You can tell I’m over my head in a dry well of ideas when I take my inspiration for today’s post from a Louis C.K. routine as he recounts sitting next to a fountain and discovers it is a reproduction of the famous Manneken Pis statue of Brussels, Belgium—a “pedophile fountain,” as he says. And yes, I did see his routine the other night, and I began to wonder just how many of these fountains and their variants exist around the world?
As it turns out, quite a few. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised; the notion actually makes more sense than a stream of water flowing out of a lion’s mouth. Anyway, I have the impression the fountain was quite famous among veterans who served in the First World War.
I was first introduced to the Manneken Pis by my great-uncle Frank who had brought an ashtray back from the Great War and showed it to me as a child—no doubt because he thought it was funny and would shock me. The original Mannekin Pis (“Little Man Pee” from the Dutch; French: le Petit Julien) is a landmark bronze sculpture (24 inches/61 cm), depicting a naked little boy urinating into the fountain’s basin. It was designed by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy the Elder and put in place in 1618 or 1619.
A legend states that in the 14th century, Brussels was under siege by a foreign power. The city had held its ground for some time, so the attackers conceived of a plan to place explosive charges at the city walls. A little boy named Julianske happened to be spying on them as they were preparing. He urinated onto the burning fuse and thus saved the city.
The statue is dressed in costume several times each week, according to a published schedule which is posted on the railings around the fountain. His wardrobe consists of several hundred different costumes, many of which may be viewed in a permanent exhibition inside a museum opposite the Town Hall. Although the proliferation of costumes is of twentieth-century origin, the occasional use of costumes dates back almost to the date of casting.
In many countries, replicas in brass or fiberglass are commonplace swimming or garden-pool decorations. Manneken Pis has also been adapted into souvenir items such as ashtrays and corkscrews.
I actually bought an ashtray at an auction that featured wartime souvenirs; my Manneken Pis has the young boy urinating on a swastika in a bronze sea shell, and it sits on my desk. Any friends who have seen it think it’s just weird, but they don’t know the story. I’ve got several weird things on my desk.
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