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Month: March 2009

they know us by our trails

Yesterday I saw a woman crouch between two parked motorcycles on my street, lift up her skirts, and pee.

This afternoon it was a little boy at a bus stop across the way. As his mother fussed with his baby sister, fastening the pink straps of her stroller, he unzipped the front of his pint-sized pants and peed onto the sidewalk. His four-year-old urine mixed with the rain.

City as toilet. Even with so many free public potties dotted throughout Paris, I’ve still seen more street peeing in my time here than anywhere else I’ve been in the western world.

Public peeing knows no race, no age, no class. It knows only desire.

The town’s hygiene workers have to clean an average 56,000 sq metres of urine-splashed surfaces per month — a figure that rises to 65,000 in summer.

The highest penalty for urinating in public was dealt to Pierre Pinoncelli, a Frenchman who was fined 45,122 euros (£31,400) in 1998 for relieving himself into artist Marcel Duchamp’s modern art urinal, called Fountain — said to be worth £1.9 million.

He described his “attack” as a surrealist act.

Parisians have battled the public pipi for years. First, there were the pissoirs — open-air urinals, geared mainly toward male offenders. Next came the Sanisette — a multi-purpose, self-cleaning WC, mostly free and happily open for use by men, women, children, bums and tourists alike.

Yet despite their ubiquity, these public loos have not deterred even the most casual of urinaters. Paris is their turf, and it is there to be marked. They may not own their homes, have gardens or access to green spaces, but the sloped streets — yellow trickling downhill — are theirs.