Modesty- Comme les Français
I have already divulged the fact that there was only one bathroom chez Famille Chic. I quickly got used to sharing this bathroom with the three other members of the family: Madame Chic, Monsieur Chic and “A” (their son). I was asked my first day on arrival by Madame Chic whether I wanted to take my baths every morning or every evening. Hmmm. I chose morning and secretly wondered if I would also possibly be able to take the occasional hot bath before bedtime. I thought I might ask- but decided not to stretch it- especially on my first day there.
Time passed and I quickly got used to my routine salle de bains. I kept a little basket in my bedroom that contained my toiletries- as counter space in the tiny bathroom was sparse. Each morning at 7:00 am I would go to the bathroom and partake of my morning ritual. The bathroom, like the kitchen, was very bare bones. It was always sparkling clean and had very modest features- tile floors, a tiny mirror and a freestanding sink with hardly any counter space. There was no shower (which I found very odd, at first) but, instead, an ample-sized tub with a hand held showerhead fixture.
The tub was situated in front of a very large window. The window did not have any covering on it (no blinds or curtains) because it did not look out to anything but a wall. One morning, about three months into my stay, I was in the bathtub, well- bathing, when suddenly I looked up and there was a man in the window. This sounds very creepy- and believe me, it was! It was the window washer, doing his monthly rounds. He was washing the windows for the entire building, suspended on one of those window washing scaffolding things (at the time I was at a loss for the proper terminology and I still am). Mon Dieu! I shrieked and scrambled to find a cloth or towel or something to cover myself! The window washer looked in the window and merely smiled and waved at me and carried on with his business. He did not leer, he did not stare (I wasn’t sure whether I should have been relived or insulted).
After my traumatic bath I immediately went to Madame Chic and told her what had happened. I expected her to be outraged- shocked! Instead she looked at me with an amused smile and said (in French) “Oh yes, he’s seen all of us in the bath. He only comes once a month.” Madame Chic probably sensed my utter bewilderment towards her nonchalance. She asked if I would feel more comfortable if curtains were put up in the bathroom. I thought about it for a moment and decided against it. Yes it was weird, but perhaps my Puritanical American instincts were in overdrive and I just needed to chill. I said ça va, no need for curtains… after all… when in Rome…
The next morning I discovered someone (presumably Monsieur Chic) had installed a makeshift curtain over the bathroom window. I have a feeling that the moment I left Paris it was taken down.
Edgar Degas' Woman After the Bath courtesy of: www.encore-editions.com