- A story is told about the Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti, whose leg was broken in a traffic accident. While lying in the street, waiting for the ambulance, he was heard to say, “Finally, finally, something has happened to me.”
I have long liked this quote, recently rediscovered in Momma and the Meaning of Life, and I hope to remember to exclaim Enfin quelque chose m’arrive! if I am ever struck by a car. The source of the story is Jean-Paul Sartre's autobiography, The Words.
- One evening, more than twenty years ago, Giacometti was hit by a car while crossing the Place d’Italie. Though his leg was twisted, his first feeling, in the state of lucid swoon into which he had fallen, was a kind of joy: “Something has happened to me at last!” I know his radicalism: he expected the worst. The life which he so loved and which he would not have changed for any other was knocked out of joint, perhaps shattered, by the stupid violence of chance: “So,” he thought to himself, “I wasn’t meant to be a sculptor, nor even to live. I wasn’t meant for anything.”
- Il y a plus de vingt ans, un soir qu’il traversait la place d’Italie, Giacometti fut renversé par une auto. Blessé, la jambe tordue, dans l’évanouissement lucide où il était tombé, il ressentit d’abord une espèce de joie: «Enfin quelque chose m’arrive!» Je connais son radicalisme: il attendait le pire; cette vie qu’il aimait au point de n’en souhaiter aucune autre, elle était bousculée, brisée peut-être par la stupide violence du hasard : «Donc, se disait-il, je n’étais pas fait pour sculpter, pas même pour vivre; je n’étais fait pour rien».
Sartre goes on: “What thrilled him was the menacing order of causes … the act of staring with the petrifying gaze of a cataclysm at the lights of the city, at human beings, at his own body lying flat in the mud: for a sculptor, the mineral world is never far away.”
This description upset Giacometti, leading to a “rupture” between the two, according to the evocative lot notes on a Christie’s auction of “La Jambe” (sold for $11,282,500).
- On the night of 18 October 1938, eight days after he celebrated his 37th birthday, Giacometti had dinner with Isabel Delmer, a married Englishwoman with whom he was having an affair. He was unhappy with this relationship and was undecided on whether he should continue it or break off with her. After walking Isabel to her door, Giacometti was making his way home along the place des Pyramides when a speeding automobile emerged from the rue de Rivoli, sideswiped the sidewalk and knocked him down, before passing under an arcade and crashing through a shop window. His right shoe had come off; his foot appeared misshapen and had begun to swell. A police car took him to the nearby Bichat hospital, together with the driver of the car, an American woman from Chicago, Mrs. Nelson, who was drunk but unhurt (she immediately afterwards skipped town and was never heard from again).
- “Sartre told his story of my accident the way it suited him. But it was completely different…. I accompanied my girlfriend on foot from the Café de Flore to the other bank of the Seine. Our relationship had been so unsatisfactory for so long that I had decided that evening to break with her. ‘I am losing my footing completely,’ I had said to her among other things. On the way back I was crossing the place des Pyramides looking for a taxi. A car came rushing at me across the square. I ran to the traffic island but that didn't help. I was hit, thrown down. I didn't feel the slightest pain, it happened so quickly. But I knew all the same that something had happened to my foot, because it was sticking out from my leg like a part of my body that didn't belong to me anymore…. It took a long time to heal. But it was a good time for me; hadn't I predicted or anticipated what had happened? Isn't it strange how something you say can come true like that? And once again my life took care of bringing to an end a situation which had become unbearable for me.”