The red hills of Roussillon inspire artists, but I had no idea about the likes of author Samuel Becket in Roussillon.
Riding through the winding roads of the Luberon, I was amazed to see massive red hills as I approached Roussillon. They seemed to appear from nowhere.
“How is it possible for so much red to be in one place?” I said to myself.
Soon, I learned how important the Red Hills are to Roussillon’s history. Like a stoplight, Roussillon bids that all who pass stay awhile.
You only have to look around to understand why artists love Roussillon. It was a surprise to me, however, to discover how many great authors passed this way.
For example, Peter Mayle’s best-selling book, A Year in Provence, was inspired by Roussillon. Laurence Wylie’s A Village in the Vaucluse was set there, too. It was the fact that Samuel Beckett lived in Roussillon that really surprised me. In fact, life in the 1940s village greatly affected his writing, most notably, his 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. With season tickets to the University of North Carolina theatre, I saw many famous plays by the renowned repertoire cast. To me, “Waiting for Godot” was one of the best. In its simplicity, the play spoke volumes.
Perhaps it was “Waiting for Godot” that convinced me I had to travel and see the world.
Indeed, I was not going to spend my life “Waiting for Godot.”
Samuel Beckett’s Roussillon
It is said that Samuel Beckett wrote “Waiting for Godot” because of a painting by German artist Caspar David Friedrich. The painting is of two people standing on a pathway staring at the moon to describe it simply. Beckett’s storyline has pretty much the same theme. The play takes place in one spot on the road, beside a tree.
The play is viewed as a masterpiece of postmodernism. Indeed, the author paints a simple, rather vague picture of the village of Roussillon. Some say the characters and their stories are straight from life in and around the 1940s village and the War.
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 own remembrances of time with the French Resistance. He pictures Lucky, a starving man, tied to a paunchy man with a whip, Pozzo — a scene that calls up thoughts of Nazi concentration camps. Beckett winds all these tales together with vaudeville humor and mime.
Written in French
Perhaps the most astounding fact about Beckett, to this American who refuses to learn French, is that he wrote his most famous works in French. Yes, an Irishman from Dublin chose to pen in French. To Beckett, English was too literal. He could write in a more colloquial style in French.
Beckett preferred to express himself in French even in his last work, a poem entitled “Comment Dire.”
In 1988, Beckett was diagnosed with aphasia, a condition defined as the “loss of speech, partial or total, or loss of power to understand written or spoken language, resulting from 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,” “How do you say,” with its dashes and repetitions, shows an artist’s everlasting search for words.
Samuel Beckett, “Waiting for Godot”