Monday, 13 November 2017

Athens: Vacillating with Vespasian

It's a funny thing, running an intellectual bog blog. Most people quite rightly don't give a crap and would rather chew off their own arm than read a single word of an obscure and ranty site about toilets, but every now and then one receives feedback from unlikely quarters. It turns out, for instance, that Our Mum has turned quite evangelical, and spends her time, when she isn't pissing off to Perugia on a whim to take photos of al fresco dining areas, informing people of the existence of our blog and exhorting them to read it. Consequently, we received a tip about an intriguing TV programme chronicling the history of toilets from a friend of Our Mum called Elena, which you can view below, as we have made it this post's Festive Video. We would like to extend our most gracious thanks to Elena; it was a spiffing and most invigorating video!

Since the programme in question starts off with a review of toilets in the classical world, we were reminded of some rather exciting bogs that we encountered in Greece last summer. Ergo:

Strolling around the Roman Agora in Athens with Our Mum, enjoying the unidentified pieces of marble (here is a question for everyone but especially Medievalist (With a Side Interest in Roman Archaeology) Friend: We have an app that can identify plants from just a photo. Where is the app that will identify random bits of Roman marble? How hard can it be to create a database of images of cornices, sarcophagi and columns and make it into an app so that lazy people on holiday can pronounce expert opinions on bits of marble rubble without having to learn anything or do any work?) and trying not to dwell on the sensation of sweat running down literally every crevice of our body, we stumbled across a Roman latrine! We happened to note the seat in the picture below and, eagerly scanning the horizon for an informative sign (we really do love clear signage), had our hunch confirmed! We had sauntered into the Vespasian latrines without even trying! As so eloquently puts it,

Entering from the marketplace through an antechamber, the lucky Athenians discovered elegantly raised seats over a deep channel lined with marble. Athens surely touched Vespasian in a way that cold Britain failed to, judging from this simple yet endearing monument to his largesse. 

This is an intriguing theory. Does the internationally recognised crapness of British plumbing in fact hail back to the era of Vespasian? At any rate, it seems that Vespasian was a solid dude when it comes to sanitation; regular readers will remember Exuberant Archaeologist Friend's account of Vespasian-era lead pipes in Rome.

You may imagine our happiness when suddenly clapping eyes on this toilet seat
in a far corner of the Roman Agora! On a totally unrelated note, there is a terrific restaurant just on the other side of that fence, on the corner, with very friendly waiters and excellent coffee.

A clear and informative, if somewhat dull, sign
Next up, we have pictures of the public baths by the Temple of Zeus! We spent an unreasonable amount of time, as Our Mum will verify, rambling round this area and taking toilet selfies with the ruins. What can we say? We were on holiday, and that is our idea of fun. (If you enjoy this kind of activity, do get in touch. We are finding it increasingly challenging to find people willing to go on holiday with us. We can't think why this might be.)

We are not, as a rule, excited-jumpers-up-and-down at the Privy Counsel,
considering such behaviour to be annoying to the point of being morally wrong,
but we jumped up and down with excitement when spotting these hypocausts!

A soothing circular pool

A comfortable seat for chatting to a friend?

The remains of many, many pillars

A helpful and informative sign

We went, of course, to the Acropolis, where we marvelled at the view and admired the diligent Athenian workmen restoring the ancient ruins. We also came across this random structure, near the entrance. We have no idea what it is, but took a photo on the off-chance that it is anything to do with water or sanitation (is that some kind of duct in the centre?). If any of our readers - including, but not limited to, Medieval (With a Side Interest in Roman Archaeology) Friend - has information about what this might be, don't be shy, send us an email or carrier pigeon!

An unidentified Athenian structure. THERE WAS NO SIGN!!!

No bog blogger worthy of the name would fail to take a picture of the public toilets below the Acropolis. You're welcome.

The sewage pipes in Athens are somewhat delicate,
and quite often one is requested to put toilet paper into a bin, thus.

A helpful sign instructs one not to put paper anywhere near the pipes.

Regular readers will recall our exuberant account of the toilets in the Acropolis Museum a few years ago. Readers, we went back!

As you can see, everything looks exactly the same,
which we find hugely reassuring. Also, the korai were still magnificent.

One of our favourite pastimes when in Athens, apart from staring dreamily at objects in museums, deciphering Greek signage, using the relatively-free-of-sexual-harassment public transport (we were on the tram one day, marvelling at the fact that we hadn't been sexually harassed yet, when some dude decided to harass us, showing yet again that patriarchy never sleeps), drinking Greek coffee, and buying cheap wine in the supermarket, is wandering round Syntagma Square, imbibing the atmosphere and enjoying the shade cast by the lemon trees. Imagine our delight when we discovered that this historic place boasts public toilets! They are tucked away in a corner and are very hard to find, but they are bona fide public loos, staffed by very friendly toilet attendants.

We cannot fault this door, its lock, or its coat hook.

This is not an ideal toilet, considering the fact that there is no toilet roll
and the flush mechanism has been mended using duct tape. Still. Like the Greek economy,
this toilet just about works, and the staff were super friendly.
Is this, in fact, a metaphor for the Greek economy?
We're never sure how interesting our readers find random pictures of hotel room toilets. To be on the safe side, here are some potentially thrilling images from the Oasis hotel in the Glyfada area of Athens. It's a very nice hotel, with very friendly staff, and we enjoyed many splendid evenings drinking the local wine on the balcony of our hotel room, but wished there had been fewer children, and also fewer Italians, in the pool. (We adore Italians at the Privy Counsel, but for some reason Italians in swimming pools are considerably less charming than Italians who are not in swimming pools. No doubt science will one day find an explanation for this phenomenon.)

No problems with the plumbing here! You can shove virtually unlimited amounts of toilet paper down the bog with no repercussions whatsoever. Also, you will notice that the toilet roll has been folded into a neat point at the end, which is the golden standard of the Olivia Joules Hotel Critera, and which is bound to give you a positive toilet experience if you give a crap about such things (we don't).

We are rather fond of this seventies symphony of pastels.

Assuming that you have even read this far, we congratulate you on your stamina and vow to let everyone rest before we post this many photos in one go again. If you have an hour to spare, please enjoy the Festive Video below! We found the toilet humour deplorable, and advise you to skip that bit, but the rest was both informative and edifying.

As you were. (If you weren't, why not?)

Festive Video: Ifor ap Glyn / Cwmni Da / Western Front Films / BBC 4, The Toilet: An Unspoken History

Related Reading:

All posts featuring Our Mum

All posts featuring Medieval (With a Side Interest in Roman Archaeology) Friend 

An intriguing post featuring Vespasian-era lead pipes:
Lead Pipe Dreams

All previous posts featuring Greece:

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