Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Friday, August 19, 2011

The truth about toilettes

Museum of decorated toilettes. From

Continuing with the previous post about Italo Calvino´s story Wind in the City, there´s another part of it that made me remember a wealthy architect in Buenos Aires, who is -or was, I don´t know now- a collector of antiques. One day, we were to a Faculty´s party at his house and was astonished to see that he also had a collection of toilettes. Nice porcelains, painted in blue, delicate flowers, different models, but toilets.
Here, a funny thought from Italo Calvino´s story:

Broken toilettes. From
Hand painted toilettes. From
Decorated Toilet. This is the type I´ve seen in the collectors´ house.From
Another toilet with delicate decoration. From

I live in a rented room on the fifth floor; beneath my window the trams roll in the narrow street day and night, as if rattling headlong across my room; night–time, trams far away shriek like owls. The landlady’s daughter is a secretary, fat and hysterical: one day she smashed a plate of peas in the passageway and shut herself in her room screaming. The toilet looks out on the courtyard; it’s at the end of a narrow corridor, a cave almost, its walls damp and green and mouldy: maybe stalactites will form. Beyond the bars on the window the courtyard is one of those Turin courtyards trapped under layers of decay with iron balcony railings you can’t lean on without getting rust all over you. One above the other, the protruding cages of the toilets make a sort of tower: toilets with mould–soft walls, marshy at the bottom.
And I think of my own house high above the sea amid the palm trees, my own house so different from all other houses. And the first difference that comes to mind is the number of toilets it had, toilets of every variety: in bathrooms gleaming with white tiles, in gloomy cubby–holes, Turkish toilets, ancient water–closets with blue friezes fabling round the bowls.
Remembering all this I was wandering round the city smelling the wind. When I go and run into a girl I know: Ada Ida. (....)
I  don’t know how she does it, Ada Ida, how any of them do it, all those men and women who manage to be intimate with everybody, who find something to say to everybody, who get involved in other people’s affairs and let them get involved in theirs. I say: ‘I’m in a room on the fifth floor with the trams like owls at night. The toilet is green with mould, with moss and stalactites, and a winter fog like over a marsh. I think up to a point people’s characters depend on the toilets they have to shut themselves up in every day. You get home from the office and you find the toilet green with mould, marshy: so you smash a plate of peas in the passage and you shut yourself in your room and scream.’
I haven’t been very clear, this isn’t really how I had thought of it, Ada Ida certainly won’t understand, but before my thoughts can turn into spoken words they have to go through an empty space and they come out false.
‘I do more cleaning in the toilet than anywhere else in the house,’ she says, ‘every day I wash the floor; I polish everything. Every week I put a clean curtain on the window, white, with embroidery, and every year I have the walls repainted. I feel if I stopped cleaning the toilet one day it would be a bad sign, and I’d let myself go more and more till I was desperate. It’s a small dark toilet, but I keep it like a church. I wonder what kind of toilet the managing director of Fiat has. Come on, walk with me a bit, till the tram.’
The great thing about Ada Ida is that she accepts everything you say, nothing surprises her, any subject you bring up, she’ll go on with it, as if it had been her idea in the first place. And she wants me to walk with her as far as the tram.
‘Okay, I’ll come,’ I tell her. ‘So, the managing director of Fiat had them build him a toilet that was a big lounge with columns and drapes and carpets, aquariums in the walls. And big mirrors all round reflecting his body a thousand times. And the John had arms and a back to lean on and it was high as a throne; it even had a canopy over it. And the chain for flushing played a really delightful carillon. But the managing director of Fiat couldn’t move his bowels. He felt intimidated by all those carpets and aquariums. The mirrors reflected his body a thousand times while he sat on that John, high as a throne. And the managing director of Fiat felt nostalgic for the toilet in his childhood home, with sawdust on the floor and sheets of newspaper skewered on a nail. And so he died: intestinal infection after months without moving his bowels.’

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