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Months of Lockdown Raise a Pressing Question: Where to Pee in Paris?

Paris begins reopening next week, bringing relief to residents missing its long-shuttered shops, museums, theaters and cafes that make France’s iconic capital so special. Not to mention something more basic—easily accessible toilets. Cecile Briand ducks into a small cement building, tucked inside a northern Paris square. The toilet she’s inspecting is a bit dirty, but no nasty surprises—nothing a little tissue can’t fix. Number one advice walking this city: always bring toilet paper.  Briand is a writer and artist. Also possibly this capital’s best resource on restrooms. Her guidebook Ou Faire Pipi a Paris? — or Where to Pee in Paris — is now in its second edition.   She earned her expertise firsthand— spending hours on the streets researching a separate Lonely Planet guide on Paris walks. Discovering its hidden and not-so-hidden toilets, she says, is another way of discovering the city.Briand checks out a restroom in a small square and pronounces it “correct.” (VOA/Lisa Bryant)Some of Briand’s top picks include the 5th-floor restrooms at the Galeries Lafayette department store —over a terrace with a stunning view of the capital. There’s also the red-carpeted Drouot auction house, and Josephine Baker swimming pool on the Seine River.  Lockdown has shuttered these and many other places — like this public library we pass by.  For the desperate — and less choosy — there are always the city’s 435 sanisettes, elegant-looking steel structures that—despite their automatic cleaning— aren’t always so elegant inside.  Peeing in Paris has been problematic long before coronavirus. The city hall has long been at war against what it calls ‘wild pipi’ — mostly by men — in public spaces. Residents and tourists mocked the environmentally friendly urinals it set up a few years ago— and this public service announcement featuring actors singing through toilet seats. Meanwhile, critics recently launched an online campaign hash tagged #saccageaparis, or “trashed Paris,” blaming the municipal government, fairly or unfairly, for unkempt streets.   Pere Lachaise cemetery, the next stop on Briand’s tour, offers a respite from the controversy. It’s here Frederic Chopin, Honore de Balzac, Jim Morrison and many other famous people are buried. Equally important is its restroom in a little chalet. Visitors Elena and Rosa Marie, from the northern city of Reims, are hunting for the entrance.One of the restrooms at the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. (VOA/Lisa Bryant)Elena says it’s very complicated spending time outside in big cities these days. Either you hold off peeing, or you stay at home.  The lockdown has brought Briand’s guide more media attention. She’s now waiting to assess its impact on the city’s toilet landscape — before working on the third edition of Where to to Pee in Paris.  

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