Cahiers Simenon 8, 1994
Why Maigret Drinks Beer
Georges Simenon[original French]
One of the questions that is most often put to me, and to which, in the beginning, I hardly found a satisfactory answer, is, "Why does Maigret drink beer?" Since Maigret was born in a place in the countryside of France which produces a pleasant little white wine, and lived customarily in Paris, where aperitifs are favored.
Most often I answered, "Would you rather see him drink crème de menthe or anisette?"
It's a mistake to believe that an author deliberately decides that his character will be built in such-and-such a way, will have such-and-such taste. The creation of a character is a rather mysterious thing, that happens for the most part subconsciously.
To be quite straightforward, I could have said, "He drinks beer because he can't do otherwise than to drink beer. Why do you have a long nose? And why do you eat French fries with most meals?
However, recently I went to Liège, for too brief a stay, unfortunately. But this briefness was only apparent. Indeed, during the weeks, months that followed, a thousand details buried in the deepest part of my memory came up again to the surface.
For example, I saw once more the Rue de l'Official, where the good old Gazette de Liège had had its offices at the time when I was a young reporter. I saw the Violet, where I had gone nearly daily, and the central police station.
Because of that, since then, back here, I've come to retrace paths that the young man in the beige raincoat made long ago.
Yes! Around noon, I'd stop at that place... And at five in the afternoon, nearly each day, I'd meet a friend at another. Three places in all, that I'd nearly forgotten, but that I see again today with a photographic precision, and of which I can even recover the odor. Three places where, as if by chance, I'd gone to drink beer...
One was a café at the bottom of the Haute-Sauvenière, a clean and quiet café only frequented by habitués, (I was going to say insiders), and, for the most, they each had, in a glazed cupboard, their personal glass, marked with their number, beautiful footed glasses that held one liter, in which they tasted with respect their clear beer.
My five o'clock appointment was in another café, not far from there, just on the other side of the Royal Theater, the Café de la Bourse, where customers, still the same, at the same marble tables, played cards or backgammon [le jacquet], and where the patron, in the morning, in shirt-sleeves, spent more than an hour lovingly cleaning the tubing of his beer pump. It was he who one day explained to me the importance of this operation, which he wouldn't entrust to any of his waiters.
The third... Why, it was in the shadow of the city hall, a dark, downstairs room, that a passer-by would have had little luck to notice and where there were never more than two or three customers at a time. Beer was served there by a strong blonde woman out of a picture by Rubens, who sat down at your table and drank with you while laughing with good indulgent laughter at your jokes. It didn't go any further. And she was the ideal companion to help you to savor a draft demi.
Why does Maigret drink beer?
I believe that these three pictures provide the answer to that question, and I would probably never have thought of it without my recent journey, and without the unforgettable supper that I had there, with my colleagues, in a sort of beer sanctuary, the Brasserie Piedbuf, in Jupille, where I found once more, not only my old friends of yesteryear, but young people who came then, at the same time as that good odor of fresh beer that remains for me the very fragrance of Belgium.