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War and pissoirs: how the urinals of Paris helped beat the Nazis



Esoteric subcultures … a urinal at Les Halles, 1969, which appears in Les Tasses. Photograph: Archives of the Paris Police
At 11pm on 6 December 1876, policemen patrolling the Champs-élysées discovered a well-to-do bourgeois in a public toilet, engaged in what they described as “indecent exposure” with an 18-year-old labourer. The older man, it turned out, was the prominent Catholic politician Eugène de Germiny, a bastion of the reactionary right who railed against the government’s secular tendencies and advocated a society based on family, religion and a return to monarchy.

1876年12月6日晚上11点,一名在香榭丽舍大道巡逻的警察,在一间露天小便亭里发现,一名体面的中产阶级人士正与一名18岁的工人发生着“不可描述的(身体)接触”。后来查明,这名年纪较大的中产阶级人士是著名的天主教政治家Eugène de Germiny,他是名死硬反动右派,怀有反对政府的世俗倾向,主张建立一个以家庭、宗教和回归君主制为基础的社会。

The press immediately called out Germiny’s double standards. Despite his protests – he claimed his adventure was merely “research” – he became a magnet for satire, his political opponents making much of his hypocrisy. The writer Gustav Flaubert described the scandal as a “comfort that encourages the will to live”. Germiny was sent to jail and went into exile on release.

新闻界随即竞相揭发Germiny的双重标准。尽管他提出抗议,他声称自己的冒险只是为了“研究”,但他却成了讽刺文学的磁石,他的政治对手充分利用了他的虚伪。作家古斯塔夫·福楼特(Gustav Flaubert)将这一丑闻描述为“一种鼓励生存意志的安慰”。随后Germiny被送进监狱,之后释放并流放。

‘Ubiquitous sight’ … a urinal at Place de l’Ambigu, Paris, 1875. Photograph: The State Library of Victoria


The police logbook detailing Germiny’s arrest is just one of dozens of exhibits that make up a small but fascinating exhibition exploring the secret history of Paris’s public urinals. Curated by photographer Marc Martin, it delivers an extraordinary account of sanitation, censure and sex that has remained largely untold until now. Visually, it’s gripping enough, from the image of Edgar Degas striding out of a pissotière to an overhead street shot by Brassai, and a picture by Henri Cartier-Bresson of US writer Charles Henri Ford zipping himself up. But more than anything, this show is remarkable for the story it tells.
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警方详细记录了Germiny被捕的全过程,这只是巴黎公共小便亭隐秘历史的冰山一角。这本图书是由摄影师马克·马丁策划制作,讲述了一段至今仍鲜为人知的关于卫生、非难与性的奇妙故事。从封面上看,它足够扣人心弦,从埃德加·德加(Edgar Degas)大步走出pissotiere的画面,到布拉赛(Brassai)拍摄的高架街道,再到亨利·卡地亚(Henri Cartier)的照片

The primary function of the urinals, however, was soon subverted by other needs. The relative privacy accorded by the prefabricated confines of the pissotières provided a previously non-existent space for Paris’s marginalised population of homosexual men, presenting a haven in which they could engage in acts that would otherwise have seen them locked up. Indeed, as early as 1862, the city’s policemen were recording the existence of glory holes.




Men only … a vespasienne urinal in the 1960s. Photograph: Collection Marc Martin
A morality crusade against these “dens of vice” ensued. Surveillance – of the sort in Germiny’s story – was commonplace, and conservative commentators condemned public urinals as a stain on the city. “These Parisian vespasiennesare the exact equivalent of a chamber pot left uncovered in the sitting room,” thundered one newspaper, while another complained of the “debauchery that takes place in the capital’s urinals”.


The vespasiennes’ finest hour came during the German occupation of 1940-44, when the assault on freedom suddenly made the illicit encounters in public toilets seem relatively innocuous. “Under the Occupation, the streets were empty, but the pissotières were full,” recounted Roger Peyrefitte. Indeed, French, German and American soldiers would flock to the urinals to satisfy their needs. And, quite apart from sexuality, they served as important meeting places for résistants to exchange information on enemy troop movements.

小便亭最辉煌的时刻是在1940年至1944年的德国占领时期,当时对自由的侵犯突然让在公共厕里发生的邪恶勾当显得相对无害。Roger Peyrefitte说:“占领时期,街道上空无一人,但小便亭却人满为患。”事实上,法国、德国和美国士兵会涌向小便亭以满足他们的需要。除了性之外,它们还是抵抗者交流敌军动向的重要场所。

‘Phallic’ … plan for an original pissoir. Photograph: Collection Marc Martin


Despite their Nazi-fighting credentials, the postwar era saw the vespasiennescondemned to history. From 1960 onwards, they were gradually dismantled on the dubious pretext of low public usage. Only one – outside La Santé prison – remains. An afterlife of sorts existed in their terminal years: one vitrine here recounts the story of a madame pipi, or lavatory attendant, who rented out cubicles for rencontres homosexuels in 1988. But the glory days were over, and with them went an entire subculture.
It’s a sad ending to a show that demonstrates how these most humble, yet crucial, facets of urban infrastructure have had lasting effects on history. Even the grottiest of stories, it seems, can be epic in scale.

尽管他们是纳粹士兵,但在战后时代见证了被载入史册的小便亭。但自1960年起,这些小便亭便以公众使用率低为借口被逐渐拆除。只有在拉桑特监狱外,侥幸留存一个。在它们生命的最后几年,似乎存在着某种形式的来生,这里的一个展柜讲述了一个名叫皮皮夫人(madame pipi)的厕所清洁工的故事,她在1988年向偶遇的同性恋者出租了厕所隔间。但小便亭辉煌时期已经过去,随之而来的是一种全新的亚文化。