By PAT HARTMAN
Today we consider some of the cootie capitals of the world with Stephanie Chen, a writer/producer at CNN who specializes in writing about business, crime, and travel — not surprising, since she formerly worked for The Wall Street Journal and The Miami Herald. More recently, Chen took on the task of following up on a press release which announced the results of their poll concerning the most un-hygienic tourist spots around the globe. Chen concludes:
Though it is unlikely to get sick from visiting one of these places, health experts say germs are always a gamble. The more people who touch and visit a spot, the more germs there are in the mix, they say. Their traveling advice? Travelers should load up on hand sanitizers and wash their hands often on their trips.
Also, they should wash their mouths out with soap, if they’ve kissed the famous Blarney Stone of Ireland. Legend or no legend, smooching this rock seems like a risky venture, but 400,000 people a year do it anyway, Chen reports. While hanging upside down, incidentally. Less strenuous for the participating visitor is the Wall of Gum in Seattle, site of an accumulation of used chewing gum that has reached science-fictional proportions. The layer of pre-masticated gum is, we are told, several inches thick. Chen’s online article includes a link to some video footage which includes close-ups of various sections of this wall, which look like abstract art if you don’t think about it too hard.
Another germy lip-magnet is the tomb of infamous writer Oscar Wilde, who currently resides in the Père Lachaise Cemetery of Paris. The stone edifice is kissed by many, many people who should know better. A friend from New Jersey told me once of a custom observed in the neighborhood where he grew up. If you dropped a cookie or an apple or any other foodstuff on the ground, the correct procedure was to pick it up and “kiss it to God,” after which it would be safe to eat. Apparently some kind of related superstition operates in the minds of these pilgrims.
The immediate environment of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, CA is also under indictment for harboring a multitude of germs, since tourists are fond of pressing their hands into the handprints of famous stars. Which are on the ground. But hey, the forecourt of the theater is mopped every day by the staff.
Then there’s the Piazza San Marco, in Venice, Italy, where you can get up close and personal with more pigeons than you ever imagined possible. The “living room of Europe” is visited by 2 million people in the average year, and by thousands of pigeons who don’t wear diapers, if you take my meaning. The Piazza also contains lots of outdoor cafes, where the conjunction of food and salmonella bacteria makes some travelers more than a little nervous. A single pigeon produces approximately 26 pounds of you-know-what every year, which is not only bad for people, but corrosive to the historical monuments that also populate the enormous square. The city has taken measures, like banning the vendors who sell pigeon-feed grain to tourists, and forbidding the locals to throw rice at the bride and groom after weddings.
Elisabeth Rosenthal reports in The New York Times that pigeons are not the only problem in Italy’s ancient municipality. The Italians are the world’s leading drinkers of bottled water, and most of them leave their empty containers in the trash cans of the Piazza San Marco. Rosenthal explains that, because of the roadless nature of the Venetian urban area, trash is collected by men in wheelbarrows, at a cost of “$335 per ton compared with $84 per ton on the mainland.” Local officialdom has recently undertaken a public relations crusade to convince people to drink tap water, which originates from the same wells as one of the most popular brands of bottled water, and the city offers plenty of public water spouts where the traveler can refill an emptied bottle of designer water, and make it last all day.
Now, if only the pigeons could be trained to carry empty plastic bottles to the landfill…