This is Samuel Beckett in 1971, on the streets of Santa Margherita Ligure. While he fingers his sunglasses, a perfect picture of thought, on his shoulder he touts an unstructured hobo bag. The bag is by Gucci, and it was the height of chic; after Jackie Kennedy bought six in 1964, many a beautiful person was snapped with their own. (In the late 1960s, Gucci rechristened the bag in honour of Kennedy – by that time ‘O’; it has since been known as the ‘Jackie’.)
Was this Beckett’s own bag? Hard to say. He was apt to feign what Terry Newman called ‘steadfast unfashionability’. When Trinity College Dublin awarded Beckett an honorary degree, he groused to a friend that he had ‘no clothes but an old brown suit’. But unfashionability is itself a pose, and quips like these, as Newman points out, were typical sly untruths. Beckett wore smooth suede moccasins, had a flair for black turtlenecks, used Brylcreem to slick back his severe hair. Then again, the photographer here was Lucio Berzioli, a trovarobe – a manager of theatrical props.
Whether it’s Beckett’s or Berzioli’s, the bag is invested with glamour. Beckett pushes it to the fore as he turns aside; we can see only part of his face, and it’s studiously unclear. He looks distracted, eyes on the shades. Those are nothing special, next to an elegant Gucci bag, but dark glasses are the icon of thoughts hidden in open view. If Beckett is playing the model, he’s already become one – or has he been honestly caught off-guard? You can read this image either way without quite finding your proof. What an alibi understatement is.
First published in Issue 202