In Praise of
The One-HolerTwenty-five miles east of the city of Puerto Perdido, in the tiny village of Miraculo, is my shack It's a "palapa," four upright wooden trunks holding crossbeams and a pitched roof of dry fronds. It has a brick floor, a table for lunch, and a brick walkway that leads edgewise to the Pacific.
We stuck a well in the middle of the lot but it is not given to being overly generous. It was obvious from the beginning that, without running water, our more earthy needs would have to be satisfied by what the Irish have come to call "the jakes," what they here call "un baño seco."
I had my two stalwart helpers, Enrique and Juan, dig a hole in the southeast corner of the lot, as far as possible from the palapa (and to the west of the tradewinds). They made a two-meter pit with a gravel bottom, stacked old cinder blocks for the sides. A knee-high extended wooden box was mounted atop this, painted white, lidded with gaudy fake-marble white-grain toilet seat, one of those plastic ones that always manage to nip you where (and when) you don't want to be nipped. The ants and spiders and tarantulas and "alacranes" are thrown in for free.
Juan brought in several dozen palm fronds, and wove them together on three sides for see-through walls. A shower rod and plastic shower curtain (red painted starfish, blue seahorses) serve as the door.
I recall from my literature studies a paean to the outhouse in the early pages of Ulysses. Leopold Bloom, after preparing and taking up Molly's breakfast (tea and toast) and after preparing his own (fried kidney) and after talking to the cat ("Mrkrgnao!"), he disappears towards the backhouse. C'mon, Joyce, I remember thinking, does the New Literary Reality, the Modern Sensibility, the Renaissance of the Novel have to take us this far?
Bloom kicks open "the crazy door of the jakes." In the cobwebbed privacy of the biffy with "the stench of mouldy limewash and stale cobwebs" Bloom "eases himself" and with the newspaper he has been reading, he uses a "prize titbit," Matham's Masterstroke as it should be used before hoisting his suspenders and ambling out into the morning air.
§ § §
My retreat in Miraculo is close enough to the sea that when I'm there I can hear the waves, the everfolding never-ending sea. There are several neem trees and a maquil nearby, making a "sylvan shade:" In peaceful dells and woodland glades, /In sweet romantic scenes I stray; /And wander thro' the sylvan shades, /Where summer breezes lightly play... ( Felicia Dorothea Browne, 1793-1835).
A white bougainvillea has taken up abode in the neighborhood, and the exquisite blooms --- edged in pink --- poke thought the palm-fronds to sweeten my day. I keep my eyes on the barrendera ants and the lizards going up and down the white seat-boards. No backside nipping allowed.
I am never one to brag, but I must say, we have constructed a beaut. An occasional rock dove will call from just outside the encampment. The sea murmurs and sighs, and sighs again. It is a time of contemplation, that rare time of day when we can be said "to be at one with nature." When all is done (my mother used to call it "your homework;" as in, "Carlos, did you do your homework?" --- you can imagine the effect on my schooling), I throw a handful of cal --- calcium carbonate --- down the hole to make sure that in times of contrary winds we will have no regrets.
It all put me in mind of a funny little book we received a couple of years ago. It was nicely written and nicely illustrated: a praise of the ecological sanity of these natural repositories. It was written by Max Burns and titled, Cottage Water Systems: An Out-of-the-City Guide To Pumps, Plumbing, Water Purification, and Privies. In it, Burns included a paean to the outhouse, or "backhouse, biffy, privy, or whatever one wants to call it." He calls it "the original restroom," a place for
a moment in silent repose, outhouse door jammed open as it usually is, contemplating absolutely nothing as seven ruffled grouse balanced awkwardly on the top twigs of the nearest birch tree, doing the same as me.
We are but giving back to nature what nature has given us. A part of ourselves that some of us were taught to disdain (homework, indeed!) but the passing of which may be as right as the nearby sea, the prevailing tradewinds that muss my hair as I write this.--- Carlos Amantea