Walking in the footsteps of Samuel Beckett in Paris 30 years after his death
"For you it's a set price - €90." I'm somewhat taken aback by the quote for a 6.5km taxi journey from Gare du Nord to the south of Paris city centre.
The Metro isn't running, again, because of the ongoing transport strikes and it's clear some of the less scrupulous cabbies are keen to cash in. With the queue for the "accredited" taxis 100-deep and the bus stops indecipherable to me, I resolve to walk through the chill Saturday night air to my hotel. After crossing the Seine and spotting the Eiffel Tower bedecked in festive lights with an impressive whirling beacon I'm glad that I did. It's chaos on the roads, even by Parisian standards and the long tooting of horns, rows of rear lights and electric scooters on the pavements have me whirling in all directions to avoid collision.
I'm staying at the Paris Marriott Rive Gauche hotel, the first stop on my list of destinations to visit as I attempt to walk in the footsteps of Samuel Beckett as the 30th anniversary of his death approaches. It's at this Left Bank address that the Irish novelist met his contemporaries and admirers in the cafe when it had been the PLM Hotel.
The swish festive decorations are a reminder that Beckett died just three days before Christmas on 22 December, 1989. Comparing a famous photograph of him taken here in 1985 it's clear that 30 years had changed the layout somewhat. High up on the 18th floor, I crane my neck over the grey looking landscape and it's possible to see parts of Beckett's old stomping ground of Montparnasse and Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
I begin the next morning determined not to be beaten by the travel chaos and pull up my socks for a long day of walking. My first stop is only a few hundred yards however, to nearby Avenue René Coty where Beckett passed documents to Jimmy the Greek while working for the French Resistance during the Second World War. As I approach, I realise that an island running down the middle of the road is named after the famously dour writer - Allée Samuel Beckett.
I head past Denfert Rochereau station where trains sit motionless and spot a woman halt her descent down the Metro stairs prematurely as she seems to remember half way that there are no trains today. Her look of absurd realisation wouldn't look out of place in a Beckett play.
As I turn into Boulevard du Montparnasse I find myself outside the glitzy La Coupole where Beckett would often dine. It's a more touristy venue today but it still has a sense of old world elegance and charm.
A workman hangs from the outside doing repairs at Le Falstaff - where Beckett drank with Irish journalist and film director Peter Lennon and poet John Montague - but it's Hemingway that is commemorated in the glass cabinet at the front of the bar where a boxing match he had with a Canadian journalist at the bar is recounted.
There's better tribute paid further down the boulevard at Tschann Libraire - which was instrumental in discovering and promoting Beckett's works - where a picture of his graduation is perched on top of the bookcases as you walk in through the entrance. I buy a copy of En attendant Godot (Waiting for Godot) which was written by Beckett in French.
My next destination takes me through Le Jardin de Luxembourg - constructed in 1612 - where Parisians are doing press-ups on benches, Tai Chi and jogging, as I saunter past them to Rue de l'Odeon. This is the former address of historic bookstore Shakespeare and Co before it moved to its current headquarters in the 5th arondissement and is where Beckett was published in the in-house magazine, alongside Jean-Paul Sartre.
Without the Metro it's been quite a hike but I'm determined to pay my respects to the man himself before heading back to the chaos of Gare du Nord and make my way to the Montparnasse Cemetery - where Beckett's simple grave is shadowed by the branches of a tall bare tree in the low light of late afternoon.
I'm in more of a rush than I had intended but pause for reflection - for a moment, the chaos of the strikes seem a lot less of an inconvenience.