Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, a village not far from Aix-en-Provence. Its basilica is dedicated to Mary Magdalene and under the crypt there is a glass dome said to contain the relic of her skull. I should love to return to Aix-en-Provence, a very civilised small city. I went once and I have been trying to get back ever since. But I will pay my dues to the shrine. I have a devotion to Mary Magdalene: she is one of the startlingly radical aspects of the gospels, being among the first witnesses to the empty tomb. At the time women were regarded as worthless.
Also, if she can be identified with the sinner who washed Christ’s feet with her tears, her oiling of his feet was a gesture of gratuitous richness, a lavish reckless gesture of the sort the bookkeeping kind of Christian can’t handle.
Where would you stop on the way?
I could stop off in Paris. And Montpellier; it’s very much like Arles where Van Gogh had his stamping ground.
Who would be your travelling companions?
From the dead, Oscar Wilde and Constance Markievicz, the Irish revolutionary leader. Among the living, Jack Nicholson, who is the coolest man on the planet, I’m told, and has a demonic quality I would need in at least one of my travelling companions. Possibly also Edward St Aubyn, one of the finest post-war novelists. Someone once told me he has only two friends: Mick Jagger and Tom Stoppard; his list is short. He’s a heroin addict who’s recovered so he might also appreciate the redemptive aspect of the pilgrimage.
You can transplant your favourite pub, bar or restaurant onto the route. What is it?
The pub would be the King’s Arms in Oxford where I’ve spent so much of my life. I taught there, sang there, generally messed around there. It was owned by Wadham College, where I was. It is – or was then – a raffish kind of place which picked up raffish types, some of them dons. In the Seventies it was one of the first gay pubs; it became quite fashionable. I used to teach my tutorials in there … I don’t know how much the students appreciated it; they seemed to enjoy it.
As for a restaurant, it would be Le Procope, in Paris, where Voltaire and Co used to hang out and where I was taken when I was 16 and starving in Paris – I had hitch-hiked there and had no money. I was taken by a distant relation; it was where I first had snails. I ordered some more. Many years later I went back and told the story to the waiter and concluded, in my bad French with “and so I will have some snails!” His response: “We ’ave no snails.”
Camp under the stars, or find a church hall to sleep in?
I am very much not an outdoors person. I’d like a church hall with a four-poster and room service. If you find me a church hall like that I’d be delighted.
Which books would you take with you?
My favourite novelist is Proust, since it’s so enormous it would while away the journey. I’d like Terence Kilmartin’s version based on that of Charles Scott Moncrieff. People think Proust is very cerebral, but he’s also incredibly funny. His satire is so funny. There are rolling sentences which are so sinuous and sensuous. Proust’s mother was pregnant with him during the Paris commune and her shock at that may have caused his asthma. There is also a theory that his endless sentences might be a compensation for his breathlessness.
What Bible verse would you ponder as you walked?
John 1:14: “We have seen his glory, full of grace and truth.” That would do.
You stop in a church. What’s your go-to prayer?
Being a pessimist, it would be Psalm 130, the De Profundis. It’s recited at times of death and dying. I also love the sung version of the Salve Regina. It’s a lovely hymn. I can’t get enough of that song.
It’s your turn to cook. What’s your speciality?
I am a very poor cook but I do like porridge with blueberries, a taste I share with Alan Bennett. Since I can make it easily, I would go for that. Nothing too fancy. There’s a bit of a fetish around food these days: a slightly neurotic climate around the idea of food.
What’s the singalong to keep everyone’s spirits up?
The Internationale. I have to intrude some politics here. Avanti Popolo could be the follow up. I’m one of the few who knows the words.
You’re allowed one luxury in your bag. What is it?
A hundred Fry’s Chocolate Cream bars. I remember once I was ill and couldn’t write a review for the LRB and they asked what they could send. I said, two Fry’s Chocolate Cream bars. They sent them.
What would you most miss about ordinary life?
Emily Maitlis. She’s incredibly professional, an excellent journalist.
What would you miss least?
Restless leg syndrome. At a certain age, all men should have their legs permanently tied together. Or smartphones. I am very backward. They have brought about a tremendous social transformation … everyone is in their own space hunched over their own device. I would rely on smoke signals or semaphore.
Terry Eagleton’s latest book, Critical Revolutionaries, is published by Yale University Press
Image caption: By Rosa Luxemburg-Stiftung – Culture Wars – Kulturkriege. Luxemburg Lecture mit Terry Eagleton, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75091141
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