22 October 2010

City of Piss

As you may or not know I like to post, whenever I can, usually after lots of badgering, bits and pieces written by my fellow Brussels-based writers.  Here, Lee Gillette writes about his longtime love affair with his adopted hometown... P.S. It is entirely true, as anyone who lives here can attest to.  Don't believe it? Yesterday I walked past a man not 500m from the European Parliament, leaning against a parked car, peeing on its tire. 

The city’s relationship with urine and excrement goes way back. The river that once ran through Brussels got so clogged with the city’s filth that it became an open sewer and the city’s leading killer. The river brought fish and tourists almost right up to the very same wall of Saint Catherine’s against which, today, any male—or female, I imagine, though I’ve never seen one dare—can relieve himself in less than semi-privacy and watch his humor run down not so sacred stone barnacled with the deposits of the last century and a half. Mayor Anspach made it his life’s work to wipe the city’s backside by wiping the river off the map, paving it over with grand boulevards and grand architecture such as the stock exchange and Place de Brouckere, which, after the pedestrian tunnel between the metro and Central Station, are now two of the most piss-soaked city sites.

 "This city actually seems to want a relationship with urination."
Viz. Mannekin Piss (source)

How a city can care so little about itself that it walks around wetting its pants is a mystery to me, on par with the frustration of watching a child grow up through a stormy adolescence only to never escape it, unable to hold a job let alone his bladder. But this city actually seems to want a relationship with urination, having raised at least three monuments to the urinating art: “the little pisser,” as my mother calls him, the nearby feminine equivalent, and, on Rue des Chartreux, the dog with uplifted leg laughed at by tourists who take photos of themselves sitting on the bronze back that I have seen more than once late at night receiving a steaming stream from one of the members of the fifty centilitre set.

Nice... Jeanneke Pis (source).

And speaking of dogs – a tired subject, of course, but in Brussels the cobblestone is clogged with canine kaka like an overstuffed waffle iron; some stretches are slathered with it, as if the animal had eaten a whole vat of stoemp and its owner subsequently squeezed it like a pastry bag. Then there are the human footprints recording someone’s minor disaster and the stomp-scrape-stomp down the street to the nearest puddle—where the question must be asked: puddle of water, or puddle of piss? Brussels has the best fed dogs in the world, the evidence is everywhere, beefy feces curled up like sleeping dogs, and maybe it’s because of the city’s reputation for rain that all of it, whether of canine or biped origin, is not only so widespread but abandoned to the myth that it all gets washed away. But Brussels is not monsoon country; Belgian rain hangs in the air like a gauzy curtain that never parts. The shit never washes away, it just melts, slowly.

 I wouldn't sit on this if I were you... (source)

Then there’s the politics. Three months with no government. Regular pissing contest.


  1. Oh yes! I remember it well. My favorite was rounding a corner on (I think) the Avenue des Arts at midday and finding a gentleman relieving himself up against a skyscraper, with a delighted "now this is mine" look on his face. And to think, in some US states urinating in public is a sex crime! I wonder how many Belgians have been thrown in jail for the innocent act of pissing on American soil.

    And in all my years in Brussels I never knew about Jeanneke Pis and the canine friend, although I too have spent years recovering from the eyes-down walking stance which is a necessary survival skill on Brussels sidewalks.

    Dare I suggest free, clean and plentiful public toilets as a solution to the problem? I know, it'll never happen because what would happen to the Mesdames Pipi? Loitering could be easily discouraged by adopting the American habit of leaving a huge gap all around the door that makes you get in and out and gone before you're seen...

    But one thing unites the two countries. American politics is also a huge pissing contest, with the working man as its target, and the politicians here seem to have endless capacity...

  2. You assume people urinate due to lack of toilets - if only that were the reason!

    One of my favorite moments was when an old lady walking a dog leaned down, apparently to pick up the dog's feces. She instead wiped it's bum off with a handkerchief, and continued on.