(The Bath, Alfred Stevens, 1867, Musee d'Orsay, Paris)
I am fascinated by toilets.
And Europe - like a bucketful of other wonders - has opened my eyes to the mysteries of commodes.
Honestly, until I stepped foot on European soil, it was all about the decorative design of these objects.
Did I care about their functionality?
Not so much.
Sure, I was ticked when those menacing "low-flow" babies hit the American plumbing market.
But my life went on.
That all changed when I flushed my first toilet in London.
The roar of the WHOOSH!!! was positively deafening.
And oddly fulfilling at the same time.
When I heard the flush, I pictured a complicated underground system of heavy duty pipes that meant "take-no-prisoners" business.
Wimpy whooshes in London?
Not a chance.
Plugged up pipes resulting in sudden eruptions of the nasties?
Instantly, I knew I was treading on new territory.
And I was becoming hooked.
No one has mastered the fine art of flushing like the Europeans.
Spend some quality time pondering this fact:
Most European toilets don't have handles.
Imagine, if you will, a rectangular Kleenex box.
Place that box flush (hmmm) into the wall just above the toilet.
Next, insert a movable five inch oval button inside the "tissue box."
Finally, push the oval button firmly into the box.
The next thing you know you're singing "zip-a-dee-doo-dah" and waving bye-bye to what your innards have just produced!
It's a beautiful thing.
And it's an activity I never grow tired of.
Are you dying to know what material is used to make these flush boxes?
I always am.
Don't worry your pretty little head another second.
My fave is the chrome box.
It's looks like glitzy silver.
And it's a perfect companion to the chrome faucets that sparkle in most contemporary bathrooms across the pond.
Baby, bring on the bling.
(This is a photo from our private collection. Please notice the similar size, shape and material of the flush box and the tissue box. The toilet paper holder you see is serving as a spare. The actual toilet paper holder looks just like our American version but, unfortunately, it did not get included in this photo.)
Just days ago, Bob and I got to snoop into the private bathroom of Empress Elizabeth of Austria.
Our snooping took place at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna.
Elizabeth - known as "Sissi" by her family, friends and subjects - departed this life in 1898.
So it's not like we were sneaking around her private quarters while she was out picking up apple strudel at the royal conditeri with her favorite lady-in-waiting.
Busybodies that we are, we couldn't resist popping our heads into her spacious bathroom.
This is what we saw:
(The gorgeous white thing is Sissi's oven which all European castles used for heating rooms back in the day. The piece on the right is NOT her commode.)
Sissi began every day with a cold bath at 5 or 6 in the morning.
That's because - in my opinion - she was crazy.
Occasionally, she favored baths of warm olive oil to keep her skin soft.
Thanks, but I'm gonna stick to drizzling my olive oil on top of my toasted bruschetta.
You may have noticed that the royal commode is missing from Sissi's bathroom.
That's another thing about Europeans.
They prefer to enclose the commode in a room that is separate from the bathing area.
It's all about simple sanitation.
I step mere feet around the corner from the empress's bathroom and behold a glorious object in a very small room.
My eyes are transfixed on Sissi's blue and white porcelain "throne."
And then I see it's companion piece - a splendid blue and white porcelain sink.
The sink looks just like a tiny Italian fountain.
Perhaps something crafted during the Renaissance.
Be still my beating heart!
I know it's not nice to covet worldly things.
But I gotta be honest here.
I want to rip these treasures from their royal walls, slide them under my trusty raincoat, and march out of the Hofburg with some serious souvenirs!
But, of course, I don't.
Days later - while recovering from a mild case of homebound jet lag - I content myself with Lucinda Lambton's wonderful book: "Temples of Convenience."
Lucinda's book is a written/ visual history of the commode.
And it's right up my plumbing filled alley.
Ms. Lambton's opening line reads:
"Hail to the lavatory!"
And I say to that:
Alas, I can not show you a photograph of Sissi's commode.
(We humble tourists are not allowed to take photographs inside the hallowed halls of the Hofburg.)
But I can show you a picture of a toilet that is comparable to Sissi's.
This little number is called the "Waterfall" wash-down commode.
It is decorated with a rope and roses pattern in blue and white porcelain.
It stands today in a private house in St. Peter's Square in west London.
(The "Waterfall" is similar to Sissi's commode.)P.S.
Just to let you know.
I'll be unavailable for the next few days.
I'm booking a flight to London a.s.a.p.
I'm taking a coat the size of Buckingham Palace.
And I'm walking right out of that private house with the "Waterfall" safely concealed under my palatial parka.
I don't think anyone will notice.
Everyone in London is crazy busy with Will and Kate's wedding.
But if anyone does?
I'll have lots of time to work on "thou shalt not covet" while I'm sitting inside my jail cell somewhere deep in the bowels (hmmm) of a London correction facility.