While most of the Corona panic- buying here in the Shenandoah Valley has seemingly subsided for the moment, one item continues to be a semi-precious commodity: yep, toilet paper.
This continued depletion of supply has inspired some folks to come up with some, shall we say, novel solutions and some ideas not so odd. One of these is the slow introduction to the general American public of an appliance that has seemingly been in use in Europe for a long time: The bidet (that’s pronounced, Bee-day for folks raised in Duval County!). The other night a fellow blogger wrote a piece on just this topic and it brought back memories of my first encounter with this European marvel.
In March of 1973 I decided to take a trip to the place of my father’s birth, Ireland. This would be my first time on an airplane and my first time traveling to a foreign land – except for an accidental trip to New Jersey, which is another story!
I was well prepared for this adventure. Just before leaving I consulted with a cousin who had traveled frequently to The Old Country. He gave me a wealth of information: The Irish currency was called a Punt and was worth about $2.50 at the time. Cars drive on the left side of the road and the steering wheels are on the right and all cars have manual transmissions. I was told that upon leaving the Shannon Airport I was to drive kind of northward and sort of along the coast, but not too close! He also said when I arrived in the hometown to just ask for “Batty”, that was my uncle’s nickname, and for good reason, said my cousin. Loaded with this information (who would need more?), I set off.
I arrived in Limerick, rented a car and started out the parking lot. It must have been my unique driving style that caused the Garda (Irish police) to run to the exit gate, raise it and jump behind a row of concrete pillars. As I bucked passed them, one made the Sign of the Cross and the other uttered a phrase I would hear often during my “Journey Home”: Jaysus, Mary and Joseph! Off I went.
Like a homing pigeon, I did make my way to Charlestown, County Mayo and quickly found Uncle Batty, a gentleman through and through, but with an odd sense of humor, I was told. After visiting for a couple of days, seeing my family living in the same single room cottage as did their great- grandparents, I set off for Dublin, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. I felt like a regular world-class traveler by now. Little did I know that I was about to have an experience not ever to be forgotten!
No reservations, no problem. God surely protects fools, I’ve learned. So, down Dublin’s main thoroughfare I drove (getting better by the minute, I was) and decided to turn onto a quaint side street. Now, Dublin at this time was not much different than during the time of Joyce and Yeats. Cobbled streets, the scent of peat from stoves and fireplaces, painted doors and stately stone buildings everywhere. It was a movie set, I thought. Pulling up to a stone-fronted hotel, a crisply uniformed young man greeted me and helped carry my duffle bag to the check-in desk and then up to the room. Now, I had also been advised to bring with me an ample supply of Kennedy silver half-dollars to use as tips. Apparently this was good advice because the bell boy was actually excited to get one: American money and an Irish-American president. Nothing better in Ireland during that Spring of 1973! Now, my long-remembered experience was about to begin.
The room was huge, with a sitting area that overlooked the cobbled, narrow street below. The bathroom was expansive. Everything was marble – floors, walls, double sinks – the whole thing. After looking around and seeing everything to be in order, I decided to refresh a bit after the long drive. Wait, what is that? A toilet for a midget? These Irish think of everything, they do. So, I decide to give the “midget seat” a try. Before “doing” anything, I decided to give a side lever a tug – just to see what’s what, so to speak. A gush of cold water blasted my back and head. What the heck!! This can’t be right. So, I stood up and gave another yank to the handle. Old Faithful then gushes out all over the floor, turning the bath into nearly a pool. Something’s wrong here, for sure. Hmmm, I’d better get some help.
So, I go out to the hall and there stands a young girl in a heavily starched black and white uniform, wearing a lace cap, carrying an armful of clean towels. The Sherlock Holmes in me figures she must work here. So, “Can I ask you something” I say. “Yes, sir”, she replies. “Come in, please”. She follows and I walk into the bathroom with her, somewhat reluctantly, following behind. Pointing to the midget seat I ask, “Do you know what that is”? She stiffens and says, “I do”. We’re onto something now. “Do you know how it works”? A bit more stiffening and a hint of wariness is now in her voice when she again replies, “I do”. “Well, could you show me how it works?” “I WILL NOT!”, and like a bolt she runs from the room. By the time I can get to the door she has run to the end of the hallway and met with another uniformed girl. I can hear that other one saying, “He didn’t!!” “He did”, says the first girl. They both turn to give me the Short Eye and then hustle down the stairs. Odd girls, I say to myself.
So, after foregoing trying to give the geyser another try, I go out and have a wonderful evening exploring Old Dublin. When I return, I decide to have a drink in the hotel’s small, wood-paneled pub. Three or four older men sitting at the bar and the bartender, dressed in the customary white shirt, black tie and pants were the only other people in the pub. I sat at a small table. The bartender looked at me and said, “What will it be”? “A Guinness, please”. He pours it and puts it on the bar; I get up, take it and say, “Thanks”. “Ah, you must be the Yank staying on the second floor”, says the barman. “I am”, I say. The barman smiles and bends to whisper something to the men sitting at the rail. A burst of laughter. “He didn’t!” says one, “was it Mary?” “No, the new girl, Bridie”, says the barman. “Ah, Jaysus”, says another of the men. “Mary would be bad enough, but Bridie! Is she still runnin’”? Now, another burst of laughter. Odd bunch, these Dubliners, I’m thinking. On the way out, the barman says, “Yank, did ye’ figure out that thing in your room”? “No”, and I continued out and up to my room, but not before I heard more laughter and, “Jaysus, ye’d think they would have them in America, as well”. They’re a very odd bunch in this place, I thought. But, still nice.
A week or so later, up in Sligo, I told my uncle Frank all about the midget seat/ foot washer (cleverly, I figured this out on my own!), the cleaning girl running out of the room and the people in the bar laughing. Uncle Frank, not a drinker, nearly choked on his tea. “Well, Billy”, he said, “I’d say you should not plan on going back there again”. He then started to laugh just as hard as the folks in Dublin as he explained just what that little seat was for.
So, if these Bidet things ever catch on here in the U.S., I’m way ahead of the curve! And it’s a good thing that we’ve installed waterproof flooring in the bathrooms!
As always, pray, don’t worry, be careful.