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Reflections on Doing Less With More


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THEY were making a movie, but it seemed more like an invasion. Trailer trucks clogged three full blocks along Hudson Street in Manhattan's West Village, supporting a small army of operatives and technicians. Wires and cables overran the sidewalk, and klieg lights assaulted nearby apartments and shops. A small fortune was being spent to produce a minor scene in a local deli. It would probably be a few minutes on the screen, if that. So much paraphernalia and money to achieve so little. As imperious assistant producers shooed residents off the sidewalk (``We're filming here.''), I thought of an individual who captured scenes in a very different way.

It was Georges Simenon, the Belgian author who had died just a few weeks before. Simenon was a prolific writer, with over 400 books to his credit. He was best known for the Inspector Maigret mysteries, which were translated into 32 languages and have filled the empty hours of train journeys and sleepless nights for millions around the world.

The Maigret mysteries are unlike just about everything in the American crime-writing tradition. There are no chase scenes or gore, no low-life glamour or leggy blondes on the detective's arm. Where Phillip Marlowe and Sam Spade are hard-fisted, Lone Ranger types who live on the fringes of society, Maigret is a bureaucrat, a French civil servant, who muses on retirement as he does paperwork at his desk. A hulking bear of a man, he is a loyal husband who craves nothing so much as to leave the office on time to spend a quiet evening with Mme. Maigret.

Simenon was what might politely be called a ``man about town,'' no less after his marriage than before. In one view, the author created in Maigret the steady domestic character that he himself perhaps wished he could be. Today the Old World domesticity - the sense of life rooted in tradition and culture - is part of the appeal of the Maigret mysteries in an age in which things seem to be coming apart.


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