Paris (AFP)

In 1969, Hitchcock, never at a provocation, chose a vespasienne for a television interview. Invented in 1834 by the prefect Rambuteau, the "Monsieur propre" of Paris, these public urinals were the first places of freedom for homosexuals, also sheltering the exchange of secret messages of the Resistance.

After Berlin and before New York, an unusual exhibition accompanied by a beautiful book, renders their majesty to these precious kiosks, nicknamed "cups" in Paris slang or "pissotières" in common language, installed on the sidewalks to meet the natural needs of men, who disappeared in 1984.

"We must not put this little human history under the carpet," says AFP photographer and writer Marc Martin, specializing in "urban ghosts" and who conducted a ten-year survey on the subject, meeting sociologists and historians, and resurrecting the writings of Verlaine, Rimbaud, Celine, and Musset.

"I proposed the exhibition to several museums in Paris which, despite their interest, have declined," he adds. In Berlin, the Schwules Museum, a gay and lesbian museum, opened its doors, as did its New York counterpart, the Leslie-Lohman Museum, from September 2020.

- "A case of guys" -

Inaugurated Tuesday at Ephemeral Point in Paris on the occasion of World Toilet Day, the exhibition "The Cups: public toilets, private affairs" retraces the small and great history of public urinals through numerous photographs and documents.

"Pissing in the city in the nineteenth century was a long time a matter of guys, which sends us back to the beginnings of feminism and questioning genres," says Marc Martin.

"Beyond the hygienist goal, the Vespasians, named after the Roman emperor Vespasian who taxed urine, also responded to a social need, and men seeking identity laid the foundations for life. The "mugs +" have quickly become impossible places to meet, and generations of men have emancipated themselves from it, "adds Martin.

"Nearly 4,000 vespasiennes have been enumerated in France, including 2,000 in Paris.The + cups were mostly places of social mixing," he observes.

"In 1834, the first urinals installed in Morris columns offered only one place." As queues were forming, the vespasiennes with several places quickly replaced them behind perforated sheets. things were going on ... "

From now on, they are sold from time to time at auction: in Paris there is only one still active, 75 Boulevard Arago, in front of the prison of Health, in the fourteenth arrondissement.

The exhibition thus makes it possible to discover the video testimonies of several men with open faces having frequented the old "pissotières". One of them, 83-year-old Hugh, says that he met the man of his life.

- Libertarian places -

"I was fiddled by dancers, dressmakers, actors, singers ... Meeting someone in a stinking cup and ending up in his sumptuous apartment a few minutes later, it was a great adventure!", Says for his part Jean-Pierre, 73 years old.

"I would like to recognize these men a certain courage.I would like to return to these libertarian places, which have sheltered so many shivers, their disturbing share of sensuality," says Marc Martin. "Have they not dared to brave the interdicts, have they not, for more than a century, dared to face the pleasures then forbidden?"

Vespasiennes were also spaces of political and commercial visibility with advertisements, including the first campaigns of prevention and awareness of venereal diseases.

During the Dreyfus affair, plotters spread their false information in public urinals, replaced in the 1980s by single-seat "Sanisettes", meeting the new hygiene standards.

The exhibition does not elude anything. Not even "suppers" - attracted by the urine of other men - a very marginal sexual practice, says Marc Martin. "It's not an urban legend, but it has been inflated to stain the vespasian image a bit more and make it disappear."

© 2019 AFP