A Pox on Designers of French Hotel Bathrooms

By Peter & Jean Richards

Is it possible that somewhere in the Napoleonic Code forming the basis for French law that there is a provision which would allow corporal punishment for designers of hotel bathrooms in France? The thought of capital punishment occurred, but there is an antipathy in modern Gaul for such a measure, which is regarded as degenerate and only practiced in primitive societies such as the United States, China and Muslim nations.

Most particularly the sins of those who design and install showers in French hotels come to mind. They must be stupid or lunatic, or probably both.

Hey, guys, a drain hole in the soap dish might help.

We have braved, recollection says it was in Narbonne, a small square platform in the corner of a bathroom with a shower fixture above and no curtain. Then there was the chic hotel in Nantes with designer sinks so shallow you could hardly wash your hands without a flood. There have been numerous occasions when the appareil changing the water flow from tub to shower and vice versa was so inscrutable that one of us had to call the other into the bathroom to try to figure out how to operate the monster.

Remember, we are Americans, and were brought up to believe that a daily bath or shower was an inalienable right (“self-evident” is the operative phrase). In August 1955 on a summer trip to Europe, I stayed aboout a week in Rome at what is now the elegant Hotel d’Inghilterra on via Bocca di Leone just off via Condotti for, I remember, about a dollar a night. The room did not have a bathtub, but one could summon the lady attendant on the floor and order a bath for 50 lire (about 8 cents at the time). I did so his first night, enjoying the capacious, old-fashioned tub (showers were not even in the picture). The next night (N. B. It was August and very hot) I called the attendant and asked for a bath. “But,” she protested, “you had one last night.”

Is a shower curtain too much to ask for?

Not long ago we spent four very pleasant nights at a venerable hotel at the center of a small city in western Brittany. The hotel was very ancient, the desk lady informed us, about 200 years old. It had been renovated in 1974, according to a town history.

When we called for a reservation, we asked some questions we have learned to ask from sad experience, such as, “Avez-vous un ascenseur?” This is important because we are old and getting creaky — no more fourth floor walkups, s’il vous plaît.

The next question was whether there was a shower curtain. The women on the other end of the phone seemed to think this was a rather peculiar query but did say, “Non, pas de rideau.”

She was, of course, correct.

We endured for the four nights, otherwise very pleasant. By the second morning we had figured out how to take a shower without getting much water on the floor outside the bathtub. It was adequate, but not satisfying. You don’t realize until you do not have it that the rush of water over your body as you wash yourself results in a luxurious feeling of cleanliness and revival.

 C’est la France.

N. B. This was written after an otherwise delightful trip. We do not intend to stigmatize only the French on this score since we have found equally inscrutable plumbing in such other strongholds of civilization as Italy and Spain. It was just that the French were in our sights at the time.

Copyright © 2012 Jean & Peter Richards

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About oldmainetravelers

The Old Maine Travelers are Peter and Jean Richards, who met more than a half century ago covering President John F. Kennedy on what would become his last trip to Boston.  They worked for many years as wire service and newspaper reporters and editors.  Peter did a nightly television show on WGBH, Boston, before he went into government in the administration of John V. Lindsay, mayor of New York City. After they moved to their brownstone in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, Jean did a spell on Madison Avenue in the real “Mad Men” days and later became public relations officer at Chase Manhattan Bank.  Since 1973 they have worked together first as owners and publishers of a group of award-winning newspapers in Dutchess County, N.Y., and then as antiques dealers.  Now they are old and live on the coast of Maine and in the Southwest of France when not traveling further afield. In the red barn by their house in Damariscotta, Maine, they tend an antique shop specializing in 18th and 19th century furniture, metalwork and accessories, buying objects they know about and like and selling them from May to October to delightful people of obvious discernment and taste. In France, they live in an old stone house in the shadows of the remaining towers of an unfinished 17th century church and above Roman drains in a town along a pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella. They love it — for its authenticity and abundant boulangeries.  The rest of the time they travel the world together seeing the sights, seeking out museums, stumbling into interesting conversations, savoring local specialties and otherwise bumbling along in their own style. For years they have sent article-length postcards to family, friends, fellow travelers and some media. Many of these will now be posted here.
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