Who would have thought that my trip to Europe would leave me coveting a couple of commercial bathroom gizmos that haven’t been seen in real-life operation in this part of the world? At least, they’ve never been seen by me or any of the envious friends with whom I’ve shared stories of these washroom wonders. There’s real disappointment in knowing I can’t have them for my own home – at least not yet. France isn’t exactly renowned for its advancements in bathroom technology. Not so long ago, the country’s standard for a public bathroom wasn’t much more than a glorified hole in the floor. Some establishments provided obvious footpads which you stood in and angled your body so that you were sure you were hovering over the opening no matter what function you were there to perform. And it was often a unisex environment. I’m not kidding. Some public restrooms in France are still quite baffling. Toilets sometimes flush by pulling a chain from the ceiling. Others have a foot pedal. Some have both. Sometimes the tissue is in the common area, outside the actual stall, but the typical tourist doesn’t figure that out until it’s way too late. In a small town on the Cote D’Azur we stopped for a cappuccino and to admire the view of the azure water of the Mediterranean. Upon his return from the restroom, my traveling companion leaned over the table conspiratorially and whispered, “Even if you don’t have to go, you’ve got to see the toilet in there!” I know a good opportunity when I hear one so I ambled toilet-ward.
Things seemed quite run of the mill at first. The toilet was white and rather ordinary looking until after the flush. Out from under the bottom of the tank came what looked like a wide plastic clamp, with its ends overhanging inside and outside the bowl rim. It slowly circled the entire rim, making a soft whirring sound and releasing blue, liquid cleaner and a little scrubber that scoured the entire bowl. After one fascinating and complete turn of the porcelain, the device parked itself out of the way, under the tank. I resisted the childish temptation to flush again just to watch the gizmo work its magic once more and thought it was wonderful for the employees of that establishment to never have to pick up a toilet brush. And what a treat it was for customers to always encounter a freshly sanitized commode. Later, back in England, we made use of the facilities in Victoria Station where women and men shared the entrance but used separate fixtures. We both emerged from our respective aisles simply bursting to tell the other about the station’s marvel in hand-drying. The appliance looked like a long, single slice toaster attached at its side to the wall. You slowly lower your wet hands into the opening, fingertips first, and by the time you raise them out again they are perfectly dry. Forget killing trees by using paper towels or rubbing maniacally under a weak puff of warm air. This dryer, called Airblade, is brilliant and is made by the Dyson Company, the folks behind the vacuum that they claim “never loses suction”. I researched both of these items upon our return to the land of toilets you have to clean yourself and hand dryers that don’t dry your digits completely. I hoped against hope that there were home versions of these commercial items but it appears they’re not yet on the open market. Even if they were, they’d probably be pricey. But if money were no object they would both be wonderful to have. So would some other delightful aspects of traveling, like never having to launder your own sheets and an endless supply of fluffy white towels.