Thursday, August 16, 2012

the last vespasienne in Paris

This is the Holy Grail of urinals--the last old-school Parisian pissoir on Boulevard Arago, 14th Arrondissement.  It is called a vespasienne, named after Emperor Vespasian who levied a tax on urine collection. Urine was a highly valued commodity anciently, it was collected and used by fullers in the laundry business. Never missing an opportunity to increase tax revenues, he imposed the tax and said: 'pecunia non olet' (money does not smell).

watch your step . . . that's not moss
Apparently the French created the vespasienne (sounds more Parisian than pissoir, but both are acceptable usage) to try and control the problems of public urination back in the early 20th century. By the 1930's there were over 1200 in use and they continued until the 1990's. Michael Bell told me that these were very common when he was a missionary in France (they called them 'the iron man'). They are now being replaced by high-tech Sanisettes (worthy of a posting unto themselves--here).  I would hasten to add that the public urination problem is still pretty prevalent in the Metro and on the streets.

All the fascinating history aside, I have to admit that this was a foul and nasty place.  It's no wonder that it is the only one left. I'm thinking Bill Gates may have visited this place and been impressed enough to fund his Reinventing the Toilet campaign.

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