So, you walk into a public bathroom and pick your toilet.
No need to worry about peeking around the door to check if the toilet is clean.
There are no doors.
There are no toilets.
And toilet paper won’t be an issue because there isn’t any. It hasn’t been invented yet.
Neither have bathrooms.
So, instead, you lift your skirts and squat in the street. A street tight with pedestrians. You’re bumped and jostled by passing women and girls, men and boys. No one blinks an eye.
As you relieve yourself, urine sprays the insides of your thighs – possibly even performs that sideways trickle down one leg. It puddles at your feet, coating your ankles and shoes in liquid waste.
Your shoes are already soiled with waste – both human and animal – from walking through the streets as you go about your day. Adding your own excrement is no biggie.
Now, you are finished. If you’re in a rush, you may drop your skirt hem into your urine. Or, you may hold it up until you step out of your golden puddle, allowing only the train of your skirt to soak it up as you walk away.
No biggie. Clothing can be washed…
Okay, slow your vomit roll.
It didn’t happen this way often.
But when it did, it would have been a peasant woman. Noblewomen used outhouses which dotted most towns and cities, while royals had servants who carried around chamber pots in which to release the royal bowels.
Using a public bathroom during medieval times was, well, medieval.
Streets had canals in which the showers and sludge of bladders and bowels solidified or festered in the cold of winter or heat of summer.
Wait a minute…
That’s not so medieval.
Every country still has some trace of middle age poo-pee infrastructure.
For example, I became adept at hopping over open sewage canals in Haiti and Afghanistan. I love Afghanistan. It is truly a beautiful country, though you’d never know it from our Western media. In Kabul, most of these sewage canals were covered over by planks, but in the rest of the country, some were not.
In those areas, I would lift my skirt indecently (because the ankles of women must be covered), and leap like a klutzy ballerina over sewage moats to the other side.
But during the rains, there was no avoiding sloshing through the murky overflow.
In post-quake Haiti — a breathtaking, exciting island, and one my of faves — the canals became wide rivers.
These required much more athletic leaping — at which I sometimes failed. Inexplicably, I always seemed to fall short over the most lurid cesspits, and hence, spent much time anti-bacterializing between my toes. Just as we do with foot powder after showering in our bacteria-crawling Western gym locker rooms!
Now, lest you believe that open sewage canals are a nasty medieval phenomena or exist today only outside of the Western world, have a look at our very own open canal putrefaction…
So much for “advanced” civilization!
But back to the Middle Ages…
During medieval times, sewage canals occasionally became very public bathrooms. However, generally, when out and about, the medievals used outhouses to relieve themselves.
Here is a public bathroom constructed during medieval times in Borce, France.
There were no doors.
Through the open entrances, everyone who cared to look would see you squatting awkwardly over the holes dug into the ground.
But there was some semblance of privacy in that a building was constructed around the poo-pee pits. I have used public bathrooms similar to this in many countries, and let me tell you:
1. I’ve relieved myself in places I still have vivid nightmares about. The one in the above photo is prime outhouse real estate!
2. When you reeeeally have to go, you don’t give a crap (no pun intended) about doors or who’s watching!
My favorite public bathrooms were in Iran.
Throughout the country, their bathrooms are invariably clean, provide running water or welcome pitchers/bowls of clean water, and there’s always a place other than the pee-sprinkled floor to sit or hang my backpack.
Which, blessedly, kept me from having to perform a Cirque du Soleil balancing act trying to hold up my required ankle-length skirt & tunic with one arm, while reaching the other arm behind to monitor backpack weight shift during my squat to avoid falling over to one side – or worse, into the poo-pee pit itself!
Don’t even get me started on how to accomplish this while holding onto toilet paper, then wiping…
How did medieval women do it?
Holding up those enormous, wide, whalebone-lined skirts and under-skirts while tinkling?
I’ll have to look into that…
Meanwhile, keep an eye out for the next Medieval Monday
Poo-Pee blast from the ast…I mean, past!
It was a nasty past-y!
Could you? Have you?… been a victim of spectator poo-peeing??