Evenings in Paris
By the time I arrived on the scene, Sam and Dick were already good friends and working together. I had read Dick’s essay on Beckett. Dick and I had been going out for a few weeks when he invited me to see Waiting for Godot, which was playing in a small theater on the Left Bank, the Théâtre de l’Odéon. I accepted with a certain trepidation, since I somehow didn’t feel prepared for what I was about to see, and the French critics had called it very difficult.
There were no more than twenty or thirty people in the audience. To my surprise, I loved Godot—how could you not? Dick was beaming. I guess this had been a test and I had passed. We were married shortly thereafter.
Less than ten years later, En Attendant Godot was revived at the Odéon, this time with Giacometti. Beckett invited us to come to Paris for opening night. The theater was packed, and Godot was a triumph. Paris’s uptight, snobbish theater audience was finally welcoming the playwright with a standing ovation. The playwright, however, in the meantime was waiting for us at the Coupole, his head buried in his hands. We arrived with Giacometti. “Wonderful new production, Sam,” we said, hugging him.
“How can you say that? How can you possibly like this play? All I can see is what’s wrong with it; it’s a bad play.” Nothing we offered brought him out of his funk, not even Irish whiskey.
When Sam and Dick worked together translating, I would pick them up at the end of the day, and the three of us would walk up to one of Beckett’s favorite restaurants, Les Isles Marquise, on Boulevard de Montparnasse. He felt comfortable there and always headed straight to his table at the far end of the dining room, where he ordered a filet sole grillé. Dick had a way of making Sam laugh, and Sam always insisted we finish off the soiree at the Falstaff, his favorite bar of the Boulevard de Montparnasse.
These animated evenings often went on till the wee hours of the morning. We always parted energized and exhausted, Dick and I hopping into a taxi while Sam disappeared into the night, always walking home, not always in a straight line.
One day, Beckett insisted we come to visit him in his country house, in a nondescript, rather gloomy little village an hour or so outside of Paris, where he would drive his tin can of a Citroën, to get away from the city bustle. Beckett’s house stood behind a walled enclosure at the back of a narrow garden with one or perhaps two scrawny trees, a virtual replica of Godot’s set. He seemed content. His house with a bed, a table, some chairs, a teapot, a few books, and his upright piano was all he needed.
We spent many hours listening to music and discussing it. He played the piano every day until arthritis made it impossible. He even went to Switzerland, where a famous hand surgeon operated on his hands, alas, to no avail. Sam was never able to play the piano again.
In the ’80s, after Sam’s wife Suzanne had died, and he himself had fallen ill, Jerome Lindon found him a good place where he could be taken care of. We went to see him there, and the last time Sam was waiting for us, statuesque and still very handsome, though thin, wearing a turtleneck, with a volume of Yeats’s poetry in his hands. He drank a glass of the Irish whiskey we had brought him, and we shared more than a few good laughs again. It seemed like old times, and for a moment Sam seemed to have regained his youthful energy. But suddenly, in that Spartan setting, it all looked painfully like the end of a Beckett play. He died shortly thereafter.