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And There Was Much Rejoycing
If you can't make it to Dublin for the 100th anniversary of Bloomsday, the Bay Area is a brilliant place to be.
by lisa ryers on Nov 08, 2004
Ernest Shackleton's miraculous Antarctic survival. Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart in their flying machines. Apollo 11 touching down on the moon. Of all epic 20th century voyages, there is arguably none so devotedly celebrated around the world as Leopold Bloom's 24-hour wanderings through Dublin, Ireland.
Bloom, of course, is the fictional protagonist of Ulysses, James Joyce's masterpiece and homage to his hometown first published in 1922. Instantly decried as profane, the book was banned in the United States until 1933. In a ruling to overturn the ban, Judge John Woolsey wrote, "Ulysses is not an easy book to read or to understand…although it contains many words usually considered dirty, I have not found anything to be dirt for dirt's sake."
This year is a special one for Ulysses' protagonist Leopold Bloom: June 16 marks the centennial of his journey, which in the book takes place in 1904. Joyce based Bloom's meanderings on a certain ancient Greek tale of a Trojan war hero who zig-zags his way home through monsters, angry deities, and other road hazards. Read Homer's Odyssey first and you'll recognize the triumvirate that Joyce invented: Bloom, the Dublin ad salesman of Hungarian/Jewish extraction, as the King of Ithaca; Stephen Dedalus, a hopeful writer, is Telemachus, Ulysses' son; and Molly Bloom, Leopold's adulterous wife, is a modern version of Ulysses' wife Penelope.
Long regarded by the British as a redheaded literary stepchild, Ireland's four million people use Bloomsday as the one point during the year when they can fight (or write) toe to toe, as well as a great excuse to throw a rowdy costume party. Call it a cross between Halloween and the Easter Rising.
One reason Ulysses was initially banned was Leopold Bloom's unvarnished participation in Dublin life: he eats with relish, he lusts, he talks about his farts. Literature wasn't supposed to be so lowbrow. As you might expect whenever the lowbrow and the high-minded come together in celebration, the Bay Area is more than happy to celebrate. With our thick Irish bloodlines and love of costumes, there should be plenty of revelry around town. Here's a thumbnail guide to this year's major Bloomsday events:
* <a href="http://www.oreillysirish.com ">O'Reilly's Irish Pub</a> in San Francisco's North Beach will host a "Joycean Breakfast," starting at at 8 am. Diners will be treated to thick sautéed giblets, black and white pudding, Irish Bacon (rashers), calf livers, and "Salpion of Nutty Oatmeal Gizzards," among other delicacies. Throughout the day, O'Reilly's will air recordings of Irish actors reading Ulysses. At 7 pm local actors will bring the text to life in a dramatic performance, accompanied by violinist John Creighton-Murray. Audience members are encouraged to attend in Edwardian costume. At the end of the evening, the proprietors will award a prize for best male and female costume. The cost of entry is $15 advance, $20 at the door. Cost of admission includes a glass of wine or 20-ounce pint of black and tan. 622 Green Street, SF, 415.989.6222.
* <a href="http://www.milibrary.org">The Mechanic's Institute Library</a> will commemorate the anniversary with readings and the film "Joyce to the World," an homage to all things Bloomsday. The film's co-producer Diana Wynne attended her first celebration in 1991, inspired by the readings given at the now defunct Carroll's bookstore in Noe Valley. She calls the book the "greatest novel of the 20th century," and the film argues that her opinion is a global one. For two years, the producers tracked 30 Bloomsday celebrations around the world: San Diego's version atop a double decker bus; a Japanese recreation of Bloomsday that traded tweed suits for silk kimonos; celebrations from Greece to Brazil. "Joyce to the World" will show at 12 pm and 8 pm. The events are free to members and $5 for non-members. 57 Post Street, SF, 415.393.0100.
* If you want to bone up for next year's Bloomsday, <a href="http://www.unex.berkeley.edu">University of California at Berkeley Extension</a> is offering a class entitled "The Craft of James Joyce: Ulysses." Beginning the first of June, the class will decipher the musicality, symbolism, and literary structure of Joyce's seminal work. The class lasts ten weeks and costs $350. 510.642.4124.
* For those who want to celebrate without leaving home, listen in as New York City's Symphony Space, home of Selected Shorts, presents 12 hours of live readings from Ulysses. The show will be broadcast on radio station WBAI in New York and streamed on the Web at <a href="http://www.wbai.org/">wbai.org</a>. For a less hallowed interpretation, rent the Rodney Dangerfield film Back to School and fast forward to the final scenes. You'll watch English professor Sally Kellerman read the last page of Joyce's work, you'll hear Rodney Dangerfield's orgasmic response, and you'll either want to run out and get the book or just run out.
* If you're lucky enough to celebrate Bloomsday in its city of origin, rest assured the Irish have anticipated your arrival. In fact, Bloomsday celebrations began three months ago. The first scene in Ulysses takes place in the Dublin suburb of Sandycove, atop the Martello Tower. In February, the Tower opened to the public. Dublin's James Joyce Centre also hosts a variety of tours. You can retrace the steps of Leopold Bloom with a guide every Tuesday throughout the month of June. Every Saturday you can tour the home made infamous in Joyce's short story "The Dead." For the entire roster of events in Dublin, visit <a href="http://www.rejoycedublin2004.com/">rejoycedublin2004.com</a> .
* More resources:
<a href="http://www.iaf.org/">Irish Arts Foundation</a>
<a href="http://www.newcollege.edu/">Irish Studies Program at New College</a>
<a href="http://www.irishcenter.org">United Irish Cultural Center</a>
<a href="http://www.jamesjoyce.ie/">James Joyce Centre, Dublin</a>
by lisa ryers on Nov 08, 2004