One of the high points of my undergraduate English degree was reading James Joyce's Ulysses. Certainly there's a climbing-Mount-Everest achievement / bragging rights aspect to reading the book - but it's also, once you figure out what's going on, lively, engrossing, and really funny. Underneath all the layers of experimental form, allegorical meaning, stream-of-consciousness monologues, and just plain hallucinogenic trippiness, Ulysses is about two men walking around Dublin on June 16, 1904. Even though (or perhaps because) he wrote the book in Switzerland and France, Joyce took great pains to recreate every detail of Dublin on that day, including accurate weather and transit schedules, news headlines, real people, and specific addresses and real-world locations. This specificity has meant that people can recreate the exact steps of where Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom went that day - and every June 16 in Dublin people do just that. It's known as "Bloomsday" and it's a sort of extra Saint Patrick's Day for literature nerds, with re-enactments of scenes from the book as well as quite a lot of eating and drinking Guinness. Bloomsday has also spread to other cities around the world, with locals finding places in their own towns that can stand in for the Dublin originals.
I attended several Bloomsday events in Toronto, where we followed a group of actors around the Beach neighbourhood for a few hours, starting at the spectacular R. C. Harris Water Filtration Plant and finishing at a pub (of course), with performances at various points along the way.
When I moved to Halifax, I was disappointed to find that there wasn't a regular Bloomsday celebration here. It seemed like an obvious place for it: with all of our universities, there should be a large enough crowd who would appreciate Bloomsday. More importantly, Halifax resembles Dublin quite a bit - it's also a harbour town, and a lot of the downtown was built up in a similar 19th century British Empire style. Most notably, we even have a Martello Tower, just like the one that Stephen and his friends are staying in at the beginning of the book.
Every year I think that I should organize some kind of big Bloomsday event, but event planning isn't really my thing. It's so easy to over-think something like Bloomsday - there's so much in the book, and so many different ways it could go. I imagined partnerships with pubs and libraries and schools, and perhaps even a performance of the crazy dream-metamorphosis play of the Circe chapter done by Shakespeare by the Sea and/or Zuppa Theatre. But every year June 16th would come by and I wouldn't have anything.
Two of the many things I learned from my experience with starshipsstarthere.ca were 1) social media and the internet in general can turn a solitary event into a larger shared experience, and 2) it's good to just get out there and do something as quickly and simply as possible without too much planning - it can always get fancier later on.
So when June 16 2015 found me without any pressing work deadlines as well as a bit of early morning insomnia, I decided to go do my own Halifax Bloomsday, visiting appropriate Dublin-1904-style locations on the Peninsula and sharing them with my followers on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. I didn't do any up-front planning, but this turned into a day-long adventure. I did at least one picture for each chapter in the book, with appropriate quotes.
So for the record, here are embeds of my Instagram pics with some details on what's in them.
Ulysses opens in a Martello Tower which has been converted to living quarters for some of Stephen Dedalus' friends, including "stately, plump" Buck Mulligan, who starts the book by climbing to a parapet with his shaving gear and humorously raising it to the sky like an offering to God.
The centrepiece of the network of fortifications in Point Pleasant Park is a Martello tower of the same style. It's now a museum, but it was closed at 8am on a Tuesday. So I offered my shaving cream and razor from the ground instead (using my iPad Mini instead of a mirror).
"He mounted to the parapet again and gazed out over Dublin bay, his fair oak pale hair stirring slightly. -- God! He said quietly. Isn't the sea what Algy calls it: a great sweet mother? The snot green sea! The scrotumtightening sea. Epi oinopa ponton. Ah, Dedalus, the Greeks! I must teach you. You must read them in the original. Thalatta! Thalatta! She is our great sweet mother. Come and look." #bloomsday #bloomsdayhalifax #thalatta #statelyplumpbuckmulligan
I got a nice view of the mouth of Halifax Harbour from the fortifications just downhill from the Martello - appropriately enough, the last time I had been there was to watch Shakespeare by the Sea's production of Hamlet. Buck Mulligan is a bit of a classicist and likes to talk.
The second chapter finds Stephen Dedalus teaching bored students, musing glumly about their lives as well as his own. There's so many literary fireworks in Ulysses, that's it's sometimes easy to forget how masterful Joyce is at straight-up prose. "The boy's blank face asked the blank window" is a really nice line, almost poetry.
After his class, Stephen Dedalus wanders the beach of Sandymount Strand, deeply lost in thought. Stephen is an intellectual - probably too much of one for his own good - and he is so consumed with the concept of the "ineluctable modality" (unavoidable changefulness) of things that he doesn't even notice that he's walked some distance into the water. I climbed on some rocks near shore to give the impression of being a bit out to sea.
