The French capital is celebrating the glorious heyday of its open-air urinals, with a fascinating show full of stories about secret sex, grotesque delicacies and Resistance plotting At 11pm on 6 December 1876, policemen patrolling the Champs-Élysées discovered a well-to-do bourgeois in a public toilet, engaged in what they described as “indecent exposure” with an 18-year-old labourer. The older man, it turned out, was the prominent Catholic politician Eugène de Germiny, a bastion of the reactionary right who railed against the government’s secular tendencies and advocated a society based on family, religion and a return to monarchy. The press immediately called out Germiny’s double standards. Despite his protests – he claimed his adventure was merely “research” – he became a magnet for satire, his political opponents making much of his hypocrisy. The writer Gustav Flaubert described the scandal as a “comfort that encourages the will to live”. Germiny was sent to jail and went into exile on release.
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