lunedì 16 maggio 2016

SIMENON SIMENON. MORE THAN JUST “PETITS FOURS” FOR THE MAIGRETS

What lies behind the scene of their first meeting in “Maigret’s Memoirs.”

SIMENON SIMENON. PLUS QUE DE SIMPLES “PETITS FOURS” POUR LES MAIGRET
Ce qui se trouve derrière la scène de leur première rencontre dans “Les Mémoires de Maigret.” 
SIMENON SIMENON. PIU' CHE DEI SEMPLICI "PASTICCINI" PER I MAIGRET
Cosa si trova "dietro le quinte" del loro primo incontro ne "Le memorie di Maigret"
 
The design of March 2015 of Giancarlo Malagutti for Simenon Simenon

Joan Acocella in a 2011 New Yorker article* reminds us of how some petits fours brought Maigret and his future wife together. “Appropriately, Maigret’s first encounter with this woman has to do with food.” I paraphrase and quote Acocella’s presentation of the scene from Maigret’s Memoirs this way: an “awkward” Jules stuffs himself with dainty pastries one after another at a party with the other guests “staring at him in disbelief.” Louise acts “to save his honor” by offering him even more goodies in an “act of grace” that says “he should have all the cake he wants.” Likening Maigret to “penniless and alone” David Copperfield, Acocella asserts “much of the time, he was hungry. (Hence the petits-fours episode.)”
To be sure, food is central to their first encounter, but my takeaway from the scene differs, primarily because of Maigret’s comments before and after he relates the anecdote in his memoirs. Ahead of time, he points out he has always been an overeater. Admitting to “an insatiable appetite, already legendary when I was a child,” Maigret documents this with his aunt’s frequent tale about how “she had seen me eat, upon coming home from school, a four-pound loaf of bread, which didn’t prevent me from eating dinner two hours later.
Then, in talking about his beginning years in Paris, he reports his “great concern was to satisfy that appetite in me.” He confesses how, as a cop on the beat, “I used to calculate my time to get the few minutes needed to buy and devour a piece of sausage or a slice of pâté with a bun on the sidewalk.” Most importantly, Maigret describes how eating comforts his anxieties: “My stomach content, I used to feel happy and full of self-confidence.” Thus, his gorging on petits fours at the party is “for support” in the turmoil of his psychological discomfort. In fact, he states emphatically, “I wasn’t hungry and I never liked petits fours.” My contention is that, here and elsewhere, a need for the boost food gives him is a determining factor in the eating and overeating patterns we commonly observe in Maigret.
In addition, I see Maigret recognizing Louise’s role as an enabler. Just as he is about to flee the party, he spots Louise across the room with “a gentle, reassuring, almost friendly expression. One would have said she had understood me, that she was encouraging me.” Suddenly, she’s standing before him with the “look of an accomplice” and more pastries to eat. Much later on, reminiscing as he writes his memoirs, Maigret speculates on how, if he had not eaten the pastries, she probably wouldn’t have noticed him. He goes on to affirm that basically she “was enchanted with the picture Simenon drew of her: “a good ‘granny’ always spoiling her great baby of a husband.” Is this the image of an enabler or not?
I’m not suggesting the Maigrets have major behavioral problems. Rather Simenon seems to merely show us the way food factors into their lives together. He eats (and drinks) a lot because he likes the good feelings he gets from food (and drink). She enables him because, kind, affectionate, and dutiful person that she is, she likes feeling good, too. It’s often hard to tell who depends more on whom.

David P Simmons

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