Desperately Seeking Samuel Beckett

A retrospective
Samuel Beckett in London. {hotograph by John Minihan.

Roger Boylan remembers Samuel Beckett twenty years after his death (via 3quarksdaily):
[...] It augured ill for my quest, Beckett having just lost his wife of nearly 30 years and companion of far longer. But, impelled by the momentum of indecision, I set off for the nursing home anyway. It was nearby, in the general neighborhood of the Parc Montsouris. The sky descended suddenly, as it does in Paris. It drizzled, then poured, then drizzled some more. A short walk along the Boulevard Raspail (location of the defunct Théâtre de Babylone, where in 1953 Waiting for Godot was first performed, after being rejected by 35 directors), then down a side street—one of those sudden oases of bourgeois silence in the bustling metropolis—took me to the nursing home, a nondescript building of four stories plus mansarde, its reception area visible through a plate-glass door. A professional-looking woman in a white coat sat behind the plate glass. Older people were visible inside, moving about. I imagined board games, TV, bingo. Tired and nervous, I dithered, had a smoke and considered leaving. It was drizzling hard. I was distracted by a fine silver Porsche parked across the street. I also had that train to catch. Should I go in and boldly inquire, or find a phone booth and call? I imagined the possibilities for misunderstanding over the phone, and fell prey to a Beckettian reluctance to act.

I was about to leave when—there he was. He came from the direction of a pharmacy on an adjoining sidestreet, walking with the deliberation of the aged, head bowed slightly, looking down at the reflection of his feet in the wet pavement. Mourning Suzanne, life, himself? He walked into the nursing home. I dawdled for a few minutes, then left to catch my train. I had a wonderful time in the Dordogne. Beckett died six months later.

I subsequently learned from those who knew him that he was as content in that nursing home as one of his temperament could be in such a place: He had plentiful whiskey (Jamesons, Tullamore Dew) and smokes (Havanitos Planteros cigarillos), a TV, select books (mostly collections of English verse, plus Dante), a stereo on which he could listen to his beloved Schubert, and a small ground-floor room facing onto a courtyard. He reminisced about the youthful days of his walks in the Dublin hills, according to visitors such as the poets John Montague and Derek Mahon. Like all old people, Beckett went back, in his mind. Like all old people—like his own creations Krapp, Winnie, Hamm, etc.—he was, in the end, alone. And like all old people, he welcomed the rare visitor. It would have been my opportunity. But I was too young to understand old age except as something to be pitied. So what would I have said?

Many years later, I did finally visit him, where his remains and Suzanne’s lie in the Montparnasse cemetery, under a slab of granite upon which, when I was there, admirers had deposited an unused Metro ticket; a used Dublin bus ticket, one-way to Foxrock; and a packet of Havanitos. I left nothing. Except, perhaps, a stain upon the silence. [Read the article]

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