From the Archive: The Forstall Forica Formula

After spending a bit of time in Rome/Italy, around the touristy bits, in restaurants or just out and about, it does not take one long to realize that public restrooms can vary widely and no bathroom is created equal.

The ancient Romans kind of knew what they were doing with public restrooms (I mean, they existed). See the below example from Ostia, a public restroom or “forica.” If I were time-traveling, and willing to give up certain rules of hygiene and privacy, toilets in the Roman world (when available) could be a lot, A LOT worse.

Now in modern-day Rome, FINDING a toilet isn’t hard. Finding a perfect toilet that meets all of our modern-day desires (and frankly, basic American expectations) can be….rare. I’ve developed, after careful thought and consideration, a toilet-rating system that is useful to those traveling in Rome. Well, it might be more amusing than anything.

CRITERIA FOR A GREAT BATHROOM IN ROME

1. A TOILET SEAT – It seems that it’s common practice in Italy once the toilet seat breaks, not to replace it. If the bathrooms are on the newer side of things, you will probably be lucky enough to find a toilet seat. If not, be thankful there is a toilet.

2. SOAP – Some places, during the tourist season, get slammed by mobs of tourists and when the soap runs out (if it was there to begin with) who knows when it will be replaced. (Tip: Carry GermX or something to assuage your hygienic concerns.)

3. TOILET PAPER – This one is very similar to the soap one. Sometimes they just run out, and it will be a while. (Tip: Come prepared with tissues or whatever and you’ll be fine. Don’t come prepared and chances are you’ll be sorry.)

The above three qualities are the HOLY TRIFECTA. If you’ve found a toilet with a toilet seat, soap, and TP, pat yourself on the back. It’s a good day. If you’ve found one that has NONE of the above, use it and hope for a better future.

4. HAND DRYING DEVICES – Sometimes, there’s paper towels. Often times they’ve run out. Sometimes there are hand-dryers that probably haven’t worked in five years. Sometimes, there’s a Dyson AirBlade hand-dryer that is really freaking cool. To get a point for this category, the bathroom must have paper towels or a functioning dryer that blows COOL air, not the icky hot kind with oodles of bacteria. (Tip: If you don’t have a hand drying device, just walk outside in the 90+ degree weather and you won’t notice your wet hands anymore.

5. GENERAL CLEANLINESS AND FUNCTIONALITY – In the summer it’s hot in Italy. Not many places have AC, and not everyone keeps their public restroom in good order. A bathroom that does not reek, have garbage everywhere, and all of its flushers work is a good bathroom. In Pompeii, one bathroom had a toilet tank that was leaking (it was near the ceiling so it was like it was raining in the bathroom) and another bathroom had six toilets of which only one was currently working. Added bonuses like hooks for bags are a nice touch, but so far, I’ve only found in like 2 bathrooms.

6. BONUS POINT(s) FOR AESTHETICS – Sometimes, a bathroom just looks nice. If a bathroom gets a point for all five of the previous categories, it’s a really good awesome bathroom. Be happy you’ve found it.  BUT. Sometimes a bathroom gets points for all five of the previous categories, but it came dressed to impress. And that bathroom would be the holy grail of bathrooms. I’m happy to say I’ve found two holy grails (okay so maybe not as rare as THE holy grail) the bathroom at the Epigraphical Museum (pictured above) and the bathrooms at the Baths of Caracalla. I would rank the Baths of Caracalla above the Epigraphical Museum because, no lie, it was prettier. I’m sad I didn’t take a picture.

This blog was originally posted here, with pictures.

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