Tuesday, March 10, 2009

There was just no way

When it comes to bathrooms, I've seen my share of the repulsive. At a gargantuan Carnival party in Brazil, I had no choice but to use a restroom where, by the end of the night, the floor was grimy with materials I was pretty sure belonged inside the toilets. In Italy, I once paid a whole Euro to use a public bathroom that literally ended up being a hole in the ground. But nothing compares to the bathroom I came across this past weekend.

On Friday night, I went to see Banda Conmocion perform at La Fonda Permanente on Calle Serrano. The concert was a trombone-swinging, cymbal-spinning fire trap that left me with my hair doused with beer and my blood pumping to the beat of cumbia. Still, what I'll remember most about that night had nothing to do with the music.

While waiting for the band to come on, I got in line for the bathroom. During the several minutes I waited, I noticed that all the women ahead of me were going in in pairs. I figured they were all just really close friends and didn't think anything of it. When it was almost my turn, the woman next to me -- a stranger -- asked if I minded if she went in with me. "There are two toilets," she explained.

"No problem," I replied, wondering why she'd even asked.

Oh, but it was a problem. When we entered the restroom, we were confronted with two side-by-side toilets without any division whatsoever between them.

This apparently posed no problem for my bathroom buddy, who asked if I was feeling OK while blithely going about her business. I silently prayed to be momentarily relieved of my inhibitions, all the while knowing deep down that there was no way it was going to happen.

Who the hell designs a bathroom like this? The only remotely similar thing I've seen was the communal women's restroom at the camp my high school subjected us to at the beginning of freshman year. The stalls had divisions but no doors, which we were told was intended to "take us out of our comfort zones" to prepare us for five days of hauling canoes through mosquito-infested woods. At the time, we could barely imagine anything more scandalous. Little did I know that an even more traumatizing bathroom awaited me a decade down the line.

It strikes me that the process of designing the women's bathroom at La Fonda Permanente could not have included any actual women. If it had, I very much doubt that the final product would have involved two side-by-side toilets with no partition between them.

Then again, the other women in line seemed to have been perfectly content to pee in pairs. Is it a Chilean thing? Or is it just me? Maybe I'm just exceedingly self-conscious when it comes to this type of thing. As an exchange student here in Santiago, I would frequently make the hour-long commute home from judo class without rinsing off first in order to avoid using the showers in the university locker room, which not only were communal but also opened directly into the changing room. My classmates didn't seem to mind much.

Which is why I'm curious. Women, would you use the Fonda Permanente bathroom?

And Sara, how would this W.C. rank in your guide?

Some women consider the bathroom a place of solace, a sanctuary in which to escape a bad date, chat privately with a friend or simply absorb a few moments of calm and quiet. Chilean bathrooms, however, seem to conspire to make this impossible. They are frequently devoid of toilet paper, soap and basic standards of hygiene. It's not just the facilities themselves that can make using the ladies' room harrowing: Women waiting in Chilean bathroom lines can be downright belligerent. If they think someone's been inside for even seconds too long, they have been known to pound on the door and shout an insistent chorus of "Yaaaa po!"s. This is probably because Chilean women's bathrooms -- significantly more so than in the U.S. -- tend to be much too small to meet demand.

So Chile, I ask you: Why can't we just pee in peace?


Abby said...

I think that after going to the bathroom in a field used for that purpose in El Salvador with anyone who happened to be there (men and women) I would be able to use the bathroom there.

That being said, I would not like it.

Maeskizzle said...

Leigh, you saw Conmoción! They are awesome! I haven't been able to make it to any of their concerts this summer. :( And I didn't know about this one. I was especially bummed I missed when they played with chico trujillo! I should keep better tabs on their concert dates.

On the bathrooms there, I wouldn't be too into taking a dump side by side with some random lady, but peeing I guess would be a possibility, if that were the option.

Abby - hahahaha. Interesting concept. A bathroom field. I think I'd almost prefer that.

Maeskizzle said...

ah, and the bathroom guide was already done by The Clinic- they reviewed free bathrooms downtown Santiago, although you could probably find more bathrooms to review. If I remember correctly, the bathrooms in la casa central de la Universidad Católica are some of the best free bathrooms downtown. There were several bathrooms they particularly recommended, but I can't remember the other ones.

Leigh said...

A bathroom field?! Now I feel snobby for complaining about a place that's indoors and actually has toilets.

Heather, I think Banda Conmocion is playing this weekend at Galpon Victor Jara. Oh, and I agree with The Clinic that universities are a great resource for free bathrooms.

Lori - Blondie in Brazil said...

Ugh! Using the bathroom is one area of my life where I really feel no need to get out of my comfort zone. Can someone explain how that would help me grow as a better person? Ha, ha!

The bathrooms here are spotless, better than the US....until you get to busy events, then they are the worst you've ever seen (much worse than US).

Sara said...

That sounds just awful. That might be a new low. I wonder if we can invent a new scale that includes something that isn't even recognizable as a bathroom anymore. Yuck... Just reading your story gave me creepy crawlies.

Mamacita Chilena said...

Haha, I would have been fine with it. But then again, you read my blog. You've probably noticed that I'm basically free of all inhibitions. :P