Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Happy 110th birthday, Georges!

This year marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of one of Liège's most famous sons, author Georges Simenon. What better way to pay homage than a short walk around the major sites of his young life in the southern Belgian city.

Start at 24 (formerly 26) rue Léopold, where Georges was born on a rainy night. He is famously said to have been born on Friday the 13th, 1903, but his superstitious mother insisted that his father register the date of birth as the 12th.

On the wall in front of the nearby Hôtel de Ville, on the Place du Marché, check out the memorial plaque to Commissaire Arnold Maigret, whose surname may have been appropriated for Simenon's greatest creation: Chief Inspector Jules... Simenon will no doubt have been aware of the real Maigret when he started work as a young reporter on the Gazette de Liège newspaper.

From here cross over to quirky Outremeuse, over the Pont des Arches - the title of Simenon's first novel - via the Eglise St-Pholien, which became the inspiration for another early book when his friend Kleine was found hanged from the front door.

Behind the St-Pholien church, on Impasse de la Houpe, the infamous group La Caque ('the keg') - named for its cramped circumstances - hung out, indulging in drink, drugs and sex. I'm tickled by the pride the town takes in Simenon's experience on rue Capitaine, where the man who later claimed to have bedded 10,000 women handed over a watch he had been given by his father to sleep with a prostitute.

The island of Outremeuse has a strange, otherworldly reputation in Liège's folklore and the family moved here a year after Georges was born. The atmosphere of the house in the rue de la Loi, next door to Georges's school, permeates much of Simenon's work, from the autobiographical Pedigree to one of the most famous romans dursStain in the Snow.

If you continue to the place du Congrès, you'll spot a bust of Simenon, not far from the Chapelle de Bavière, where young Georges served as an altar boy. He would have to leave home at 5.45am, arriving out of breath as he ran, frightened, all the way in the dark.

Running away is the a central theme of all Simenon's work and he, too, left the city, following the deaths of his father and Joseph Kleine. On 10 December 1922 he took the night train to Paris, the city where he would plot his fame and fortune.

You can hire an audioguide to Simenon's Liège for €4.50 at the local tourist office, which also provides a map of the route.

Related post: Simenon's Paris