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Roussillon: For Art and Authors

Roussillon is for Artists

The red hills of Roussillon appear seemingly from nowhere as you ride along the winding road of the Luberon. Once you see it clearly, you know this tiny village is not only unique, the Roussillon is for Artists. 

“How is it possible that so much red is in one place?” you ask yourself. The towns nearby have only slight tinges of red. Yet this place is like a stoplight — insistent that all who try to pass stay for a while.

It is evident that artists have forever loved Roussillon, but recently, I discovered how many authors passed this way … and stayed for a while.

Red hills of Roussillon
Red hills of Roussillon

Peter Mayle’s best-selling book, A Year in Provence, was inspired by Roussillon. As was Laurence Wylie’s book, A Village in the Vaucluse. Surprisingly, Samuel Beckett lived here, and his life in the 1940s village greatly affected his writing — most notably his most famous play, “Waiting for Godot” (En Attendant Godot).

I remember seeing “Waiting for Godot” many years ago at the Playmaker’s Theatre in Chapel Hill, NC. Season tickets to the University of North Carolina theatre took me to many performances by the renowned repertoire cast. “Waiting for Godot” was one of their best, to me. In its simplicity, the play spoke volumes about life.

Perhaps it was experiencing “Waiting for Godot,” that determined me to travel and to see the world.

Indeed, I was not going to spend my life “Waiting for Godot.” 

It is said that Samuel Beckett wrote “Waiting for Godot” because of a painting by German artist Caspar David Friedrich. Two people standing on the roadside are staring at the moon. Many critics say Beckett’s storyline is just as simple. The play is staged in one spot on the road beside a tree.

Caspar David Friedrich’s painting, which may have inspired “Waiting for Godot,”

Others who value Beckett’s work enough to award the playwright a Nobel Prize for Literature view the play as a masterpiece of post-modernism. Indeed, the artist paints a simple, somewhat vague picture of the village of Roussillon. However, the characters and their stories put meaning into life in and around the 1940s village and the War.

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For example, the character Vladimir speaks of ochre quarries and picking grapes for a man named Bonnelly. Tales of starvation, hiding in trenches, and threats of beatings are, perhaps, Beckett’s remembrances of time with the French  Resistance. The starving Lucky tied to paunchy Pozzo with a whip reeks of Nazi concentration camps. Beckett winds all these tales together with vaudevillian humor and mime.

Written in French

Perhaps the most astounding fact about Beckett, to this American who refuses to learn French, is that his most famous works were written in French. Yes, an Irishman from Dublin chose to pen in French because it was: “easier to write ‘without style.'” He felt he could write in a more colloquial style in French. To Beckett, English was too literal.

Beckett preferred to express himself in French even in his last work,  a poem entitled “Comment Dire.”

In 1988, Beckett was diagnosed with aphasia, defined as the “loss of speech, partial or total, or loss of power to understand written or spoken language, as a result of a disorder of the cerebral speech centers” (OED). Before he died, he regained his ability to speak and to read. His writing, again, showed his determination to understand the unexplainable. “Comment Dire,” with its dashes and repetitions, leads an artist to search for words compulsively. 

folie –
folie que de –
que de
comment dire

Samuel Beckett, “Waiting for Godot”



Day trip from Uzes to the Cevennes

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