À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.
I love reading books about Paris, which is what gave birth to the Paris Reading Project here at Ionarts. My latest obsession, with Balzac's La Comédie Humaine, is drawn from it. Recently I took another break from Balzac when I had a message from an old friend, a Canadian writer Mrs. Ionarts and I met in Paris, to let me know that his new book had been published. It is a memoir about all the crazy apartments he has lived in in Paris, most of which I have visited or actually stayed in over the years. So I recall quite vividly the chambre de bonne on the seventh floor, with its disgusting Turkish toilet, which opens the book, and the infamous monster with its shredding machine, in his flat on Rue Manuel, described in the passage quoted here. Those of you who would enjoy reading this book might not experience the stories partially in the context of your memories, as I did, but what you will get in this vivid book is a sense of the author's conversation, which I have enjoyed immensely over the years. His is a view of a Paris lived in, its glories and its depravity, shared without a whiff of imperious authority. I am relieved that none of my own shortcomings as a friend -- such as when I ruined the author's prized Italian cafetière by washing it with soap -- made it into the book, but it was a joy to revisit many of the funny tales spun by the author over drinks here and there.
How my toilet broke needs some explanation, and if it lends itself too easily to metaphor, analogy, allegory, anagogy, or, for those with a taste for puns, simile, this is not intentional. Xanadu -- she was from South Tyrol and her parents had been hippies; I don't know if this combination accounts for her name, but that's what she got -- was there at the time. She was still paying rent on her own apartment near Opéra, where we sometimes stayed, but on that particular morning we were at mine. "The toilet's making strange sounds," Xanadu said. I went in to stare at it and found that she was right.
The bathroom I had then was covered in pale blue tile, to complement, I suppose, the bright orange wallpaper peeling off the living room/bedroom. To the left of the entrance was the bathtub and shower, to the right was the sink, and directly ahead, dominating the scene like a raised throne, was the toilet. There was another toilet on the landing outside my apartment door, but that was for the people in the one-room apartments that I'd believed to have long graduated beyond.
I pressed the button on the toilet, which was like touching a wounded animal, for the noise only grew louder and more violent. I located the sound as coming from the broyeur -- a small plastic contraption situated behind the toilet, used to cut the toilet paper into pieces small enough to fit through the very old, very thin pipes. I was bent over looking at this when, upon my request, Xanadu pressed the button again, and the thing exploded. Xanadu screamed; the top, which I had been gently prying loose, flew off; and streams of tawny water began shooting over me and my sky-blue tiles.
Xanadu fled into the kitchen while I fought to put the top back on the broyeur. The water began running into the kitchen, since my apartment was sloped towards a depression in the floor there, and, for the life of me, I couldn't find the water valve to turn it off.
-- William Prendiville, "Love is nothing but the fruit of a long moment": A Paris Memoir