Riding with Beckett
By Roger Boylan
A while back I was browsing automotive websites, as is occasionally my wont, and I came across an online ad for a well-maintained 1963 Citroen 2CV, a car I’ve always admired for its quirkiness and personality and simplicity of design. A normal car of that type and vintage–it must have been 40 years old at the time, with 80K+ kms. on the clock–would have fetched little more than pocket change, regardless of its condition. But this was no normal car. It had belonged, said the online tout, to “the Irish author Samuel Beckett, who wrote Waiting for God.” (Well, close enough.) Beckett died in ’89, following his wife Suzanne by a few months. They were childless; the car was their sole survivor. And there it was, online; hence the startling starting price of several (five, I think) thousand euros. And it sold, too, within days, to an anonymous buyer, who has remained anonymous.
Not Beckett’s car, but rather one similar used as an example
Beckett, an Irishman who lived in Paris, was raised on long walks in the Dublin hills and preferred that method of locomotion to all others, although as a boy he wrecked a motorbike. He owned no vehicles for the first twenty years of his lifelong residence in Paris; with his feet and the Metro, he didn’t need one. Anyway he was broke, or virtually so, despite–or because of–having written a couple of brilliant comic novels (Murphy and Watt). Then came his famous play Waiting for Godot, but it was more of a critical than a financial success, at first. Not until he was well into his fifties could he afford a car, and by then he needed one to drive from Paris to his newly built country house at Ussy, about thirty miles away. With his working-class sympathies he unhesitatingly went for the French blue-collar workhorse: the 2CV. He bought a new one in 1963. The color suited him fine. To paraphrase Henry Ford’s comment on the always-black Model T: You could have any color you wanted, as long as it was gray. Beckett liked gray. It matched the Paris sky most days, except in summer, and it suited his temperament.
Beckett drove his “Deuche” for 20 years, mostly to and from his country house (a very modest place, more like a cottage than a manor), and to the train stations and airport to pick up visitors. He maintained the car meticulously, and once sprained his arm when he fell into the oil pit at a local service station because he’d just thought of something the mechanic should check for and, in his haste, lost his footing. Another time he drove from Frankfurt to Amsterdam at such (relatively) high speed that he was stopped in Holland by a policeman whom he initially addressed in German, only to find himself threatened with a hefty fine; after switching to French, he received nothing but apologies and wishes for a pleasant journey. “The Dutch still don’t like Germans,” explained his passenger, a German.
In the early 1980s, the garagiste in Ussy who routinely serviced Beckett’s car, who was also the local Citroen dealer, tried to persuade his Nobel-Prize winning customer of the virtues of trading in the old motor for a newer model. Beckett’s 2CV was by then 20 years old and getting a little creaky, but still ran well, and he was attached to it. When the dealer offered him a good trade-in price, Beckett warily inquired what color the new car was. “Yellow,” was the response. Beckett recoiled. “I could not drive a yellow car,” he said, firmly.
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