Public Urinals

On this corner, where the Luxembourg Gardens join the rue d’Assas, once stood a public urinal that was a favorite stopping point for Henry Miller. Relieving a full bladder in open view of the street, he could reflect on the different vision of human necessity that distinguished France from America:

how is the Frenchman to know that one of the first things which strikes the eye of the American visitor, which thrills him, warms him to the very gizzard is this ubiquitous urinal? How is the Frenchman to know that what impresses the American in looking at a pissotière, or a vespasienne, or whatever you choose to call it, is the fact that he is in the midst of a people who admit to the necessity of peeing now and then […]

There are certain urinals I go out of my way to make—such as the battered rattle-trap outside the deaf and dumb asylum, corner of the rue St. Jacques and the Rue de l’Abbé-de-l’Epée, or the Pneu Hutchinson one by the Luxembourg Gardens, corner Rue d’Assas and Rue Guynemer.
—Black Spring

Such urinals, no longer to be found in Paris, were captured in the evocative night photographs of Miller’s friend, Brassaï. Miller singled out these photos in his tribute to Brassaï’s work, “The Eye of Paris”: “I see the old tin urinals where, standing in the dead silence of the night, I dreamed so violently that the past sprang up like a white horse and carried me out of the body.”

Paris urinal by Brassai
A Paris street urinal in the 1930’s
– Photo by Brassaï
  Paris urinal - modern
The modern variety of Paris street urinal


Corner of rue d’Assas and rue Guynemer
Paris, 75014

3 comments on "Public Urinals"

January 3, 2007

wow amazing. totally stoked to see this man

Mike Jones
November 15, 2008

How a urinal can be imbued with a sense of nostalgia is beyond me, but looking at the photographs that exist of them I feel that this is exactly what they impart. And I think that if there is anything in Paris that was a testament to a departed age, it is these monoliths that once lined their byways. My only disappointment of course is that they have departed from the streets, and as I look at the pictures of them I also envy the people that saw and were able to use them. The people who read this who are drinkers of beer will know how it is when, having partaken of vast amounts and they are casually walking along a boulevard, the all too encompassing and agonising urge to relieve oneself suddenly takes prescience over everything. And the amount of time I have had to run into a brasserie with and without asking for the pleasure of the convenience I cannot now recount, but that a certain sense of pleasure seems to pervade this act is without a doubt. But unhappily we are now only left with the Pissotieres that dominate Brassai’s and Atget’s photographs, and that we can only visualise by regarding the very spots that they inhabited. But I do believe there is one standing on the Boulevard Arago opposite the prison Sante, and one that a quick look on the internet will bring results, but whether it is still standing I don’t know.

Adam Funk
May 16, 2013

In response to Mike’s comment about the last traditional urinal, I can confirm that the one on the Boulevard Arago was still there in January 2013 and apparently popular with taxi drivers. I used it too. Drainage is dodgy, so be careful where you stand.

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