Around France

Roussillon: For Art and Authors

Roussillon: For Art and Authors by the Barefoot Blogger

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 special.

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

It is obvious that artists have forever loved Roussillon; but just 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. Surprising to me, 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 the 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 entire play is staged in one spot on the road, beside a tree.


Caspar David Friedrich 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, rather vague, picture of the village, Roussillon.  It is the characters and their stories, however, that put meaning into life in and around the 1940’s 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. The starving Lucky who is 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 somehow 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.'” Meaning, he felt that 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, a condition defined as the “loss of speech, partial or total, or loss of power to understand written or spoken language, as a result of 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, shows an artist’s undying compulsion to search for words. 

folie –
folie que de –
que de
comment dire

(Madness – madness to – than how to say)


Samuel Beckett, “Waiting for Godot”



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