Incongruously stranded in a relatively clean and modern part of the Left Bank’s hospital district, the last pissoir in Paris seems rather folorn these days. Though tagged with graffiti and looking very disrespected, it is clean and sturdy enough and still flushes itself regularly. (Why do I feel like I’m talking about someone not long for this world?) You can see it (and use it if you are of the male persuasion) near the junction of the boulevard Arago and the Rue de la Santé. The nearest métros are Glacière and St-Jacques (which has a charming façade).
The traditional cylindrical pissoirs – which the French called vespasiennes, after the Roman emperor Vespasian who imposed a tax on urine – were a hygenic advance when they were introduced in 1834, and by 1914 there were some 4,000 throughout the city. Within living memory such pissoirs were a common sight in Paris, along with the now fast-disappearing cylindrical advertising columns known as colonnes Morris. Not all the pissoirs took this cylindrical shape – many were larger and could be used by several men at once.
Arguably the villain of this story is JC Decaux, the company which also bought the rights to the colonnes Morris in 1986. Since 1981, it has provided the French capital with automatic sanisette public loos – and, it must be said, rendered the city streets much less whiffy in the process.
With the first sanisettes came a flood of urban legends, as people were reported to have become trapped and even died in them. Keep your feet on the floor to avoid setting off the automatic disinfectant cleaning operation. Children do need to be accompanied. Recently remodelled by Patrick Jouin, who also designed the Vélib, the latest Paris sanisettes are free to use and accessible to the disabled.
Find a list of sanisettes by arrondissement on www.paris.fr . The nearest non-sexist loo to the last pissoir is in Square Henri Cadiou, a little further along boulevard Argo towards rue de la Glacière.
(Dreadful phrases rejected in the writing of this bog blog include: flushed away, busted flush, flushed with pride, etc… I’m sure you can think of some better ones.)
Part of a NileGuide Special Report: 25 Destinations to See Before They Change Forever.
(Images: © Renata Rubnikowicz)