Dearest fields of dreams,
Hello and welcome from another scorching hot day in Berlin. (I love it so much.) I have my standing fan on in my little study and after I write this I am going to travel in the (sweaty) U Bahn to the library and maybe meet K after. Summer evenings are the best.
Before we get to the meat (hee) of this thing, a little reminder to buy Soft Animal! Buy two copies and give one to your local library or reading cafe. THANK YOU! KISSES!
As everyone from a certain part of the world knows, the moment you set foot in the other part of the world, one big question starts to form in your mind (and your body): how on earth do I poop here? Hundreds of years ago, certain Western countries decided the best way to clean their bums post shit was to wipe a piece of dry paper across it and call it a day. This became upheld as the golden standard of hygiene, to this day I hear about foreigners going to countries with bidets and saying, “Gross!” So much so that toilet paper has become standard: you’ll hear people complaining that loos have no TP, but not a mention if they lack a potty shower.
That’s what I call this thing, by the way. A potty shower.
It is the number one thing I miss about India, that, and how it’s standard to give people glasses of water at restaurants and bars without them having to request it specially.
Potty showers are known by all sorts of different names. I have heard:
But one thing all of us know is that toilet paper countries will not have them. Some friends who have been in Berlin long enough to purchase a flat decided that since it was their own property, goddammit, they were going to have a comfortable and convenient way to clean their asses. So they brought in a bidet attachment and asked the plumber who was renovating the bathroom to fix it near the toilet. This man, being German, did not understand what exactly the thing was going to be used for and connected it to the mains instead of a side flow. “So you see,” said my friend, when I went to visit his home some summers ago, “It gives you an enema each time you use it.”
I tried it myself, not on myself thankfully, since I had been warned and water came whooshing out like a pressure hose.
Most people have learned to make do. Some use wet wipes, others a little mug by the side of the loo. The toilets in new build houses in Berlin are generally windowless and cramped, small and damp. I have another friend who has a really beautiful pre-war apartment in an attic. Slanting windows let in light into her bathroom which has the vastness of a sanctuary. Ours is a tiny little afterthought, placed between bedrooms, large enough for a washing machine to be tucked into one corner, not large enough to have a separate shower and tub. Instead we stand inside the tub and use the shower, adjusted to our respective heights. At least we have a tub, it is my joy and delight to soak in it after a tiring week, but because of similar space issues, the drying laundry flutters on the rack just above my head. I’ve never had a vast bathroom, so I always admire them in other people’s homes. When you have a big space you can decorate, have a theme even, some decor. One of my friends in Delhi had a little rug by the long sink and counter, the shower was so far away that no splash would ever come near it. Our neighbour next door has the same tiny loo we do, but she has made it into a sanctuary. When you turn on the light, there’s a little machine with bird sounds that comes on. Sweet smelling things are everywhere. In contrast, ours is basic, not even a mirror on the wall to lighten things up. (Often in Germany, houses come completely unfurnished so it’s not rare for tenants to buy things for themselves and then remove them completely when they leave. In our case, the previous tenants were an old woman and her hired caretaker, so they left us a fully intact kitchen including cups and plates but took things like light fixtures and bathroom mirrors.)
I had a dream the other night about a bathroom. It could’ve been because I really had to pee and my brain starts throwing up images of loos in a desperate attempt to make me wake up and use it. It wasn’t a very nice dream, in fact, it was a nightmare, it ended with an old man cornering me against the hot water pipes, after which I woke up, heart pounding (and went to the loo after all, so well done, brain, scare me awake) but the bathroom itself was so beautiful. It was all tiled in sunny yellow, the ceilings were high, with windows placed close to it so shafts of sunlight danced through the room. There were plenty of plants and a low long tub in the corner. “It was a really nice bathroom,” I told my therapist later, we often discuss my dreams, “It was almost like a church.”
Pretty bathrooms are supposed to distract from the most important thing you do there. Which is: poop. Which is a time of day you sit still and focus, perhaps you have your phone or a book with you, but really you’re listening to your body. And we know pooping is important. Think of how uncomfortable you feel when you haven’t gone in a couple of days because you’re on holiday and your schedule is off. (Me.) Or when you have a bad tummy and how sick and weak you feel because you can’t do this one simple thing you have been doing since you came out of the womb. I have a strong stomach and good gut health, but one week of overdoing the partying and everything is off, wobbling sideways, ominous noises from my belly, a general sense of unease and malaise.
(And you’re supposed to be sick with toilet paper? Ew.)
Anyway, it’s hard to live in Germany with only TP, unless you train yourself to go just before you have a shower. (The Italians are very civilised and have bidets.) We have a portable plastic bidet now called the Happy Po, which we carry along whenever we have to travel and which has changed our lives considerably for the better. It was given to us by a friend whose then-wife was a gynaecologist and received a few samples at work, for women to clean themselves after giving birth, since there’s a lot of post-partum blood and so on. (Imagine doing that with toilet paper.) We love ours so much that when it came out at our local drug store we bought them as presents for (Indian) friends who also delight in it. (But are a little shy about discussing how amazing it is, people should really talk about poop logistics more freely.) From my window I can see customers at the supermarket across the road coming and going, and on Monday, after the shops have been closed on Sunday, they’re often coming out with bundles of toilet paper, stacks of it, like there’s going to be an apocalypse.
Everyone, especially us geriatric millennials, is used to pooping a certain way, I suppose. I have a little stool I put in front of the toilet because it’s slightly high, not so high as you would notice, but it’s more comfortable if my feet are up and my knees bent in front of my hips. I probably can’t convince anyone else to use a stool or a bidet for that matter, if you’re used to TP, but honestly, try one, it could change your life.
Currently watching: EVERYTHING on our new SECOND HAND TV! It’s a 42” Phillips brand and our Chromecast fits into it and it just makes me SO HAPPY to have a television again after 20 years. (The Smart TV features, while a bonus, weren’t really needed, which is good, because this TV is about 9 years old and the smart part of it has become sort of slow and outdated.)
Currently reading: VS Naipaul’s An Area of Darkness which is his really personal, really intense India book, listening to My Friend Anna, a memoir about a woman who was friends with Anna Delvey, the con artist. It’s narrated by the author who is really annoying, or has a really annoying voice, so you could call it a hate-listen, I guess, because I keep snorting and rolling my eyes.
I borrowed two books from the library I’d never heard of and completely loved. I like that discovery feeling, it’s been so long since I just looked at the back of a book and thought, “Huh, might give this a go” without ever having heard of it before. And then the joy of knowing there are no stakes, you can just give it back if you don’t like it. (I borrowed and did not finish Kamila Shamsie’s Best Of Friends, because it was not for me, for example). Anyway these two were: Sabrina by Nick Drnaso (a graphic novel that was nominated for a Booker prize) and Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn about a Jamaican immigrant to the US. I suggest you read both of them blind like I did, and just feel the sense of a good book unfolding in front of you. It’s so satisfying.
Here are some good online reads I enjoyed recently:
Would you dare to meet your doppelganger?
Yahoo boys in Nigeria are romance scammers and one man set out in search of them.
Yay, new Zadie Smith novel!
It’s really sad that Victoria Ammelina, a Ukrainian novelist, just died in a shelling, because this piece was the first of hers I’d read and it just struck me as so insightful and moving. The world’s loss.
Meals for one.
That’s all I’ve got! Go enjoy yourself, I command it.
Who are you? Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer of internet words (and other things) author of seven books (support me by buying a book!) and general city-potter-er.
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