If there is one thing that all of man kind shares, regardless of race, gender, or religion, it is the unifying urge to (on occasion) relieve oneself. Everyone’s got to go sometime, right? Well, that’s what I thought; at least until I went to Paris last spring.
In April of 2007, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Paris, France with a group from my school. We hit all of the important landmarks, so of course we decided to visit the Eifel Tower. We chose to make the ascent at night; the city of Paris was sure to be shining and sparkling in the night air below us. We reached the tower just after sunset. The painfully long lines to get onto the elevators which would drag us up to the top observation deck were bad enough. But perhaps worst of all was the fact that nature was knocking on my proverbial door step — I had to go to the bathroom.
No big deal, right? I mean we were standing beneath the world’s biggest tourist attraction. There was bound to be a “toilette” around somewhere. Accompanied by one of the chaperones and a fellow classmate who need to take care of business equally as direly, we first sought assistance at the inaccurately labeled “help desk.” Try “help yourself” desk: the bored woman inside told us the tower’s facilities closed down after dark. Strike One.
Our next attempt was at a public facility in a park just beyond the tower. We hurried to the fenced in structure, fingers crossed (hoping that it wasn’t just a long row of roman toilets) and were disappointed once again. “Closed after dark.'” Strike two. I was beginning to get the impression that the French had developed some sort of genetic mutation that saved them from needing les toilettes after dark.
We set out with one last hope in mind: a self cleaning “toilette gratitude” down the street that we had passed earlier. It was essentially the French equivalent of a port-a-potty — not the classiest facility in town, but it would do. It was a long ten minute walk away, but we were desperate so we made our way back at a brisk walk, weaving left and right to avoid the street vendors who seemed determined to sell us glow-in-the-dark tower miniatures.
After what seemed like an eternity, we reached our goal — well, almost reached it. An excruciatingly long line stretched from the small hut reaching out into the street. We found ourselves at the end of it. Seeing no other options, we decided to grin, bare it, and wait. The line crept slowly closer to the toilette until tragedy struck. One woman, in her haste to relieve herself, had made the mistake of leaping inside the hut immediately after the person before her had exited. If only she had let the door close first.
I for one am all for the sanitary advantages of self-cleaning toilets, but I’ve got to admit, they do have their flaws. The door sealed closed behind the woman and locked her inside for what I can only imagine was one of the most unpleasant disinfecting experiences of her life. As we stood there listening to the shrieks of the trapped, involuntarily sanitized woman, we were faced with the undeniable truth that we had struck out again. We were out of luck.
Out of luck, that is, until my teacher made a brilliant discovery. In her survey of the area, her gaze had happened upon a small bar about a block away. Desperate times you see, called for desperate measures. She guided us at a trot down the crowed Parisian street and into the dim bar where she ordered three “cocas,” the French term for anything brown, sweet and carbonated. We hovered for a moment at the counter. It all seemed a bit counterintuitive to me at the time, forcing cold liquidly cokes into our already protesting bladders, but when my teacher asked the bartender “Ou sont les toilettes, monsieur?” I finally got the plan. I don’t think I’ve ever downed a coke faster.
My misadventures in Paris taught me many useful things. First, never buy a tourist knickknack in the first shop where you see it — it’ll be in every single other shop you enter, probably for 3 euros less. Second, take your camera everywhere, there’s too much you could miss. And most importantly of all, be prepared: Parisians never need restrooms after dark.
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