Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Joe the Other Plumber, Part 3

Lawrence Wright was an English architect and artist, according to the book jacket, who believed "More can be learned about past peoples from their bathrooms than from their battlefields.” From my experience as a plumber, I'd have to agree. Rummaging through somebody's medicine cabinet is for amateurs. You could learn more by ripping out an ancient vanity or lifting a toilet (someday, perhaps, I'll tell the tale of the toilet, the toothbrush, and the giant creeping fungus - but not today). My friends, it's the dark side of suburbia.

An article in Paper Cuts, a blog of the New York Times, inspired me to return to Clean and Decent: The Fascinating History of the Bathroom and the Water-Closet, a treasured (and stained) book I inherited from my father, who was a scientist with many, uh, passions.

I'll be rereading it - and undoubtedly posting more as I go - but for today my eyes came upon this passage:

"That prolific inventor Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) in his proposal for Ten New Towns ... All the stairways in the tenement buildings were to be spiral, to prevent the insanitary misuse of stair landings. Leonardo invented a folding closet seat that 'must turn round like the little window in monasteries, being brought back to its original position by a counterweight'. For Francis I at Amboise Castle he proposed to install a number of water-closets with flushing channels inside the walls, and ventilating shafts reaching up to the roof; and as people are apt to leave doors open, counterweights were to be fitted to close them automatically.”

Just in case you think the closing of toilet seats is a new item in the gender wars.

Here's a link to a more recent edition of Clean and Decent, which can be accessed through Amazon and probably can be purchased without the stains.

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