Thursday, September 20, 2007

On the toilet trail

A congregation of cripple-arsed olive trees clings to the hillside, which falls away into the valley below. A squiggly dot-to-dot network of dusty, rock-strewn tracks connect a few isolated crumbly stone farm buildings. Bluey-green mountains rise up to meet a holiday brochure sky, dabbed with childlike fluffy white clouds, whose shadows trail across the landscape. God was having a good day at the drawing board when he created this part of Italy. It is quite simply stunning. “Not one flaming toilet as far as the eye can see.” I turn to face the Abbazia di Farfa. “And they named that place well. Farfa from the nearest bog.” According to the guide book the Abbazia di Farfa has been a place of pilgrimage for many centuries. Great if you’re looking to find God, then, but not, if like me you’re looking for a toilet. Blug-blug-blug gurgles my tummy in annoyance. My knees lock instinctively and my buttocks clench. I slowly approach the hire car, one careful step at a time, like I’m balancing a four pack of Andrex on my head. As I lift the car door handle I have a fleeting fantasy that it’s actually a toilet door I’m opening. It feels good, I feel safe, mmmmm…but alas it is just a fleeting fantasy, and a heartbeat later I’m back in the car scouring the map for the next nearest town. I want to say something like, “Step on it!” but my girlfriend has read my mind and where once our car had been parked a small cloud of dust is left hanging in the air. We zip along the winding mountain road, which on the map looks suspiciously like the lower intestine. Roccantica is a small town plonked precariously on top of a mountain. Unless you have wings and can fly, there’s only one road into Roccantica. We park outside the town wall and scurry into the maze of streets. The place is deserted and reminds me of the settlement of Mos Eisley in Tatooine from the Star Wars films. But unlike Mos Eisley there’s no sign of life. Roccantica is a beautifully eerie Mary Celeste of a town, mercifully adrift from our 21st century Starbucksian world, which is a rare and wonderful thing, but really, is a public toilet too much to ask? Blug-blug prompts my gut, impatiently. I consult the map, which I’m beginning to fear may have to be commandeered as makeshift toilet paper. Casperia is the next town. The scenery smudges into one long blurry tableau as we climb towards our destination at a rollicking speed. Casperia instantly looks more promising. There’s a small petrol station-cum-cafĂ© for a start. I’ve got a nose for toilets, so I follow it inside, under the watchful gaze of a handful of locals. Cue choirs of heavenly angels; there it is, tucked away to the left of the counter, the Holy Grail, a toilet. I want to punch the air, do a jig and holler, “Yes, you little beauty!” at the top of my voice. Until my eyes come to rest on the sign taped to the door, which reads PRIVADO. The Translating Dept. of my brain sends me a message reporting, “We don’t know for sure, but we think it might mean ‘private’. Sorry.” Whatever a ‘crest’ is, mine has definitely fallen. Despondent I slink out into the unrepentant Italian sunshine. Blug-blug-blug. I lift my chin bravely. Blug-blug. Casperia rises before me. Blug-blug-blug. I survey its ancient walls. Blug-blug. I don’t need to go any further. Blug-blug-blug. There’s no toilet here.