Literary fun and frolics in Ireland
When a consensus of literary critics named James Joyce's "Ulysses" the greatest novel of the 20th century, it was the final accolade in the ascension of a book that could not find a publisher upon its completion.Skip to next paragraph
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Although it is one of the most complex novels ever written, tracing the travels of Joyce's Ulysses, aka Leopold Bloom, in his metaphoric odyssey to find his way home and reclaim his wife and son, Joyce chose as the timeline for this arduous journey a single day, June 16, 1904.
Such recognition for one of their own would have been reason enough for the Irish to celebrate - if they hadn't been doing it already, every June 16, on a day known as "Bloomsday."
"My friend," Oliver Grogan, said in answer to my rather naive comment about Dubliners' dedication to such a serious - and demanding - work of literature, "we Irish, we're inclined to celebrate any little happening."
Not that Dubliners were solely dedicated to using "YOO-lis-eeze" (as they say it) as just one more excuse to party.
I was chatting with Mr. Grogan, whom I'd met just minutes before at one of the stops along the route followed by Bloom during his journeys through Joyce's take on the Homeric world.
We were having Gorgonzola sandwiches on brown bread, the lunch Bloom himself has while he ponders the metaphorical significance of various gustatory choices.
Grogan was waiting for a woman he said had been showing up here for a dozen years to present her rendition of sections of the novel.
"She reads portions to the assembled multitude?" I asked.
"Nooo, sir," he replied. "She recites."
As I was leaving, the Bloomsday Messenger Bike Rally was pulling up in front: men and ladies in period dress, riding vintage bicycles. Each was sponsored by a local company to raise money for the Irish Youth Foundation.
You can begin your day with the annual Bloomsday breakfast at the South Bank Restaurant near the Martello Tower at Sandycove on Dublin Bay, about 10 miles south of Dublin, where the novel opens and we are introduced to Stephen Dedalus, Bloom's surrogate son.
While South Bank announces it will cater to offal eaters, you may prefer to be served a typical Irish breakfast of eggs, sausage, mushrooms, tomato, toast, and jam, than the over-roasted kidney Bloom cooked up for himself.
The Martello Tower was transformed into the James Joyce Museum in the early 1960s by Sylvia Beach, whose Shakespeare & Company bookstore in Paris published "Ulysses" in 1922, when Joyce could find no mainstream publisher who would touch it.
Among the museum's exhibits is a magnificent edition of the novel, illustrated by Henri Matisse. There are also letters, photos, the author's death mask, and some of his personal belongings. On Bloomsday, it is one of the many sites that feature readings. I heard the "Telemachus" chapter that opens the novel.