I present to you a New Year’s card à la Godot.
First things first: In France people (wisely) don’t try to send Christmas cards in the hectic season of children, festive dinners, and holiday celebrations. Although France in some ways is not overtly religious, in other ways the French people express at least a cultural allegiance to their Christian roots, namely in many visits to cathedrals and other gorgeous churches in the country. I remember sitting on the floor in the pre-fire Notre Dame Cathedral, listening to choral music on Christmas Eve. So beautiful and ethereal in that glorious building. I was sitting on the floor because all the chairs were taken, hard to imagine in such a huge place.
Instead, French people send cards called Les Cartes de Voeux. These are cards to wish friends and family a Happy New Year, and they are sent all through the month of January. Bonne Année! (Happy New Year). Also, Meilleurs Voeux (Best wishes). Or Tout Mes Voeux (My Very Best Wishes). Here is a photo of a lovely and necessary card for Happy New Year.
READER: The thing is that Bonne Année translates literally as good year. Where is the new?
ME: The best I can tell you is that “new” is unnecessary. The good part is assumed.
READER: But in the adaptation of Lee Child’s Reacher, Reacher tells us that assumptions can kill.
ME: Or not.
READER: Or not.
The Times asked Beckett for his New Year’s hopes and resolutions at the end of 1983. He responded in a telegram: “RESOLUTIONS COLON ZERO STOP PERIOD HOPES COLON ZERO STOP BECKETT”
Interesting how conflating hope and waiting is an intriguing proposition. Both orient toward the future with some kind of resolution (not New Year’s type) in the offing. But what if the secret of waiting is really repetition. Every minute of waiting (and of hoping) we repeat waiting and hoping. At some point we stop waiting and hoping for, say, the traffic to thin, since we have finally arrived, and start waiting and hoping for something else. What if the play were called, “Hoping for Godot?” (Meh.)
Here’s another card, drawn by our own Yasmin Hollis.
Even Beckett himself had fallen prey to waiting and hoping. Here’s what he said on that subject. “Funny to complain about silence when one has aspired to it for so long. Words are the only thing for me and there’s not enough of them. Now it’s as if I’m just living in a void, waiting.”
Perhaps he’s waiting for another carte de voeux?
Here’s another advocate of silence, Juan Rulfo, author of newly translated Pedro Páramo. In the January NY Times Book Review his work is described this way: “His prose is spare, almost frugal; his sentences are full of staccatos, his dialogues full of pauses. ‘Yo creo en el silencio,’ he said in an interview. ‘I believe in silence.’” Remind you of anybody?
Pedro Páramo, first published in 1955 and recently translated by Douglas J. Weatherford, tells the story of the mingling of the living and the dead in the most matter of fact way, as if this were the stuff of everyday life. And perhaps it is! Juan Preciado promised his mother on her death bed that he’d go find his estranged father in their hometown of Comala. And what does he find? Read on! Here’s a passage from the novel. “This town is filled with echoes. It’s like they were trapped behind the walls, or beneath the cobblestones. When you walk you feel like someone’s behind you, stepping in your footsteps.” Some of our greatest writers extoll this book as a masterpiece: Jorge Luis Borges, Carlos Fuentes, Susan Sontag, Gabriel García Márquez, and even Uncle Amazon, who writes glowingly about this novel, saying, “A masterpiece of the surreal that influenced a generation of writers in Latin America, Pedro Páramo is the otherworldly tale of one man’s quest for his lost father.”
The moment last month that I found out about this new translation of Pedro Páramo, I was deliriously happy. We’d receive another view on the nuances of this matter of fact, lyrical, surreal story. The rightness of Rulfo’s approach is similar to the way JK Rolling created a wizarding school for wizards. Of course, wizards would go to school there. Where else would they go? For Christmas, I received the name of the book, Pedro Páramo, etched on the bottom of a tube of wrapping paper, promising me the book in the middle of January. Who wants to join me in reading this slim volume of 144 pages? (And by the way, this title will go on the list I’m compiling of short books, novels and non-fiction, for our readers. Send me any ideas!)
READER and ME: Tous mes voeux!