Since I am too busy to write today AND I love James Joyce, here is some fun facts for you until I can get back to the usual dribble…..
Today is Bloomsday. On this day in 1904, James Joyce (books by this author) and Nora Barnacle went on their first date. Nora, who was from Galway, worked as a chambermaid at Finn’s Hotel in Dublin; she met Joyce on the 10th of June, but with one thing and another, their first date didn’t happen until almost a week later. They took a walk together in Ringsend, and may or may not have indulged in some hanky-panky, but either way it was the start of a romance that would last the rest of Joyce’s life — as Joyce’s father remarked when learning of Nora’s last name, “She’ll stick with him.”
Joyce commemorated the date in his novel Ulysses (1922), a retelling of Homer’s Odyssey set in contemporary Dublin, which took him seven years to write. The book recounts the events of a single day — June 16, 1904 — in the inner and outer lives of its characters; the book’s protagonist doesn’t show up until the fourth chapter, which begins, “Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod’s roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.” Joyce described Dublin in obsessive detail “to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the Earth, it could be reconstructed out of my book,” he told his friend Frank Budgen. He used a phone directory to provide the real names and addresses of Dublin residents; Leopold and Molly Bloom’s house, at No. 7 Eccles Street, has since been demolished, but its front door is displayed in the James Joyce Centre in Dublin.
The first celebration of the book, which has been called the greatest book of the 20th century, didn’t take place in Dublin, or even Ireland at all; it was a “Ulysses lunch” held in France in 1929, hosted by the book’s publisher, Sylvia Beach. The first “Bloomsday” was observed in 1954, on the 50th anniversary of the novel, when artist and publisher John Ryan led a group of writers — as well as Thomas Joyce, a dentist and James Joyce’s cousin — on a sort of drinking tour of Dublin in a couple of horse-drawn cabs. Like countless drinking tours before and since, this one didn’t complete its appointed course, its celebrants succumbing to the alcohol’s effects about halfway through.
Today, Bloomsday is celebrated around the world, often with a breakfast of fried kidneys kicking off the festivities, although there’s still something for the vegetarians: a Gorgonzola sandwich and “a nice salad” à la Bloom. Landmarks around Dublin are marked by brass plaques, and one Bloomsday tradition involves tracing Leopold’s steps as nearly as possible. In Szombathely, Hungary, which is the fictional birthplace of Bloom’s father, the day is celebrated at the Blum-mansion, once owned by a Jewish family called Blum. It’s also observed in Trieste, where Joyce wrote the first part of the novel; in Genoa, they’ve commemorated the book by reading the whole thing aloud, each section set in a different part of the city. Most places it’s celebrated by pub crawls, street festivals, Irish music and food, public readings and dramatizations of Ulysses, and of course a host of scholarly panel discussions; the last part, at least, would come as no surprise to the author. He once said, “I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of ensuring immortality.”