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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Travel tale: no place to p... urinate

Life has its own unique way of playing tricks on us. It's as if it makes sure we never settle and relax. You think you've found a comfort zone, and boom! Something happens that throws you completely off balance.

One of those cruel ironies of life, in my case, is the fact that I suddenly became allergic (in my thirties!) to two of my favourite foods: tree nuts (almonds and peanuts are fine) and fresh cherries (cooked or preserved cherries are fine. Go figure).

I swear I almost cried about the cherry allergy.

But you know what they say: people can adapt to pretty much anything. Resiliency, they call it. Get over it, and bounce back. And so I adapted. Admittedly, I still find it hard to watch other people eat cherries, but if I slowly and deeply breath in and out, talk to myself out loud in a comforting voice ("It's OK, J, it's OK"), run around the block a couple times, punch a few pillows, roll myself in the snow - wearing only a bikini - I can pretty much deal with the fact that no more fresh cherry is gonna enter my mouth for the rest of my long and terribly cruel life. You know. Not a big deal.

The other great irony life has granted me with is that it gave me, yes, me, the born-traveller, the one who'd spend each and every day of her life exploring the world carrying a backpack (if only it was possible), the one who sleeps better on a airplane than in her own bed...

... what was I saying? Ah! yes, life gave me THE SMALLEST BLADDER THAT WAS EVER CREATED!

I am not kidding! On road trips, with two young children in tow, who constantly asks for pit-stops? Who? Not the kids, I am telling you! It is a pity, really.

After giving birth to my second child (a quick labour of about 2 hours total, from the first contraction to the end), my first thought was to (pick an answer):

1) nurse the baby
2) call my mom to tell her her second grandchild was born
3) just relax
4) PEE!!!

(If you picked number 4, you're very smart. Wanna be my friend?)

So pee I did. First I gave baby to daddy, then I got up, walked to the washroom... and almost immediately got scolded very firmly by the nurse, who had suddenly reentered the room: "You're not supposed to be on your feet! It's two hours of rest after baby's out! Go back to bed!"

- But I need to pee real bad, I replied

- Well, then, I'll have to stay here and keep an eye on you, in case you faint. You just gave birth, you know! You're exhausted!

- (to myself: not after a 2-hour labour and about 5 minutes of pushing! This was no marathon!)



... (pee's not coming out)

- Well, here, I know a good trick to help you urinate, I'll let some water drip in the sink.

- (to myself again: I know a better trick: how about you LEAVE THE ROOM AND LET ME PEE IN PEACE!)


Usually, people do not try to stop you from using the washroom. The presence of a washroom itself, however, is another issue.

As long as you're home or close by, a small bladder is not much of an inconvenience. And we're very lucky that here, in Canada, public washrooms are widespread (and usually clean, although, when your bladder's about to explode, you couldn't care less. I've always thought that people who complain about dirty washrooms didn't really need to use them in the first place.)

Unfortunately, easy access to public washrooms is not granted in every country. It seems that the right to urinate when you need to should have been written on the Declaration of Human Rights.

Anyone who's been to France, for example, knows this: to pee, you have to pay. Forget about getting into any fast-food and quickly using the washroom. No way. You have to order first! How logical is that. I'm not hungry! I need to pee! In self-defence, now, whenever I travel to Europe, I always ration the amount of liquids I ingest. Just in case. Half a coffee is gonna have to do it in the morning. More and I'd end up regretting it.

My own mother told me this anecdote from traveling through France with my father some 37 years ago. After a picnic on the beach near Coutances (Normandy), she had a full bladder, so they stopped by an inn.

She walks in. Sees no one. She calls. No answer. Calls again. Nothing. She spots a restroom right by the hall, and decides to use it anyways. But when she tries to open the door to get out after, she finds out she's locked in. By an unhappy inn owner. Who is standing on the other side of the door, fulminating. After unlocking the door for her, he bawls out. She shouldn't have been using the inn's washroom, apparently. (What's with all those people screaming at us for simply wanting to empty our bladder when we need to? I wonder how Freud would explain their exaggerated reaction!) Relieved from the full bladder, my mom doesn't flinch at his anger, and quickly leaves the inn.

When I visited China, 2 years ago, I was a little apprehensive about the toilets. Would I have a hard time finding them? Especially in a country where I'd probably be drinking a lot of tea? Good news: Beijing is the small bladder's paradise. There are public (and free) toilets every 500 m or so on the main streets. Awesome! I even found myself doing something very daring (it made me very nervous at first, but I got used to it): I would pass a public toilet and NOT EVEN USE IT! Any small-bladdered traveller will tell you this is a major no-no: you see a public toilet, you use it. Period. Well, in Beijing, there are so many of them, you can afford to skip a few. How wonderful is that? Of course, to be completely honest, I have to mention, at this point, that most of those public toilets consist of a whole in the ground behind a thin curtain. But who cares! As long as you can relieve yourself!

I have to mention that the Chinese also have a very practical way of dealing with potty training: the split pants. Toddlers there do not wear a pull-up. They don't need to. There's an opening in their pants (no buttons, no nothing), so that whenever they need to go, they only need to squat, and everything's taken care of. Wise.

My worst bladder experience, though, happened in Crete (a lovely Greek island which I've mentioned before). We all know the number one tip in hot weather: drink a lot. Which is what I did in Crete. One morning, though, I might have overdone it. I downed my whole water bottle... right before getting on an intercity bus. I had imagined the trip would last about an hour (you know, 100 km or so). Um, think again. Have you ever seen Cretan roads? Narrow, serpentine laces swirling around the mountains, passing close - very close - deep precipices. You don't drive fast. True tale, once on one of those buses, I saw another bus way down in the precipice. Very reassuring. So, anyways. What was supposed to take an hour probably took three, and my bladder, filled by the contents of the water bottle, was crying for mercy (doesn't help that fear is a powerful diuretic: looking into the precipice = need to pee even more!) Luckily, at some point the driver decided to make an impromptu stop at a bus station where nobody needed to get out, probably just because he wanted to smoke. His cigarette was barely lit that I was already sprinting out of the bus and in the bus station to find the washroom. On that day I couldn't help but be thankful for that poor man's bad habit!

What's the irony in your life?


  1. Probably an irony that has served me well... 1 year ago, I was officially diagnosed with a gluten intolerance which meant no more cookies, muffins, pastries, goodies, etc. Of course some gluten-free alternatives exist but it hardly ever compares to the "real thing". It makes it easier to resist when at work conventions, friends' parties, etc.

    Sorry to hear about your nut and cherry allergy. I guess that means nutella is also out now :-( At least that's still G-F for me :)


  2. It sure must be easier to resist pastries and co when you know it's gonna make you fell yuck. But it's still sad. And yes, Nutella is out for me. I didn't eat that much anyways. But the big chocolate bars full of hazelnuts, that, I do miss!