kicked in and my feet were being pressure washed like the midway pavement after the fair leaves town. The water was warmish and possibly lemon scented? I couldn’t decide if the sensation was pleasant or totally disgusting. In a state of shock I had managed to cease fire and zip up but it was still pitch black and I couldn’t find the light switch let alone the door.
Naturally I stayed totally calm as the oscillating spray gave my flip flops, feet and ankles a good scrub… high decibel screaming, hysterically laughing and yelling for help as my hands desperately searched the walls pleading for some kind of button or escape hatch. Suddenly the door released with an air brakes hiss and beams of glorious light streamed in like angels from heaven. I was dripping wet, embarrassed and disoriented but I had very clean feet. Not exactly the bidet experience the French are famous for.
The group of teenaged surfer kids who had gathered on the boardwalk seemed to think this was all very amusing. Glad I could make their first day of school so entertaining. Whew…this called for a beachside lunch, some frolicking in the surf and later, several glasses of delicious local red to help forget the shame of it all.
Love from Biarritz, where the toilets can be more dangerous than the epic surf.