Picture this: A clear night sky, obstructed only by the Eiffel softly twinkling down on Paris like a million stars. Couples walking hand in hand. The sweet scent of chocolate crepes mixed with a hint of urine wafting through the air. Wait… What?
Preceding my trip to the City of Light, my only “real” knowledge of France had come from watching the 1991 film, Beauty and the Beast. (No, I didn’t pay to see the live-action remake in theaters 3 times…I don’t know what you’re talking about…)
And although I did find “adventure in the great wide somewhere” and plenty of baguettes, I was not prepared for the unsavory behavior I encountered on my journey.
Zoe Strimpel of the Telegraph described Paris as an “anarchic, post-apocalyptic hellhole,” and for good reason. Walking home to my hostel from the center of the city, I witnessed more than my fair share of grown men blatantly pissing—excuse my French—mere feet away from unsuspecting onlookers. I couldn’t believe my eyes as not one, not two, but three people were standing off to the side relieving themselves in broad daylight.
Not unlike dogs, these “gentlemen” publicly urinated on the shrubbery, down alleys, between buildings, and even against shops in plain sight. The New York natives I was traveling with were offended when I scoffed that it smelled like Manhattan in the summertime. Feeling thankful I chose rain wellies as my choice shoe for the weekend, I sloshed home down the suspiciously slick sidewalk and tried to avert my eyes.
Apparently, this vile habit is actually common in capital cities across Europe. In Amsterdam, they’ve constructed public urinals in an attempt to control those who are apparently incontinent. Although I still found them off-putting to walk past, it was a huge improvement from seeing people going directly onto the sidewalk. Paris has followed suit with attempts to control “les pipis sauvages”, or “wild peeing.” Their efforts include eco-friendy public urination boxes that turn pee into compost as it drains through straw into potted plants, absorbing the smell.
“Eco-friendly urinals have been set up at the busy Gare de Lyon in Paris to combat unpleasant odours caused by street urination. The Uritrottoir has a slot for urine, which leads to a compartment filled with straw, which eventually makes compost. Their designer Laurent Lebot says they are more ethical than chemical urinals.” (The Guardian)
However, in spite of the capital’s fatal flaw, I have fallen in love with France. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I felt magic in the atmosphere around me and I was immediately intoxicated by it. Paris really is just as romantic and beautiful as they say it is, complete with almost as many ornately constructed Cathedrals as there are crepe stands (which is a LOT). And of course, I was dumbfounded by the beauty of the Eiffel Tower, a structure so immense I still cannot fully wrap my mind around it.
My favorite spot, though, was outside of the city at Chateau de Versailles. In the garden—a seemingly infinite sea of color—my senses were flooded with vibrant hues and the distinct smell of wet grass after a storm. It was tantalizing to watch the damp field come to life with flecks of gold as the sun broke through the fog. The shadows of people in the distance gently danced across the flowerbeds. It was there that I truly fell in love with France, miles away from the pee-pots and damp sidewalks. I looked around me and felt my heart fill up. In that moment I forgot about the city, spilling over with tourists and the piss of locals. In fact, I forgot about everything. I turned my face toward the sun and thought to myself, this is the best place in the world. So what if a few dudes whipped it out on the sidewalk?
(This story was loosely inspired by the silver-lining approach Sivani Babu took to convey what was otherwise categorized as a “bad trip” story, “Like Dust in a Storm”. )