It is a long time since I have had any particular ambition. At least, one that warrants celebrity. I have no remorse or misgiving about this dissolute state. It is no disguise that instead of looking forward, I define a good deal of my life by looking back. It’s too late for me to do anything new. Besides it can be so unbecoming to see an amateur attempt novelty late in life.
I prefer to buoy myself by enlarging upon the fermentation of the past. Indeed I happen to hold the view that too often when growing up and developing we are so distracted by the effort of doing so that we overlook the process and miss some of the significance. Not to mention the anxiety getting there and then overlooking what you’ve ended up with or how it all happened. Our lives are sometimes products of the work of others, both concealed and brazen.
Meanwhile it’s an uncharacteristically cool day here today. In preparation for our token 5 km bicycle ride this fresh morning we donned long pants, undergarments and sweaters in addition to silk scarves. Nor were we overdressed for the occasion. There were fewer people wandering about today perhaps because it was relatively early on a business day (now that commerce is coming back) or perhaps because in the cool temperature (now 11°C or 52°F) people closed their doors like a sudden frost upon the flowers. In any event the gusto behind our athletic enthusiasm is not entirely Stoic; our housekeeper comes today and we prefer to be out of the way so we’ll leave early afternoon. It is regrettably an unadventurous outing during the pandemic. Nothing is open. There’s nowhere to go. The public washrooms in parks or by canal locks along the bucolic wandering are closed during the pandemic. Don’t get me started on the subject of the pissoirs in Paris, France! In Germany they’re for both Damen and Herren – thus overcoming another preposterous obstacle!
In the spring of 1830, the city government of Paris decided to install the first public urinals on the major boulevards. They were put in place by the summer, but in July of the same year, many were destroyed through their use as materials for street barricades during the French Revolution of 1830.
The urinals were re-introduced in Paris after 1834, when over 400 were installed by Claude-Philibert Barthelot, comte de Rambuteau, the Préfet of the Départment of the Seine. Having a simple cylindrical shape, built of masonry, open on the street side, and ornately decorated on the other side as well as the cap, they were popularly known as ‘colonnes Rambuteau’ (‘Rambuteau columns’).
In response, Rambuteau suggested the name ‘vespasiennes’, in reference to the 1st century Roman emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus, who placed a tax on urine collected from public toilets for use in tanning. This is the term by which street urinals were known in the French speaking world, rather than ‘pissoir’, a French-sounding word in use in other counties, including the UK and Germany.
What else would I do to change the world? I find it curious that humans, of all the other creatures upon this planet, are the only ones who collectively aspire to acquire and retain more than they need – and seemingly each with a keenness for having more than others. Apart from all the psychological or intuitive reasons for doing so, it is an insinuation which is deeply embedded within us and is as toxic and self-defeating as the passion for sugar. Knowing as we all do the ephemeral nature of time and things, it is an unaccountable persuasion. It tends to make the uniform appearance of the citizens of some countries more explicit. And it most certainly raises the question about what most counts in life!
But before I solve the problems of the universe I delight in acquainting myself with the particulars of my own microcosm. I don’t for a minute imagine that the characteristics of my community are especially different from any other. Which naturally brings up the more universal issue of immigration, a subject upon which it seems the southern United States have not adequately adjusted since pre-Confederation. The logic in support of immigration is too overwhelming to contradict except by the same standard of use and abuse which normally attends the behaviour statistics of any group.
And if immigration is a problem maybe it’s time we started finding out why and correcting it. I can’t for the life of me imagine why a young family would uproot itself and walk, swim or crawl to get away somewhere else that is safe unless it were imperative. It is a narrative which challenges us all. Being driven by need is an ambition of incomparable expression. Yet I consider human necessities to be pervasive, axiomatic and manageable. That we have the resources to do so is in my opinion unquestionable. We haven’t however as yet overcome the devotion to monied interests and piggish greed. Similarly we’ve utterly failed to recognize the unparalleled advantage of the human resource.