Don Pedro’s encounter with the silent man

From washing dishes in a restaurant to sleeping with homeless people under bridges to holding banners for legendary mime Marcel Marceau, the revered philosopher. Father Pedro Serracino Inglott he led a very colorful life as he tried to make ends meet while studying to be a priest. The adventures of the young priest continue in this long reading of his biography PSI Kingmaker by daniel dough.

The Christ-Clown link between saintliness and madness, established by the great impressionist painter Georges Rouault, had been cemented as a hallmark of Peter’s ideals, so when news of the artist’s death broke, he was determined to attend the funeral.

On a dreary gray day in February 1958, television and radio broadcast vans began to assemble early in front of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés church for the state funeral while barriers were erected and the road closed to traffic. Serene, Peter tied the brown laces on his black shoes and entered the church as if he were an official attendant.

He sat about 20 seats from the front, looking up at the mosaic floors and opulent paintings on the ceiling. Rouault’s coffin, draped in black, was placed on a platform surrounded by lighted candles, and Peter thought he recognized the guests who filed in slowly, great artists no less than Picasso and Dali.

At 11am, the Requiem Mass for the revered 88-year-old Christian artist began, reliving Peter’s sadness at not being able to attend his own father’s funeral three months earlier.

After receiving the Eucharist, Peter, still lost in thought, headed down a different aisle and found himself sitting next to the legendary Marcel Marceau, history’s greatest mime.

Peter recalls: “As we were getting up to leave, Marceau grabbed my hand and said, ‘Georges, il etait un grand homme.’ He had gone to see Marceau, nicknamed The Man of Silence, perform and never uttered a word. He surprised me to hear him speak… So I told him: Yes, without a doubt, a great painter ”.

“He looked at me trying to guess my nationality. I told him that I had admired Rouault since my teens and then continued to look at Marceau as if to confirm that it was really him.”

Then he spoke again: ‘Yes. You guess right. I’m Marcel Marceau. When I started my career, few people attended my show. Then, they began to arrive slowly, except for the first three rows that would always be empty except for one person: Georges Rouault regularly reserved three full rows.

When the mass was over, Rouault’s coffin was carried out into the atrium for all who had gathered to pay their last respects to view.

Marceau and Peter stood side by side, listening to the praise for George Rouault.

An offer from Marceau

Like no one who misses an opportunity to speak to The Silent Man, Peter confided that he wished he could see Marceau’s shows more often, but couldn’t afford the admission fees as a senior at Oxford University.

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Marceau made him an offer: “Earn a few francs by carrying banners on stage for me.” Peter jumped on this idea and asked if the offer would still be open when he returned to Paris in seven months. Marceau nodded, smiled broadly, and shook Peter’s hand vigorously.

Peter smiles as he recalls his time on stage with Marceau on Rue Saint-Denis holding a funny sign to put the mime in perspective. Marceau had created this stage character, Bip the Clown, by weaving stories of Bip in love; Beep the lion tamer; Bip commits suicide, Bip is faced with a tough steak.

Peter liked the latter better because after the show the two of them always shared a big steak together.

Known as a place of prostitution and strip clubs, Rue Saint-Denis also contained trendy shops, bars, and bistros, where Peter hung around as a sandwich vendor advertising Marceau’s shows.

Maltese notaries making their way to offices in the area were mildly surprised to learn that Peter had taken a part-time job in that mischievous district. Archbishop Gonzi would probably have started a novena to Saint Denis himself to intercede with Peter’s two guardian angels to protect him from Parisian temptations on his own street!

Maltese notaries making their way to offices in the area were only slightly surprised to learn that Peter had taken a part-time job in that mischievous district.

Around this time, Peter was always short of money. His diet consisted of stale baguettes, vegetables, and fresh Camembert cheese. It was difficult. Sometimes precious money fell from the sky, like when his friend Mario Felice sent him a sum of money collected from his lawyer friends, since Archbishop Gonzi was not financially supporting his wandering seminarian.

Peter, however, did not hold a grudge. He was just determined to succeed even if it meant taking odd jobs, like washing dishes in a restaurant on Rue des Fosses: it allowed him to earn money, keep his hands clean, and provide him with hot meals.

Once the owner knew he could be trusted, he would let Peter sleep on cushions in the corner of the restaurant. Then, early the next day, he would rush out to mass at the Seminaire, invariably arriving five minutes late.

With the exception of Thierry Becker, who had been arrested with him during the protests to free Algeria, other seminarians never imagined that Peter was mistreating him, sleeping on stained parquet floors or with beggars under bridges. Peter loved to mingle with bums.

Although most were protectors of their territory, others were not. One homeless man in particular who was sheltering near Radio France spoke wisely about many philosophers and their concepts. Everyone knew him as Schophenauer, and Peter often went out of his way to share a snack with him.

Peter had heard him say that he would love to read Joseph Conrad’s Almayer’s Folly because it spoke more directly about the hypocrisy of the white settlers. So one day, when he was passing through the Saint-Ouen market, he picked up a worn copy and offered it to Schopenhauer.

Schopenhauer looked at it and said, “No, no, keep it: this is the first edition.”

Peter could hardly believe it was the first edition from 1895. It was difficult to convince him to keep it, but finally Schophenauer ruffled Peter’s red hair as a token of thanks and a token of enduring friendship.

For his part, Schopenhauer shared his excellent recipe for snails. Somewhere among Peter’s papers in the Rue d’Assas was a copy of this recipe handwritten and signed “for Saraceno” by none other than Schopenhauer himself. Peter was dedicated to his life and whenever he worked a shift at the restaurant handling the “empties”, Peter would discard a few empty wine bottles but keep others he liked, thinking he could whip them up if the opportunity ever arose.

That moment came when his sister Josephine, who was training to be a nurse at London’s Moorfields Eye Hospital, visited him in Paris for Easter.

Sharing an interest in avant-garde churches, Peter and Josephine traveled to Notre Dame du Haut in Beauchamp, the last hill in the Vosges, designed by Corbusier.

On her return from the country, seeing the large number of empty wine bottles Peter had accumulated in his attic, Josephine suggested they sell them. They dragged them north to the Saint-Ouen flea market and Josephine took over sales, convincing a grumpy shopkeeper to rent them a corner to display his wares: polished wine and liquor bottles and a damaged decanter.

He decorated half a dozen bottles with black pebbles and blue ribbons that fluttered in every breeze, and on the back a yellow flower and a holy image of Therese of Lisieux. Then they waited for the trap to spring.

A gentleman held an empty bottle of Johnnie Walker in his arms, then put six bottles of wine in a green bag. The bottle of whiskey that he put in his briefcase. “It is a present for my dear wife,” she told Josephine as she walked away from her, leaving them staring in disbelief at the fifty francs she had left in her hands.

The author Daniel Massa.The author Daniel Massa.

This is the third in a series of long weekly readings from Fr. Peter Serracino Inglott’s biography, PSI Kingmaker, to mark the tenth year since his death. The book will be available at the BDL book stand during the Malta Book Festival taking place this week at the Malta Fair and Convention Center (MFCC) in Ta’ Qali between 23-27 November.

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