Thursday, July 20, 2006

Potty Boy and Potty...Girl?

When I was a wee little girl living in a tiny little town in the northwoods of Minnesota, my family used to go for walks. We used to walk down to the river and wander around, looking at cool things there. One trip we took occasionally included a visit to what we called the "Potty Boy." We had a good reason to call it that. It was a little statue of a boy becoming one with nature and letting it go into the river. At the time I thought it was kind of scandalous to have a little naked kid as a statue, but we also thought it was pretty funny. Even after we hadn't made a trip to the potty boy in years, we still talked about him. He became a family icon, if you will. Well, maybe just a family joke.

(Our little potty boy with someone who wants to grow up to be just like him)

This summer I discovered that our little "Potty Boy" is not one of a kind. In fact, there is a potty boy identical to my old friend here in Brussels, only they call him "Manneken Pis." He's right down town and they do a pretty good job making him a tourist trap. They have cardboard Manneken Pises at three times actual size, chocolate Manneken Pises, Manneken Pis pens and t-shirts, etc. Foreign countries who feel sorry for the poor naked boy donate costumes to him and he wears them on special occasions, and once a year he changes from a fountain of water to a fountain of beer. He's become the city's icon.

(One of the tourist ones, at three times actual size, with complimentary Belgian scarf.)

Now, I hear you feminists out there. "We want equal rights!" you say, "If there's a little boy, where's his sister?!" you say. Well, don't worry, the good people of Brussels hear you. Manneken in fact does have a sister named Janneken Pis. She squats at the back of a secluded alleyway behind red bars and surrounded by greenery. (Well, fake, plastic greenery)

Now, one wonders why they - two small, metal citizens - choose to relieve themselves out in the open rather than just finding a public restroom. Where is their mother anyway? "Perhaps the public restrooms are dirty," you say. Occasionally they are, but you can find a clean one without too much trouble. "Perhaps they really are trying to become one with nature," you say. Maybe, but if they were trying to do that, it seems they would choose a location other than the middle of the city, plastic greenery or not. My theory is simple. I think that the children's good mother has taught them the value of being frugal. By choosing a location out in the open they save 20 Euro cents (actually, if their other option were the train station in Luxembourg, they save €1,10). I imagine there are others tempted to join them rather than have to go make change of their 20 Euro bill, and from the smell of the metro stations I can only assume that some have joined the rebellion.

So, as with many things, childhood memories must give way to the reforming influence of two small statues seizing the "rights" that, according to some, should not be protected by the constitution. I for one am in favor of an ammendment to the Belgian constitution assuring me access to a clean, free restroom. Then again, what do I know about politics?

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Blogger Mick said...

I will email you a picture of our Grand Rapids, MN potty boy. He is located on the green between the Blandin Offices, the Blandin guest house and the Mississippi.

8:31 AM  
Blogger El Chambon said...

Probably one of the best commentaries I've ever read on the mannekin pis

3:05 PM  

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