Monday, June 10, 2013

Toilets of the World...

I love books, especially when they are about quirky subjects.  A few years ago, when we were living in Germany, I stumbled upon a book called Toilets of the World.  Written by Morna E. Gregory and Sian James, this was basically a picture book of plumbing facilities around the world.  From the crudest holes in the ground to the most sophisticated washlets made by the Japanese, these two ladies have covered their taboo topic terrifically.  I bought my copy of their book in 2008 and keep it by my loo to look at while I'm tending to business.


One of the toilets we encountered in Scotland...

I reviewed this book on Epinions.com, but it is currently "greyed out", which means that it's hard to find it unless you know exactly where to go.  I've decided to post it here for those who happen to be interested.  It really is a neat book, especially since Bill and I had occasion to visit at least one of the toilets profiled in Toilets of the World when we visited Scotland last fall.


Lovely pedestal sinks in the men's room at Rothesay Pier on the Isle of Bute in Scotland.


Signs explaining how the restoration of these Victorian era toilets was undertaken. 



A magnificent pissoir...


They didn't give the ladies room the same treatment.


I like the "Deluge"...


The outside is not all that impressive.



But it is very convenient and reasonably priced at 20 pence a piss.


I took a photo of this toilet at Arran Aromatics on the Isle of Arran because it had an ingenious child's seat for wee ones...


This was one of the toilets in Ardgowan House near Greenock.


And this was one of the public toilets in Mount Stuart House.  Unfortunately, a lot of the ladies were trying to "hover", which resulted in a puddle of pee on the floor...

Below is the review I wrote of the book, Toilets of the World.  I have read and reviewed many books about toilets and the act of going to the bathroom.  This is one that I think will really appeal to curious and intrepid travelers.  The authors have a Web site that is worth checking out.  Also, I came across a fascinating Web site called Toilet Guru, which is a site dedicated to the same thing...  

Let's face it. Every living creature in the world must, on occasion, eliminate waste. It's a fact of life that no one can escape and the one thing that everyone has in common. Before I spent two years serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Armenia, I assumed that everyone eliminated their waste in the same mundane manner. Like most Americans, I was used to "going to the bathroom", which generally consists of visiting a room that includes a bathtub or shower, a sink, and a toilet. At the very least, I expected a water closet, where the sink and the tub were in one room, while the toilet was in another. The house my family lived in when my father was stationed in England had a water closet. I wasn't exposed to the so-called squat based "Turkish toilet" until I landed in Yerevan, Armenia, where public toilets are often of the Turkish variety and many people are grateful for the fact.

As you might be able to tell from my opening paragraph, I've given the subject of toilets more thought than most people probably have. That's because, I've just finished reading Toilets of the World (2006), a fascinating picture filled book by authors Morna E. Gregory and Sian James. This bright yellow book, which came to me wrapped in cellophane, bears the international male and female signal for toilet facilities and is decorated with euphemisms for toilets.

One wouldn't think this book would be very appealing to anyone with "delicate" sensibilities. It does discuss a subject that affects everyone but is still taboo. A polite person doesn't discuss their toilet habits at the dinner table, after all. But it turns out that Toilets of the World really is a very interesting book. The authors have separated this book into geographical sections. Using lots of photographs, witty captions, and occasionally more substantial text, the authors explain the different types of toilet facilities one might encounter on a trip around the world. From the lowliest hole in the ground to the most elaborate, jewel encrusted work of art, just about every conceivable crapper from every corner of the world is covered.

Some of the toilet designs in this book are truly astonishing. For instance, at Sketch in London, the public restrooms consist of a series of giant oblong "eggs" that look like they came off the set for Mork & Mindy. The eggs, which are colored pink for women and blue for men, each contain a perfectly normal toilet on which one might tend to business in comfort. At Bar 89 in Soho, New York City, the public toilets have transparent doors that look like they offer no privacy to prospective patrons. However, when the latch is turned, the doors turn opaque. How ingenious! The clear doors allow visitors an almost foolproof way to know for sure if a toilet is occupied or not. That way, no one has to look under stalls for feet or shyly tug on the door to see if anyone's in there.

I was amazed by some of the incredible pictures in this book. Gregory and James must have had a lot of fun doing their research, collecting photographs and local toilet lore from the places that are discussed in Toilets of the World. They discuss everything from racially segregated toilets in South Africa to squat toilets in Japan that require users to don special "toilet slippers". The plastic toilet slippers even are marked as such, with the word "toilet" printed on the toes or simply the universal man/woman toilet symbol. The authors even take on "female urinals" which allow women the opportunity to pee standing up, just like guys do. They even include instructions on how to use such a facility, although aside from trying to avoid having to sit on a toilet seat, I can't imagine why women would want to stand while they pee.

The authors also explain certain toilet related services. For example, since I've lived in Germany, when I visit public toilets, I've often encountered the so-called Klofrau. In France, she's known as Madame Pipi. That's the lady (or man) who sits outside public toilets with a plate full of coins. It's her job to see that the toilets are kept clean and to dispense toilet paper if there isn't any already in the stall. As I was reading about this, I started to wonder what prompts someone to pursue a career as a Klofrau. Anyway, as long as they keep the toilets clean, I'm grateful for their services... as long as I have change handy, that is.

Obviously, I find this book very intriguing, but I'm guessing that it won't appeal to everybody, especially those who are grossed out or offended by elimination. There are a few pictures of people actually using toilet facilities, though there are none that show anyone's private parts. Most of the pictures are simply of the actual toilet facilities, the vast majority of which are clean and presentable. Though there's not too much off color humor, the authors do include some frank discussion of the more vulgar terms for waste elimination. They also include some historical information and commentary on where some of the terms come from. I found that aspect of the book especially interesting, but I realize that some people might be turned off by it.

Because it consists mostly of photographs, Toilets of the World is a very quick read. That makes it a great book to keep in your own loo-- just something to read for a few minutes while you take care of business. Of course, as I learned from this book, some people are actually lucky enough to have toilets with television screens installed nearby, eliminating the need for reading material.

In any case, I learned surprisingly new things reading Toilets of the World. I definitely recommend it to anyone who's curious about the many different toilet traditions around the world.







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