Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Paris Public Toilet

Since 2006, Paris public toilets located on sidewalks throughout the city (numbering over 400 now) are available for FREE use.  I've walked past these things for years, not really noticing them...until I needed one.  Those who know me well know that I know where all the good (and not so good) bathrooms are located in New York City, and over the last two years, I've come to develop a decent list of bathrooms in Paris.  Necessity is the mother of invention.

Besides the McDonald's and Starbucks options for bathrooms (which are often code-locked in order to remain reserved for actual customers), most cafés give you the evil eye if you walk in and ask for a bathroom.  I do it anyway, or I just breeze in like I've come in from one of the outdoor tables and march right down the stairs (usually the bathrooms are downstairs).  Again, necessity...

But I'd never visited the public bathrooms located on the sidewalks, nor had I seen anyone else enter or exit one.  So I assumed this would be an unworthy option - probably with a homeless person inside, or filthy and smelly à la Amtrak or NJ Transit trains (yes, I've used those, too). 

Not so! 

These toilets are environmentally sound, use rain water, have all the proper amenities and clean themselves before each use.  They are large enough for wheelchairs and have bars for the disabled.  The city of Paris has a list and an interactive map of them on their website; they are called "les sanisettes."  There is a video that, with great fanfare (and background music to match), announces the city-wide installation of these toilets.  

So, do not be afraid.  Compared to the toilets for which you will pay (such as the train stations, the big department stores and some parks/gardens), or the cafés where you have to deal with the unhappy bartender not making a sale (oh, just buy a coffee at the bar - at worst you'll pay 1 or 2 euros for the privilege and a less intimidating experience), or the Starbucks option (where you'll have to wait for someone to come out first so you can beat the code), or the Sunday problem (where many shops and bars are closed), or worse (such as "squatters," which do not only exist in China), you frequent bathroom visitors can add this to the available options.  Such a list can never be too long.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Where is Home?

One of my "homes," the Upper West Side of Manhattan, as seen from the Central Park Reservoir running path (practically another one of my homes) on a hot sticky July day.  

That does sound like I'm about to start a laundry list of summer, winter, ski, beach, European, Asian, Hawaiian, Caribbean, etc., abodes that might appear in Architectural Digest as among the numerous residences of the rich and famous.  No, that's not it (because if it was, the sticky July summer home would most certainly NOT be in Manhattan).  

No, again, it's that this morning (from the comfort of my air-conditioned apartment), I watched a TED Talk by Pico Iyer entitled "Where is Home?"  And it really (as the theater folk say) landed.  It has caused me to think about aspects of my life upon which I never focused, being as wrapped up as I was in living it.

Let's give it some thought together, shall we?  Born where?  Parents from where?  Grew up where?  Attended school/college where?  Married where?  Early adult working years where?  Spouse/partner from where?  Raised the kids where?  Working/living now where?  Happy place(s) where?  Ethnic group influences?  Religious group influences?  

If the answers to the above questions are more than a few, like I realized they are with me, then you'll begin to understand Pico Iyer's point.  One of the beauties of his presentation is that home is wherever you take yourself, and that these movements, somewhat "outside" yourself, allow you to find yourself.  He does it much better than I, and that's why he gives the TED Talk and I am then so moved by it that I write a blog post.

And thus, the more time I am away from the place I've called home for over 30 years, and the more I find "myself" elsewhere (and for me now, that's primarily Paris), the more I, too, realize that home is me.  And that all of my life, my residences past and present, my children, my friends and family, my passions and interests, make up my home, wherever I am.  

I also realize that the people I meet who have lived likewise, even if so many other aspects of their particular backgrounds do not mesh with mine, are immediately recognizable to me.  

On a macro level, of course, I begin to see how this globalized culture is changing, and will continue to change, how we see the world, how we choose our friends and mate, where we choose to live, what we choose to do in our lives.  It is a very exciting thing to me, though it might simply elicit a shrug of the shoulders of those in the generations younger than mine.  It's just normal for them - kids born of parents from different parts of the world or of different religions or backgrounds, and then living in a few places and perhaps speaking two or more languages as a native, going to college with people from all over the world and, thus, moving so fluidly (and enviably to me) among their peers, similarly raised.  

Home - the place we come to feel secure and safe, but now also the place we learn and grow and expand our horizons and stretch our comfort zones.  That is quite a definition change, but not if home is "us." 

