andrew burke





Bloomsday Halifax: Telemachus at the Martello

Posted on: 2024-06-19

Last Sunday was Bloomsday Halifax and my app-based multi-location literature nerd scavenger hunt was a success. Several dozen participants recreated James Joyce's "Ulysses" on their own schedule at 18 locations around the city, and I was able to exercise my creative and artistic muscles to make it a unique experience.

I have lots to say about this project, and I think the clearest way to do so will be to write a post about each chapter/episode/location. There are 18 and I did something a little different for each one. In describing the specifics, I can stretch out to discuss bigger picture ideas for this project as well, without just having one big long overwhelming essay that nobody would take the time to read - even if I manage to take the time to write it! I've learned from social media that I work best at doing lots of little things instead of one big thing. So here we go:

The first episode takes place at 8am on June 16 1904 in a Martello Tower converted to living quarters to the south of Dublin. Martello Towers are based on a round tower design in "Myrtle Point" in Corsica that the British navy had found extremely difficult to attack back in 1794. Suitably impressed, they adapted the design to improve coastal defences all across the British Empire up until the mid-19th century. As Halifax is, like Dublin, also an important city on the coast, it was a natural choice for a Martello. Ours is the heart of a network of defensive works in what is now Point Pleasant Park.

As soon as I moved to Halifax and discovered it had as Martello tower, I had been wondering why we don't have our own Bloomsday celebrations like so many other cities around the world. Over the years I would wander down there on the morning of the 16th and would occasionally find other like-minded literature nerds, like a secret society meeting in the woods. After having built several location-based app projects like This Is Nowhere and 50 Things over the last few years, and seeing that 2024's Bloomsday would land on a Sunday, I decided this year I'd make a real event.

Many Bloomsday celebrations feature actors and musicians and costumed revellers - but I'm not very good at wrangling talent for physical real-world events like that (and from working with Zuppa on This Is Nowhere, I know how challenging it can be even for those with the aptitude). However, I can build software! So I decided to make this my kind of Bloomsday, a software Bloomsday, a "punk anarchist" Bloomsday: mostly done by yourself, at your own pace, and without necessarily getting permission or involvement from anyone else.

Early on I had decided that I wouldn't enforce being at the locations at the same time as mentioned in the book. For one thing, the opening chapters overlap between 8am and noon in very different parts of town. For another, the action of the book goes from 8am to 3am the next morning, and that may be manageable for the 25- and 35-year olds in the book, I'm now 53 and really enjoy getting a good night's sleep.

This meant that there wasn't any strict reason to make it all the way to the tower for 8, but I felt that it would be good to at least start at the right time. I had hoped to get some coffee and tea and maybe some breakfast muffins and the like, but it was hard to find a place that was open that early on a Sunday and the ones that were only did larger orders for big catering events. Still, I managed to at least get a coffee and a croissant and some muffins for myself at Uncommon Grounds on the way down and sat out in the sunny morning reading from the book. Two other participants came by and we chatted for a bit. We also met a lot of happy dogs.

As this was the first location on the list, I decided against doing too much that was special in the app or at the site. It's good to start with the basics and let people get the hang of how things work before trying to do anything extra. My original background image was an Instagram shot I had taken many years ago, making a more modern version of the opening lines of the book: "...bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed"

But here was my first chance to set the aesthetic idea for all of the app backdrops: do a mashup picture mixing old Dublin and modern Halifax. I've done lots of photo mashups over the years - it may be my medium of choice. It's a bit hard to tell that the tower in this is in black-and-white as the stones are grey anyhow - but I think it looks different enough from the Halifax one, while still keeping that distinctively Nova Scotian tree in the background.

Funnily enough, the best source picture I had of the Halifax Martello that fit the dimensions I was looking for was taken in March, and the grass was a dead brownish-grey, hard to differentiate from the greyscale tower - so I added extra green so it would stand out more. Considering "snotgreen" is an actual colour mentioned several times in this chapter, I'm considering it an authentic reference.

One down, 17 to go!

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