This beach is much smaller than Sandymount, but it is only a short distance from the Martello.
"Ineluctable modality of the visible" is a favourite phrase of mine - it's kind of ridiculous in its over-wrought Latin-ness. I used to have it as the signature at the bottom of my emails back at school as sort of a joke, until someone replied to me with a huge long essay about the profundity of expressing this ineluctable modality in a digital medium, which is at the same time permanent and ever-changing. I went back to Terry Pratchett quotes.
The book leaves Simon Dedalus to his wanderings for a while and switches focus to Leopold Bloom, a Jewish-Irish advertising agent. The book has also gone back to the start of the day, where Bloom is having breakfast at home and chatting with his wife while morning rises outside. In perhaps a first for English literature, Joyce describes in detail Bloom's trip to the outhouse in the back yard.
I took this picture on the way down to Point Pleasant, of morning sun shining on a backyard structure along Lawrence street which, thankfully, wasn't an outhouse.
V Lotus Eaters
Bloom heads out into town, and Joyce follows the wanderings of his thoughts as we observes the street life and meets various people. He sits in a church for a while, watching mass and communion, mis-remembering what various symbols and terms mean, and his mind wanders to drinking and sex. To stand in for the church, I decided on the second Catholic Cathedral ever built in Canada, Saint Mary's Cathedral Basilica at Spring Garden and Barrington.
"The priest was rinsing out the chalice: then he tossed off the dregs smartly. Wine. Makes it more aristocratic than for example if he drank what they are used to Guiness's porter or some temperance beverage Wheatley's Dublin hop bitters or Cantrell and Cochrane's ginger ale (aromatic)." #bloomsday #bloomsdayhalifax #saintmarys
Bloom then takes a bus to a cemetery where his friend Paddy Dignam is being buried. I took two pictures for this - the first and easiest was right across from Saint Mary's Cathedral, the Old Burying Ground.
However, the Old Burying Grounds felt too, well, old for what in the book seems to have been a more current cemetery. Later in the day, I walked by the Fort Massey Cemetery, which not only seemed more contemporary-looking for Bloomsday, but also had a lot of Irish names on the stones. This seemed far more appropriate, so I took a picture of it too.
This is perhaps my favourite chapter of the book. It's the point where the narrative voice starts to become its own character and take over the text. It mostly takes place in a newspaper office so the text is punctuated by headlines. These headlines which get progressively sillier over the course of the chapter, from "IN THE HEART OF THE HIBERNIAN METROPOLIS" to things like "DAMES DONATE DUBLIN'S CITS SPEEDPILLS VELOCITIUS AEROLITHS, BELIEF" (as one of the characters mentions fine ladies who spit out peach pits).
A street-scene at the beginning takes place outside Dublin's Palladian/neoclassical General Post Office. Halifax's Province House, built in the same period in the early 19th century, looks remarkably similar (if somewhat smaller), so it made an excellent stand-in - especially since there weren't crowds of protesters around it, for a change.
Having finished his newspaper business, Bloom has most of the rest of the day off. He looks for a place to eat, and settles on a nice quiet pub. I went to the slightly less quiet but quite Irish-feeling Old Triangle pub downtown. Bloom was a big fan of organ meats, so I considered the liver & onions on the menu, but I decided on the beef boxty special instead. And of course I had a Guinness.
IX Scylla and Charybdis
This chapter takes place at a library, including a lecture and a discussion about whether Shakespeare actually wrote his famous plays. I decided to make a clean break with tradition and instead featured Halifax's shiny new Central Library. I found an amusing quote about un-sexy intellectuals, but perhaps it was a bit much to apply it to a picture of mostly guys sitting on the public computers.
X Wandering Rocks
This chapter follows various people as they wander the streets of Dublin. When I first read this in 1994, it strongly reminded me of the style of text-based Interactive Fiction games, or perhaps the increasingly popular Multi-User Dungeons of the time. I once even considered adapting this chapter into Interactive Fiction. There is a four-dimensional sense of movement and position in both place and time. This was hard to represent in just one picture, but I found an appropriately 19th-century piece of Barrington street - where the Khyber, the NFB building, and more are being (very slowly) renovated. I tied it in with a passing reference to an abandoned shut-up church, sort of like the Khyber itself.
This chapter takes place in a music hall / pub, and it opens with snippets of the rest of the chapter's text arranged in short musical bursts. The most iconic music hall / pub in downtown Halifax would have to be the Carleton - it's even in one of the oldest buildings in the city - so that's what I used.
