Il bagno

My first Milanese bathroom was in the old Diana Majestic Hotel in Viale Piave which has, alas, been spruced up since by Sheraton. I thought I’d died and gone to shabby-chic, single-girl heaven. The bathroom was enormous by any familiar standards, covered in tiny blue tiles from floor to ceiling. The bath, towel warmer, toilet, bidet and sink were swallowed up in this undersea space, which would have been dark and somber had it not been for the stately double window that opened out toward the street.

I occupied this room a mere two nights while shooting a Microsoft commercial in the Stazione Centrale, but the impression it made on me in terms of what a proper bathroom should offer—finances and space permitting—has never faded: a deep, long tub; a bidet; a towel warmer; and sufficient wall space for artwork.

I grew up scoffing at bidets. We all did, if we even knew what they were. Like so many American assumptions, my notion of whether something is “okay” or not was linked to the associations I made with it. Hence this train of thought: bidet – bottom-washing – icky stuff – bad.

Well, let me tell you right now, not only is a bidet great for below-the-waist hygiene (which is, believe it or not, luxuriously refreshing midday), it’s also fabulous for soaking sore feet, washing things by hand, giving the dog water, and occupying bored children. (Do you know how many Barbie dolls can swim in a bidet?)

Conveniently, in our bathroom, the bidet and toilet are situated next to my other favorite bathroom installation: the towel warmer. Again, something which once seemed quite antithetical to my austere Puritanical roots, the towel warmer is a multi-functional appliance that gives the bathroom and its lucky inhabitants a near constant source of radiant warmth and dryness. Hand washed delicates or bathing suits dry on it instantly. And towels stay warm, dry and free of mustiness. But most of all, when you go to the potty in the middle of the night, your bum doesn’t come in contact with frigid porcelain (ouch!), for everything within the towel warmer’s radiant reach is nice and toasty.

A final note: the other aesthetic quality I’ve grown to love in the Milanese bathrooms I’ve known, is a funky mixture of absolutely modern functionality together with the graphic remnants of times past: marble, mosaic tile, and mod light fixtures. The photographs in my bathroom are the work of Jock Sturges and Guzman.

A question for my readers, many of whom have more experience in Europe than I do: Can you tell me why I see more bidets in Italy than in France, even though the bidet, I presume, is a French invention?

My thanks to Ann Moore for copy-editing this post.

[If you liked this post, you might also like “Ode to linen.“]

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8 Responses to Il bagno

  1. bagnidilucca says:

    I love a good bathroom, and Italy does them very well.

  2. Mary McKinley says:

    Intriguing observation about the bidet’s popularity in Italy, Charlotte. I did a little research and you are correct but I haven’t found an explanation for it yet.


    • Mary…do you have a bidet? Do your friends in France have them? What I notice in France, more often than not, is the actual “water closet,” in which there is just barely space for the toilet, much less a bidet…but this idea intrigues me too. A toilet, reading material, and good ventilation. Nothing wrong with that.

      • Mary McKinley says:

        No, I have one large bathroom with the sink, tub and toilet and a separate WC, as well. The house was built around 1820 and plumbing installed in the early 1900’s. My friends are about half and half on possession of a bidet – seems to be a much more “modern” addition.

        Maybe the French have fewer dogs/Barbies/delicates? Because they surely have enough assholes!

  3. Mary McKinley says:

    And I’m obviously having one of those “no matter how much you love it…” days! You’re so right about the whole expatriate experience, Charlotte!

  4. Oh mon dieu, Mary. I’m loving these comments. So funny. So true.

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