Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Word About Bathrooms

Flying in, we had that overnight in Rome, and, upon landing in the airport, I found in necessary to use the bathroom in the Rome airport. Report: Icky. Not at all like the restrooms in Heathrow. I thought it was more like a bus station bathroom, and thought that maybe the Italian Airport Authority might want to tidy things up in there, as it doesn’t give the best first impression of their country.

As it turns out, though, it gives an accurate impression of the public bathrooms in their country, which are – and I’m pretty glad I’m using the word in only a metaphorical sense – shitty.

Contrast this with the bathrooms in our hotel rooms, all of which were quite spiffy and (even in the lesser hotels) all had bidets. Seriously. The hotel bathrooms give you the impression that the Italian people are concerned enough with cleanliness that they supply bidets for regular usage, but the bathrooms you encounter in airports, cafes, restaurants, and tourist attractions (even those you have to pay to use) give a very different impression. You find yourself a public bathroom someplace in Sicily with: toilet paper, soap, paper towels, and a seat on the toilet, you’ve hit the mother lode, my friend. In most cases, you’re pretty lucky to have three out of four. In some places, you only got one. (“Oh please, let it be toilet paper.” Anti-bacterial hand gel can cover a multitude of sins, but there’s only so far you can get with no bog roll.)

Flying home, I had a stopover in the Zurich airport. (More sippin’ chocolate!) The Swiss airport bathrooms were a welcome change from those in Italy – tidy, efficient, and sparkling clean. They’ve even got an antibacterial liquid dispenser in each stall, with a note suggesting you use some of the (plentiful) toilet paper with it to wipe down the seat before use. (Have never been to Switzerland before. My impression of the Swiss, based solely on the layover in the airport, is: all the efficiency of the Germans, without all that uncomfortable Master Race history. And I do believe this is the first time I’ve been called “Fraulein.”)

Oh, speaking of WWII, I should probably mention it in the context of, y’know, Italy. I mean, we saw lots of WWII monuments (and after-effects) in places like Vienna and Budapest in the Central European tour, but here we were in one of the Axis countries and WWII was kinda not really mentioned. (A local guide pointed out the location of the only memorial to Mussolini’s brother, and he had to point it out because it was hidden by some bushes.) We saw a couple war memorials in our travels in Sicily – but they were all memorials to the local fallen soldiers (of both World Wars, which seems a good save). I was a bit taken aback at the idea of WWII memorials in Italy – I mean, should you really have a memorial commemorating a war in which you were on, for lack of a better term, the wrong side? (And I remembered that bit about history being written by the winners, and thought it was particularly apt here.) But then I thought, no, a soldier is a soldier, and if your local boys died fighting in a war, you really should remember them. Perhaps particularly so when it was a war you were on the wrong side of – history should remember the lives lost in vain. You shouldn’t brush these deaths under a carpet and pretend they didn’t happen; remembering them may make you think twice the next time you’re going to war for the wrong reasons.

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