I had a doctor's appointment in the mid afternoon, so I had front-loaded a number of my pictures earlier in the day. After the doctor, I didn't have the energy to go all the way back downtown, so I found parallels closer to my north-end home. This chapter takes place at a pub, so I had originally planned to have dinner at the very Irish Durty Nelly's on Argyle, but instead went to the not-particularly-Irish Freeman's Little New York restaurant on Quinpool. I had a nice pint of locally-brewed Propeller porter. The chapter alternates the swearing of a crass thug with increasingly overblown and ludicrous high-flown language. I found an appropriate passage praising Porter.
"Terence O'Ryan heard him and straightaway brought him a crystal cup full of the foamy ebony ale which the noble twin brothers Bungiveagh and Bubgardilaun brew ever in their divine ale vats, cunning as the sons of deathless Leda. For they garner the succulent berries of the hop and mass and sift and bruise and brew them and they mix there with sour juices and bring the must to the sacred fire and cease not night or day from their toil, those cunning brothers, lords of the vat." #bloomsday #bloomsdayhalifax #porter #beer #cyclops @propellerbeer
Dusk finds Leo Bloom sitting in a park near the shore, near a group of teenage girls. The first part of the chapter is from the point of view of Gerty MacDowell, and reads like a cheap romance in a lady's magazine, with jarring interjections of real life. For this I used a picture of Point Pleasant from earlier in the day.
XIV Oxen of the Sun
This chapter takes place in a maternity hospital, and reads like the birth and growth of the English language itself. I quoted the memorable opening lines and included a picture of the sign for the IWK Health Centre's maternity ward.
I took a quick walk in Halifax's rainy night and got pictures for the last few chapters before calling it a night much earlier than the official 1-2am in the book.
Almost a fifth of "Ulysses" is taken up by this huge chapter - itself longer than many novels. It is in the form of a play, as Stephen and Dedalus meet in the lounge of a brothel in the "Night-Town" part of Dublin. It's all about magic and transformation, and it feels like an acid trip. People change into animals and vice versa, Leo Bloom becomes a woman, a prostitute becomes a man and then gets Bloom pregnant, and their children all grow up to become respectable members of society, and have a parade with a huge crowd attending. Gottingen Street in the near North End seemed like a likely candidate, with its cluster of theatres, music venues, and bars - but it was a quiet night and most were closed. Then I saw this giant trippy mural, featuring a dog - and remembered the weird backwards Mass where the Chorus of the Damned shouts "DOOOG"
THE VOICE OF ALL THE DAMNED: Htengier Tnetopinmo Dog Drol eht rof, Aiulella! (From on high the voice of Adonia calls.) Doooooooooooog! THE VOICE OF ALL THE BLESSED Alleluia, for the Lord God Omnipotent Reigneth! (the retriever, nosing on the fringe of the crowd, barks noisily) #bloomsday #bloomsdayhalifax #nighttown #circe
After they get kicked out of the brothel, Bloom and Stephen go to a "cab-man's shelter", basically an all-night diner. I had already done Freeman's (open until 5am!) so I got a shot of Island Greek - which is only open until 1am most nights, but which I think still fits the mood.
Leo Bloom allows Stephen Dedalus to crash at his place, and they proceed to make their drowsy, tipsy late-night way back home. The text to this chapter is also drowsy-making: it's question-and-answer, like an exam or a catechism, and it's dry, technical, and abstracted away from the reality of the characters. Early on, their crossing a roundabout is described in terms of geometry, and I used this quote to accompany a shot of the new roundabout I often cross on my own way home.
This chapter is also special to me because I'm in it. One of the minor characters turns out the be named Andrew "Pisser" Burke, and he's in a very long list of people who Leo Bloom thinks might have slept with his wife.
When I read "Ulysses" back in school, I cleared a whole day to read all of the Circe chapter and continue to the end of the book. I had spent the entire day sitting in my dorm room, it was well after midnight, I was mentally exhausted and still reeling from the trippiness of the narrative - and then I found my own name in the text. I circled it heavily and wrote in the margins "WHAT DOES IT MEAN!" and stormed out into the hallway and accosted the first people I saw in an attempt to reconnect to reality.
When I wrote my paper about "Ulysses" (about palindromic structures and references in the Aeolus chapter, natch), I simply signed it "Pisser" and gave a page and line reference. Thankfully my prof got the reference.
Everyone settles in for the night, and the final chapter is devoted to the pure half-asleep-half-awake stream of consciousness of Molly Bloom. It's one continuous slab of unpunctuated text, sentences merging together like dream-thoughts. The chapter and the book ends with Molly remembering her first time making love with Leopold Bloom in Spain. This passage was quoted by Kate Bush in her song the Sensual World, so I finished my Bloomsday by playing the song on my AppleTV.
"and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes." #bloomsday #bloomsdayhalifax #home #katebush #mollybloom #yesiwillyes