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Doctor's Office

I walk into the little waiting room and begin to hear the lightest strains of music coming from somewhere, piped in like I've only otherwise heard in American elevators, but much softer, while 8 pairs of eyes, of ages ranging from pre-K to post-retirement, raise up at the same time to give me the once over.  And, again, simultaneously, after a few seconds of scrutiny, they all lower, back to their books, magazines and iPhones.  

I'm not quite sure what to do next, because there is no available seating left, save for the white plastic stacking chairs just the right size for 3-year-olds.  Should I just stand there, pick up a French children's book and wait for one of the prior waiting room tenants to vacate?  Or, am I even in the right place, since I've never been to either this doctor's office or to any other doctor's office in Paris?  

Hmm, there seem to be far too many children's toys, books and furniture, bringing back memories of my children's pediatrician's office in New York, and look, there are two sniffling and coughing kids.  Yup, I must be in the wrong office.

I go back outside, check the door's address and the doctor's name.  Nope, this is the name and the address I was given by my friend who is a patient.  He suggested I just show up in the morning, corner the doc and tell him I was "sent by Joe."  I knew this wouldn't fly in Manhattan, but when in Paris...

However, two patients came and went and I began to learn the drill.  First, there is no receptionist.  The doctor opens his examining room/office door, directly into the waiting room, releases the prior patient with a hand shake, nods at the next patient (whose name, I suppose, is on an agenda somewhere in that office) who stands up and shakes the doctor's hand (yes, I imagined all the bacterial permutations of these serial handshakes), enters the examining room and closes the door.  It all takes about 20 seconds.

Second (and most importantly), each time a new patient walks into the full waiting room, all eyes raise from their iPhones, etc., so that the owners of each pair of eyes can politely respond to the new patient's greeting of "bonjour madame" "bonjour monsieur" to every other patient in the little room.  

Wonderful, I already made faux pas #1 - I had muttered no "bonjours;" rather, I had hurriedly turned tail to go look at the front door, and then had the audacity to return a second time without even an effort to rectify my first rude entrance, clearing up any possible confusion that my first impoliteness was in error.

There was a second problem.  There didn't seem to be time in this quick dance of the opening and closing doors to insert my introduction that "Joe sent me."  I thought that, well, perhaps at the noon hour (2 hours from that moment), the flood of newcomers would die down and I'd be alone in that waiting room and could then get the attention I deserved.  (what a chicken, and what a fantasy)

So after two sets of handshakes, I hopped up, New York style, placed myself between the rising patient who had received the MD nod, and ran up to MD with my "Joe sent me," to which MD responded with "huh?" in front of the whole waiting room.  Damn, I knew that would happen!  I turned red, repeated, and he smoothly whipped out his iPhone and replied that he had no appointments for today, could I come back next Tuesday ...which would be four days from now.  Sigh.  I was suffering; that's why I decided the doc visit was going to be today.  Yes, I know this is also not necessarily possible in New York either.  In any case, I did not want to suffer and worry through the weekend and I was going to be persistent.  I'd been sick for over a week with this cold+whatever it was.

I ended up getting an actual appointment (courtesy of same friend Joe, whose name has been changed because "Joe sent me" is so much fun to write) at the end of today, Friday, with another doc in the same neighborhood.  The drill was same, and this time, I knew to lift up my own eyes and mutter a "bonjour" to each new patient who entered the waiting room.  I was a pro!

The doc came out and gave ME the nod.  Wow, pro move #2!  I entered, did the hand shake and reminded myself to wash my hands right after the appointment and touch nothing near my face in the meantime.

We went first to his desk, where he asked me to describe my problems, and I responded with my best pre-rehearsed lines using words I'd looked up in Larousse as I waited in the waiting room.  Pro move #3!  He understood me and he smoothly directed me over to the examining table at the end of the room.  He did the usual doctor stuff with little lights into nose and ears and mouth, and the all-important feeling for swollen glands in the neck. 

It seems I have a bad sinus infection, which is a first for me and explains why I had no idea why I was exhausted, couldn't sleep, lost my voice, had a constant headache, runny nose, chills and sore throat for over a week.
We smiled and chatted about Obamacare in French, while he wrote my three prescriptions (for what, I had no idea, but I nodded a lot), and filled out an insurance form for me to submit to my US insurer.  The French have a great deal of respect for forms.  He assured me that, unlike in the US, the medical profession in France is very content.

He then asked for 50 euros, handed me my prescriptions, walked me to the door, shook my hand once again, smiled in the direction of the next patient, and I went to wash my hands before I left the building.