Switzerland – Peeing in a 13th Century Tower

Ah, the great outdoors

The things you think about when hiking alone. In this case it was literary poop. Some scenes in a book stay with you for life. In Bear, the best-known book by the late Canadian author, Marian Engel, the female protagonist, Lou, goes outside and shits with a bear. It’s a strangely erotic relationship between the bear and Lou and an unusual form of bonding. (As a completely irrelevant aside, I dated Engel’s son, William, way back when we were too young to drink in bars, but did anyway.)

I was thinking of this scene in Bear yesterday because I was outside walking and I really had to pee. Anyone who has ever travelled with me knows that I always have to stop for a bathroom break, and even in the great outdoors it’s going to happen. But I didn’t want to go outside. What if someone saw me? By this time I’d hiked up to the ruins of a 13th century castle – Burg Freudenberg overlooking the town of Bad Ragaz.

I think this says that it's old

No one was around. Almost nothing is left of the ruins except for a few stone walls and one perfectly round tower, its doorway just a hole of crumbling bricks. There was already water inside, since it was roofless and had recently rained, so, um, well, I’m not proud of it, but I used a 13th century tower as a latrine.

Hm ... no one's around

Before you hate me, let me remind you that back in the days of castles (or burgs, as they’re called here) there were no lavish bathrooms anyway. I remember visiting a castle in Wales and I was convinced that I’d found a secret passage. It was narrow and wound around a tower and I followed it as far as I could go. “That was the toilet,” said my guide.

Step up a couple of centuries to Jane Austen’s time in Bath, where coincidently, she set part of her first book and her last. As I was touring a grand Georgian manor on the Royal Crescent and gushing over the gorgeous dining room, the guide pointed out a screen in the room and said that the guests would just get up from the table and duck behind the screen to go. No matter how badly I had to go, I wouldn’t do that. Honestly.

Then of course, there is the whole territorial thing about urine. Tigers do it, wolves do it, rats and rhinos, too. It’s a way of claiming space, of making a place your own. So, I guess in a way, I now own my very own Swiss tower – even if the view’s not so great from inside.

Who turned out the lights?

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