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Friday, May 04, 2007

What a Tourist I Must Have Been

Beckett fact no. 87.

‘What a tourist I must have been’, muses Molloy, remembering his trip to see the Tiepolo ceiling in Würzburg (above).

The young Beckett began his peregrinations with a bicycle trip around the Loire valley in 1928, as opaquely rendered in the juvenilium ‘Return to the Vestry’, and with it being about time these facts took a holiday I thought I’d do a European grand tour of Beckett associations. In batches of ten, beginning with the entirely obvious

1) Ukraine. Alain Bosquet, whose ‘Achetez mes soupirs’ Beckett translated as ‘Fresh sighs for sale’, was born there.
2) Hungary. Georg Tabori, a native Magyar, produced a liberty-taking Godot in Munich in 1984, staging the play as a rehearsal which mysteriously mutates into the play itself. As Jonathan Kalb notes in his ever-useful Beckett in Performance, it was the ‘only altered setting I know of that Beckett expressly tolerated’. Possible inspiration for Louis Malle and Andre Gregory’s Vanya on 42nd Street?
3) Romania. There’s Emil Cioran, yes, but also Marcel Mihalovici, who wrote an opera based on Krapp’s Last Tape and collaborated with Beckett on Cascando, an experience that may have pushed Beckett in the more overtly musical direction of his later work. And not forgetting the presumably pox-ridden Verolesco of Eleutheria. Unless he’s Moldovan. If not, Moldova can go hang, I’m afraid.
4) Speaking of countries that didn’t exist during Beckett’s lifetime except, no, wait, it did, I like the joke about a Hapsburg being told that ‘Austria-Hungary’ was on in the world cup, to which he replied, Who are we playing? Everyone’s favourite escsaped Beckett character Wittgenstein will have to do duty for Austria. Richard Wall has written a book about Wittgenstein in Ireland, but what I want to know is the timeline for the two men’s residential overlap. What are the chances they could have met in Dublin in the 1930s? Just long enough for Wittgenstein to tell Beckett the ladder joke that turns up in Watt, and which he claimed to John Fletcher was Welsh, not Wittgensteinian? He writes to Barbara Bray about reading the Austrian philosopher, but that’s many years later.
5) Spain. ‘Pues el mayor delito del hombre es haber nacido’, Calderón de la Barca declares in La Vida es Sueño, as quoted by Beckett in Proust. Beckett’s Spanish lecturer at Trinity College, Dublin was Walter Starkie, who chronicled his wanderings in Spain in Raggle-Taggle Gypsy. Brother of Enid Starkie and keen fascist.
Portugal. Favourite Beckettian holiday resort. Beckett picked up enough Portuguese to read thrillers in the language. For Cascais say KaSHAeesh.
Germany. This is a bit obvious, but I wanted to mention Theodor Fontane’s novel Effi Briest, much beloved of the Rooneys and Krapp, who imagines her ‘up there on the Baltic’. This gives me the opportunity to mention the Baltic states only to ignore them all the more forcefully. Somewhere I can extract an association from though is nearby Kaliningrad, which is in its pre-Soviet incarnation (as Königsberg) was the lifelong home of Immanuel Kant, who can also be found ‘froidement penché’ ‘sur Lisbonne fumante’ in a French poem, so there’s Portugal for you again.
Holland. The Van Veldes. Honthorst. Rembrandt. Ruysdael. Huysum. That enough Dutch genius for you? Happy now?
Sweden. Queen Christina of. Criminally early riser and consequent killer of Descartes thereby. Cf. Whoroscope.
10) Greenland. The spectator in Eleutheria accuses Beckett of being un juif Groenlandais mâtiné d’Auvergnat. A baseless charge.

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