The Official Guide

Most Beautiful Villages in France book

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Official Guide to the Most Beautiful Villages of France

The Official Guide

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Another French icon disappears


Gauloise cigarettes, the Morris columns and now the iconic French (well, mainly Parisian) urinal is under threat. There is apparently only one of the original Vespassienne edifices left – designed by no less than Eiffel (of Tower fame) and that is in poor condition (near the Sante prison).

Named after the Roman Emperor Vespasian, whose footnote in history is that he was the first to introduce a tax on toilets, this has always been a spectacularly French and male edifice. Usually smelly in the extreme, these urinals (pissoirs) offered a minimum of discretion to both users and passers-by. By comparison the Victorians provided Britain with a pretty good system of public conveniences which is seldom matched “sur le continent”, and which probably spoils the visitor to French shores. Even where they are provided in France they are often a rude shock to the uninitiated – I’ll say no more on that subject!

In Paris and other big cities they have been largely replaced by the “Sanisette” – the tardis-like self-cleaning booths which even adorn British streets. I’ve always been terrified that either the cleaning cycle would start too soon, or that I’d get locked in – I would probably prefer a Vespassienne!

BUT the good news is that in Paris the Sanisettes are to be free of charge from now on, instead of charging €0.40 (about 25p) a pee.I have some worries about the reasons for the change of policy – is it for health reasons to encourage the Parisians to go more often? Or is it because the charges discouraged too many people and they have been finding other less environmentally friendly ways of meeting their needs!?

Cafe and bar owners may not be so happy – I know many visitors stop for a coffee/beer etc just in order to use their “facilities”.

Another of those little things which reminds you that France really is a foreign country! – Remember “CLOCHEMERLE”, a fictional story based on a maverick mayor in small Beaujolais town who decides that the erection of a magnificent municipal urinal in the town square is a perfect symbol to celebrate the virtues of the Republic – civic mayhem ensues. Although the screenplay was by Brits the original story was by a Frenchman!!

The original basis for “Clochemerle” was the village of Vaux-en-Beaujolais (69 Rhone, Rhone-Alpes) in the western part of the Beaujolais vineyard. The village trades outrageously on the fame of the novel written by Gabriel Chevalier in 1934.

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