Irish, French mark Beckett's birthday in Paris

12th April 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 13, 2006 (AFP) - In a scene that might have appealed to Samuel Beckett's sense of the absurd, French and Irish fans marked the writer's 100th birthday Thursday at his grave topped with a bowler hat, flowers and a banana.

PARIS, April 13, 2006 (AFP) - In a scene that might have appealed to Samuel Beckett's sense of the absurd, French and Irish fans marked the writer's 100th birthday Thursday at his grave topped with a bowler hat, flowers and a banana.

"This event is about looking. About looking back. Looking out. About remembering ... about remembering forwards, about seeing the future," said coordinator Peter Mulligan, standing at the head of the grave.

Surrounded by the imposing gravestones of Montparnasse cemetery, about 40 people turned out to hear readings in both French and English, which dealt with Beckett's fundamental themes of birth and death.

Beckett, who was born near Dublin on April 13, 1906, was buried in a simple granite grave here after his death in December 1989.

Ever struggling to capture the bleakness and futility which he saw in the human condition, Beckett, who moved to Paris in 1937, wrote many of his most memorable works in French first, delighting in the economy forced on him by writing in a foreign language.

Those who marked the 100th anniversary of his birth here on Thursday, remembered a man, who despite being intensely private, was also incredibly generous and kind.

"Beckett was a writer who turned a relentless searchlight on the human condition, directly and courageously, making each of us confront our deepest selves with little help along the way except those flashes of black humour," said Ireland's ambassador to France Anne Anderson.

"He was a man who was as spartan as his plays, as flawed as every one of us, yet a man who was also loyal, kind and generous."

Although Beckett wrote many novels and poems, his first major success was the play 'Waiting for Godot' first performed in Paris in 1953 in which the characters, wearing bowler hats, meet on a road near a lone tree.

Critics were at first bemused by the minimalist play which threw out such theatrical conventions as a plot and an ending, but it was to become a huge hit running for 400 performances at the Théâtre de Babylone.

Many plays followed, some filled with grotesque, or handicapped characters such as 'Endgame' in 1957 and 'Happy Days' in 1963.

In 'Krapp's Last Tape' a feeble, nearly blind and deaf man lives in a squalid room, existing on bananas and on his birthday — "that awful occasion" — recording another tape of his life.

Beckett, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969, was "Irish by inspiration and in his imagination, his syntax and his cadence. He was deeply, pervasively Irish," Anderson told the gathering.

"But we know how French he was too. He loved France, he chose to live here, he wrote in French, he thought in French. So French and Irish we gather together to honour this great man."

Former neighbours from the tiny hamlet of Ussy-sur-Marne, outside Paris, where Beckett built a house on remote hillside in 1953, also came to pay their respects.

"He was very solitary and looking for peace and calm. But every Sunday when the children returned home from their catechism lessons, he always had chocolates and sweets for those who knocked on his door," said villager Paule Savane.

Mulligan, from the Irish Community Arts Project, based in the English city of Northampton, said he was delighted with the turnout at the low-key event. "I think he (Beckett) would have enjoyed it," he said.

Earlier, the Irish embassy hosted a breakfast with writers and academics paying homage to Beckett and the relevance of his work today.

Readings by the French actor Alain Paris and Irish poet Cathel McCabe brought Beckett's voice to life in the embassy, which he often visited to renew his passport.

And in another of the day's incongruous moments which would probably have tickled the Irish playwright, thick rashers of bacon, one of Beckett's favourite home treats, were served up in a sumptuous gold-painted salon.

"Marking his 100th birthday like this makes it sound as if he's past and gone. But for me Beckett is still 50 years ahead of even today's contemporary writers," said Marianne Alphant, curator at the Pompidou Centre who is co-organising a major Beckett exhibition to be held in March 2007.

The centenary was also being marked with a bigger festival in Dublin, where Ireland's Arts and Heritage Minister John O'Donoghue said Beckett was "unsurpassed at transforming the poetic metaphor into concrete reality".

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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