STADSBEELD IN PARIJS (1865)

Soms loopt je ergens op het internet tegen een foto aan, waarvan je denkt: ‘Ja, mooi. Zou ik wel willen plaatsen. Maar wat moet ik er in hemelsnaam bij vertellen. Het is ten slotte maar een simpele pisbak in een verder onbekende Parijse straat.” Maar dan zorgt datzelfde internet weer voor de oplossing. De originele Engelstalige verklaring is te mooi om te aan vertalen, u zult het dus daarmee moeten doen, maar met een Nederlands slotwoord.
“Anyone who has spent any amount of time walking and breathing in Paris may find this hard to believe, but it has been illegal here to urinate in the street since the 17th century. This has to be one of the least-enforced statutes in the history of humankind, and I personally suspect that Louis XIV moved to Versailles at least in part to get away from a capital that was essentially France’s largest men’s room. The first semblance of public toilet facilities in the city came a full century later, in the 1770s, when the prefect of the Seine (the equivalent of the mayor back then) got the inspired idea of placing “barrels of easement” on “all the street corners of Paris.” I’m sure this was an improvement over just allowing the effluence to fester where it fell, but it’s a pretty crude solution even for the pre-plumbing period. Barrels? Just sitting there on the street corner? They must have been awkward, not to mention humiliating, to use, arduous and unpleasant to empty, and probably just as odiferous as any secretion-soaked pavement. Then in 1841, a new kind of fixture took its place in the Parisian cityscape: metal structures sheltering public urinals. They were called pissoirs or pissotières, for obvious reasons, and vespasiennes for a less obvious reason: at first people were calling them “Rambuteau columns” after the Count of Rambuteau, the prefect who had introduced them, and to save his family name from lexicological ignominy he suggested naming them after Vespasian, the ancient emperor who installed the first public latrines in Rome. It was a pretty good idea – the term had historical roots, a nice ring to it and an eponym who wasn’t going to sue for defamation. At first, Parisian men thought it was absurd to relieve oneself in an edifice designed for that purpose, given that virtually every street in town was an ill-lit morass of mud and manure offering plenty of places where a gentleman might find solace. But the comfort stations slowly caught on, the design was refined, and by the end of the century there were hundreds of them all over town: green steel columns surrounded by a screen that provided just barely enough visual protection and connected to plumbing that provided just barely enough water and drainage. Of course, they could only be used by men, and they still reeked. In essence, what the pissoirs accomplished was to concentrate one aspect of the city’s noxious filth and miasma into a relatively few specific locations. Disgusting as they were, for many years the vespasiennes were a veritable symbol of Paris. By 1930, Paris counted about 1,200 pissoirs, and supposedly they played an important role in the Resistance movement during World War II, serving as meeting points and message drops. It makes sense – the putrid public urinals might not be the last place the Nazis would expect to find seditious activity, but they would definitely be the last place they’d want to look for it.”
Van de 1.200 pisbakken in 1930 waren er in de zestiger jaren nog zo’n 500 urinoirs, ofwel ‘krullen’, pissoirs of pissijns over, waar de heren een plasje konden doen dat rechtstreeks het riool inliep. Er was geen faciliteit om je handen te wassen en dat met die Franse gewoonte om altijd iedereen de hand te schudden die je tegenkomt…. In een wijde straal rond het urinoir was te ruiken waar het voor diende. Niet kort daarna zijn ze dan ook allemaal opgeruimd en vervangen door moderne openbare toiletgelegenheden, die je niet al van een kilometer afstand kon ruiken en waar je ook niet het risico loopt (minder althans) om je schoenen voorgoed te bederven.
Ik vraag me bij het zien van de foto echter wel af: ‘Als dit 19e eeuwse pissoir zo vreselijk stond, waarom gaat die man dan zo op zijn gemakkie naast dat stinkhok staan?’ En mocht u geïnspireerd zijn om meer foto’s te zien van Parijse urinoirs, zie hier

16 - Urinoir in Paris 1865

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