“It’s strange to look at it now, in person. I’ve seen it so many times in books and talked about in classes. But I guess it’s like the Mona Lisa–built up so much in your mind that when you finally see it…” Elisabetta trailed off. She was distracted by the garrulous presence of a tour guide and his many student-aged subjects.
“It’s not even the real thing, it’s just a copy,” the tour guide shouted, further shattering Elisabetta’s preconceived notions of the Hiëronymus Duquesnoy the Elder-designed deviant. Her traveling companion, Étienne, a classically tall, dark and handsome thirty-four year old, regarded her sympathetically. He had lived in Brussels for six years now, and knew what to expect of taking people to all its famed monuments–most especially the Manneken Pis. With replicas of it sold almost everywhere throughout the city, the symbolic statue had long ago lost all meaning. It was commodified to the point of absurdity. It’s strange to think of it as it is in the present, being that it was intended merely, in one recounting, as a source of water for Belgians, passersby with a sense of humor, but no camera to document their hilarity back to them. Étienne wanted to console Elisabetta in some way, but knew that it was futile to do so. She had to reconcile that the tiny little boy in front of her was just another disappointment in a series of the many called life’s buildups to anticlimax.
“So do you want your picture in front of it?” Étienne offered placatingly. At the very least, there was a picture to be had. Some tangible proof that the pissing boy was worth making the trek for. Elisabetta’s area of study at École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts was sculpture, and it was the more underrated works of people with “one hit wonder” offerings that intrigued Elisabetta the most. Something in their lack of output spoke to her. She could relate. And for a sculptor to be prolific almost came across as downright arrogant. To thumb one’s nose at the amount of time and care it takes to create a single piece by producing multitudes of works (à la Rodin, that self-important narcissist of a fuck with all his many assistants doing most of the labor). This is precisely why Elisabetta honed in on Duquesnoy. He was slow, careful, methodical. Some might rebrand that as non-talented, out of ideas and lazy. But Elisabetta could see only a genius in the work of a man that appealed to the basest of one’s synapses. Not quite like Andy Millman creating Ray Stokes–but something to that effect. She could relate. For she had been working on the same small piece since long before her enrollment, a little girl, as it were, exposing herself in a suggestive manner that would make any fan of Lolita run right out to see it wherever it was displayed. The irreverent humor of it was something she could only find in “peeing little man” or “peeing boy” in the annals of sculpture. That such a cheeky artistic rendering could be permitted in times that the collective at large has deemed staid and modest is what most fascinated Elisabetta. Prompted her to research extensively into Manneken Pis’ origins, still somehow shrouded largely in mystery. The legend Elisabetta had most commonly encountered was that because the Rue de l’Étuv was filled with tanners during medieval times, children were encouraged to urinate on the leather in order to make it more…resilient, elastic, even. But then, why would a child need to be responsible for doing this as opposed to the tanner himself? This is precisely why another story holds more weight for most Belgians, that of little Julien (which is what the statue was called at one point). Like the Trojans sneaking in with their horse, so, too, was Brussels once surrounded by enemies that feigned a withdrawal, only to unveil that they had hidden gunpowder throughout the city ready to be ignited. As the lore goes, little Julien pissed on one of the burning fuses upon seeing it, prompting the city to erect a statue to honor his heroic and everyday act. This, of course, also smacks of pure hearsay, for how would a barely coherent child act so quickly and shrewdly in a state of crisis?–even if children were much more intelligent back in the day.
As Elisabetta forced a smile for Étienne so as to have some memory of this ultimately mediocre and insufficient moment, she glanced over at the students in the tour group mugging themselves for the camera. It made her feel embarrassed and she walked up to Étienne to snatch her phone back. “Let’s go,” she said curtly. Étienne struggled to keep up with her as she barreled through the touristic crowds to get to some as of yet unknown empty corner or tavern that would offer a port in the urine storm of unfulfillment.
They ended up going into Homo Erectus Bar, one of the only gay bars in town, really. It wasn’t intentional, but neither seemed to mind as it was still early and the scene hadn’t quite taken off yet. “What happened back there?” Étienne demanded, once they had both taken the necessary amount of sips from their beverages to communicate at their most effective.
Elisabetta shrugged. “I just thought…I don’t know. That I would feel something more intensely after wanting to see it for so long.”
“Maybe we should go back. You should see it again without having any expectations.”
She sighed. “I tell myself all the time that I’m not going to have expectations. But there they are always dormant in the back of my mind, cropping up when I’m finally ready to process that I’ve been disappointed.”
Étienne averted the rapey eyes of the bartender, who seemed overly eager to refill his barely half-empty drink. There had been a time that he and Elisabetta might have been more than friends, but the ship had sailed after he had waited too long to make a move, and now he rather wished that he had so that he could have some excuse to kiss her and make the bartender’s penetrating stare vanish. But that was neither here nor there in terms of seeking to help Elisabetta with her problem.
He chugged the rest of his drink and said, “I know what we can do.”
As night began to fall, and the statue continued to draw a barrage of ogling eyes, Étienne dragged Elisabetta back to the scene and instructed, “Get your camera ready, you’ll know when to take the photo. Just be quick.”
“What are you going to do?” Elisabetta asked, somehow already knowing the answer.
Without responding, Étienne ran up to the gate, pulled his pants down and proceeded to emit one of the most forceful streams of urine Elisabetta had ever seen. Frozen for a brief second before taking pictures and video, it was then she had several revelations: 1) Étienne had a penis that was sizable enough to be worth trying, 2) she needed to rethink her entire sculpture project and 3) she was experiencing the precise level of joy she had initially anticipated having upon seeing Manneken Pis for the first time.
As a number of other onlookers took their own photos of Étienne’s antic, he pulled up his pants abruptly, grabbed Elisabetta by the hand (very unsanitary indeed) and ran with her down the street to escape from any further scrutiny. To piss in statue form is art as Manneken Pis may have proven, but to know amour vrai is to fall in love with someone upon seeing them piss in public. Because it’s in that instant you realize they’re only doing it to bring you happiness–their own humiliation be damned.