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Saturday, September 5, 2015


Samuel Beckett, Nobelist Literature at his favorite cafe in Montparnasse in 1985.
Iconic photograph by John Minihan.
Raymond Federman on Samuel Beckett, Nobel Prize winner over coffee
“The last time I saw Beckett, four or five months before he changed tense, we were having coffee together at the PLM café across the street from his apartment  building.  He had already moved to Le Tiers Temps (a hotel and medical retirement home not far from where he lived) but when he felt well he would go out for a walk or to check his mail.  

I was sitting by the window when I saw him walk across the street.  He looked frail, and seem to limp slightly.  He held my hand a long time as he greeted me.  We sat in silence for a while.  Then he asked about Erica (my wife), about Simone (my daughter) who had met him when she was twenty. About my stepson Steve the photographer.  I asked him if he was writing  anything.  He answered that he was trying to translate Worstward Ho into French, but that he was stuck.  I don't seem to be able to translate the title, he said.  Why don't you skip the title and go on with the text? I suggested.  Sam smile, the kind of smile that showed both hesitation and affection.  That would be cheating, he replied.

We finished our coffee, and then as I was walking with him to the nursing home, he suddenly stopped, placed his hand on my shoulder and asked: Do you remember that poem by Mallarmé, Le vierge, le vivace et le bel aujourdhui ...  I nodded.  And then, right there in the middle of the street, Sam recited the entire poem to me.  I didn't say anything, but it became clear at last, as I had suspected all along, that each day he faced the sheet of paper Beckett endure the same white agonie Mallarmé reveals in that poem:

  Le vierge, le vivace et le bel aujourd'hui
  Va-t-il nous déchirer avec un coup d'aile ivre
  Ce lac dur oublié que hante sous le givre
  Le transparent glacier des vols qui n'ont pas fui!

  Un cygne d'autrefois se souvient que c'est lui
  Magnifique mais qui sans espoir se délivre
  Pour n'avoir pas chanté la région où vivre
  Quand du stérile hiver a resplendi l'ennui.

  Tout son col secouera cette blanche agonie
  Par l'espace infligée à l'oiseau qui le nie,
  Mais non l'horreur du sol où le plumage est pris.

  Fantôme qu'à ce lieu son pur éclat assigne,
  Il s'immobilise au songe froid de mépris
  Que vêt parmi l'exil inutile le Cygne.

I shall never forget Sam standing there in the middle of the street reciting these lines to me, and pausing imperceptibly on the white agonie.  The greatest gift I have ever received.   And then as we parted he said:   Parfois tu sais, Raymond, c'est pire de ne pas écrire que t'écrire. 

We embraced.  And I watched the door close behind him.  My nose was running.  My eyes were running too.  I wiped my face with the sleeve of my coat.  I didn't have a handkerchief.” –Paris, 1989.


Nancy Astor to Winston Churchill
“If I were your wife I would put poison in your coffee.

Winston Churchill to Nancy Astor
“If I were your husband I would drink it.”

Ernest Hemingway, author
“It was a pleasant cafe, warm and clean and friendly, and I hung up my old water-proof on the coat rack to dry and put my worn and weathered felt hat on the rack above the bench and ordered a cafe au lait. The waiter brought it and I took out a notebook from the pocket of the coat and a pencil and started to write.”

T.S. Eliot, poet
“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”

Henning Mankell, author of One Step Behind
“Police work wouldn’t be possible without coffee,” Wallander said. “No work would be possible without coffee.” They pondered the importance of coffee in silence.

Deepak Chopra, author
“Karma is experience, and experience creates memory, and memory creates imagination and desire, and desire creates karma again. If I buy a cup of coffee, that's karma. I now have that memory that might give me the potential desire for having cappuccino, and I walk into Starbucks, and there's karma all over again.”

David Lynch, film director
“I like cappuccino, actually. But even a bad cup of coffee is better than no coffee at all.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.. writer, physician
“The morning cup of coffee has an exhilaration about it which the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce.”

Anne Morrow Lindberg, author
“Good communication is just as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after.”

Julie Roberts, Actress
“I love going to coffee shops and just sitting and listening.”

Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks
“Certainly the caffeine in coffee, whether it's Starbucks or generic coffee, is somewhat of a stimulant. But if you drink it in moderation, which I think four or five cups a day is, you're fine.”

Lousia May Alcott, author
“I’d rather take coffee than compliments just now.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, author, poet, essayist
“ Tobacco, coffee, alcohol, hashish, prussic acid, strychnine, are weak dilutions.  The surest poison is time.”

John Grisham, author of The Confession
“You need some coffee, don’t you?”
“Yes, I’ve only had a gallon.”

Clark Gable, actor
“I never laugh until I’ve had coffee.”

Samuel Goldwyn, film studio mogul
“Coffee is not my cup of tea.”

Murphy’s Law states, “As soon as you sit down to a cup of hot coffee, your boss will ask you to do something which will last until the coffee is cold.

Charles Talleyrand, writer, philosopher
"Coffee: Black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love."

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