Day 71

Waiting for Samuel Beckett

by John Minihan, resin print, 1984

I failed to meet Beckett in Paris one time. Instead of the usual rigmarole with the free airport shuttle, the RER, then the Métro and finally out to wander les rues de Paris, I decided that time to get a real bus from Charles de Gaulle airport into town, a bus that you have to buy a ticket for, as I wanted to see a bit of the city on my way into it instead of being underground for up to an hour. But I reckoned without the notorious Paris traffic, and it was probably about one hour and twenty-eight minutes later before I hopped off the bus in an Lár, and what the Hell, I was on holidays, took a seat on the terrasse of one of the cafés at the side of Notre Dame Cathedral. [You have exceeded your italic limit for the day; speak English from here on in – Ed.]

What are US of Aers like? (Don’t answer that; it’s rhetorical. I wish Part-Time Wife was too.) Even when grown-up, civilised people point out to them the correct pronunciation of foreign words, they persist in their ignorant, original error. Have you ever heard them trying to say van Gogh?

So anyway, I sat there sipping my Orangina very slowly, trying to make it last as long as possible as I could not afford to take out another mortgage to buy another drink. We Irish are no good at this trick, which is second nature to Europeans (and I know what I am doing there). In pubs in Ireland, four of them can sit around one pint for hours on end if that is what it takes until it is time for them to do whatever it is they came out too early to do. But we, on the other hand, are guzzlers. We also get embarrassed when the waiter comes out to do his round of cleaning clean tables, collecting empties and lounging languorously by the doorway while he has a sneaky smoke. We presume he is hinting that we should either order another drink or hump off out of it and give the table to a real customer, but nothing could be further from his mind. He does not own the café and so does not care about total turnover, a customer who orders only one drink is as likely to leave him a tip as a custmer who orders twenty – maybe more likely, as the abstemious customer has some money left in his pocket – and the only thing on his mind is Marie-Louise and what she will be wearing when he meets her after his shift is over, and before his other shift begins. [He means ‘shifting’ Marie-Louise, Shirleen; do try to keep up! – Ed.]

For information for those of you Frenchily-challenged, be wary about leaving a tip if you are drinking on the terrasse of a café (I’ll pay for the italics myself!): you are already paying over the odds for your drink because of where you are sitting. There is a three-tier price structure in French cafés: comptoir, salle and terrasse, in ascending order. Thus standing at the counter drinking is cheaper than drinking at a table inside, and both are much cheaper than outside where the tourists sit getting fried in the Sun. Also, when you used to be allowed to smoke inside, it was unlawful to use an ashtray when drinking at the counter: you had to just drop your butt on the floor and stamp it out with your foot. This made sense as the cost of cleaning an ashtray would have had to be added to the price of your drink, thus making counter drinking more expensive. Ah, but all those folkloric gems are gone now because of the stupid smoking ban. What a loss to the World!

So I sat there uncomfortably at the side of Notter Dame, ignoring my drink and watching the people go by for about two hours. But Beckett failed to show up. I wasn’t too disappointed at this as I hadn’t arranged to meet him or anything. It had just struck me on the bus on the way in that he lived in Paris, and that there was therefore a chance that I would bump into him out on the street if he was out doing his shopping or something. But what a meeting of two great Irish writers it would have been, although Beckett is probably better defined as a French writer, maybe. His loss. Anyway, there are many similarities between us, but friends will know that I do not like to talk about my work for the Résistance during the War. (Not that war.)

The best story about Beckett is the time an interviewer wrongly assumed he was English, and said so during the interview. His answer is classic Beckett: minimalist, pithy and funny. It consisted of two words. “Au contraire,” is all he said by way of reply, and you can make of that what you will.

As for the best story about me. that remains to be seen. The time I ignored the Hedge in Pat’s Bar is up there, but there is life in the old chien yet, so we’ll leave the final decision to my executor. My literary executor, not the other one: she can make up her own stories.

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