andrew burke





Bloomsday Halifax - Calypso in Schmidtville

Posted on: 2024-06-25

I'm describing my big Bloomsday Halifax project by writing up what I did at each location. This is the fourth in the series, covering Episode 4 of "Ulysses": "Calypso".

One of the biggest challenges I had with figuring out schedule for Bloomsday Halifax is that "Ulysses" doesn't move strictly forward in time. The first three chapters go from 8am to around 11am and then everything starts again at 8am with other people in another part of town, reflecting the flow of time in The Odyssey, where we follow Telemachus and then rewind to see what's been happening with Odysseus. This is fine in a book, but it's awkward for an event where people might want to do everything at the official times. This is one of the reasons that I decided to not be too strict about the schedule in the app, besides it just making for an extremely long day.

Anyhow, Calypso is the start of the main sequence of Ulysses, following Leopold Bloom as he prepares breakfast for himself and his wife Molly in their home at 7 Eccles Street. I've only been to Dublin once back in 1999, but I did make sure to visit the real location. I gather the house there now is no longer the original, but it's still roughly the same, part of a set of row-houses in a residential area at the edge of downtown. Bloom steps out to the local butcher shop to buy a kidney and then comes home again to cook it.

Halifax has a number of roughly analogous neighbourhoods of densely packed 19th-century houses. I wanted to give the participants the option to re-enact the book a little bit, so I hoped to find a retail place or a breakfast spot or something like that that they could go to. I considered the Hydrostone neighbourhood, which even has a butcher shop, but everything there is from later than 1917, for obvious reasons. Also not many shops are open early on Sunday mornings, and I wanted people who did go at the appropriate time to have something to do.

I finally settled on the Schmidtville neighbourhood, south of downtown. It's conveniently not too far from Point Pleasant, for those who still wanted to do everything sequentially. It is of roughly the correct vintage, and even features some row-houses. As an added bonus, it turns out Uncommon Grounds is open on Sunday from 7am. The would allow people to reenact the book by at least having some breakfast and coffee or tea.

Physical Items

This is the first episode in the sequence for which prepared a physical collectible, so I might as well talk about those now.

As I mentioned in the previous entry, Ulysses has a focus on objects being carried around by people. I already had a system set up in the app to allow participants to collect virtual items at each location, but I thought it would be great to have physical objects people could collect as well. This would make the world of the book feel a little bit more real to everyone, and make for an additional fun activity. I love the idea of intrusions of fictional worlds into the real one.

For This Is Nowhere in 2018, we set up a test run of the clues and captions experience for participants to do before the official performance time–partially to help them get familiar with how it works, but also to help us figure out a few technical issues with tracking and logging activities on the server. As a goal for the test run in place of a live performance, we decided to have some printed pieces of a "manifesto" available at Biscuit General Store on Argyle Street downtown. They were just cut-out pieces of paper, but participants really enjoyed getting them, and the staff at the shop liked feeling like they were part of some secret conspiracy.

This inspired me to think about how I could do similar things for Bloomsday. I'll describe the other items in their own blog posts, but the one for Calypso was actually one of the last that I had come up with, and I only delivered it to them in the early hours of June 16 itself. It was pretty simple though: your own personal pocket potato.

In the book, Leopold carries an old withered potato in his pocket–it turns out to have been a talismanic keepsake from his mother. I thought it would be fun to give participants the chance to carry their own potato on their Odyssey around town. I went to the grocery store the day before and got a bag of "Little Potato Company" potatoes. I then made a 4-per-page printout saying "Potato I have." (in my official Bloomsday Halifax font, Hoefler Text) with the URL and QR code beneath it. I wrapped each potato (I think there ended up being 17 in the bag) in the paper and put them all in a paper bag, which I labelled "Bloomsday Potatoes" and dropped off at Uncommon Grounds.

A sheet of paper saying Potato I Have

The first few times I had contacted places about this kind of thing I had gone into long explanations about Ulysses and Bloomsday and Dublin and the app and did you hear about this Zuppa production from six years ago and so forth, and mostly I just confused people. By this point in the project I had simplified it down to "Hi I'm doing a sort of scavenger hunt thing on Sunday, and I was wondering if I could just leave these here. There's an app and it'll tell people to ask for the potato and all you have to do is just give them the potato." If they asked why a potato I would say "well, it's based on a book and one of the people has a potato in it". I was always happy to talk about Ulysses at length, but most people are just trying to get through the day and don't want extra hassle, so it was often easier to just ask them to do a simple thing instead of filling them in on all the backstory. I'd usually include one of the promo cards in case they were curious, or needed to contact me for any reason.

A potato wrapped in a sheet of paper saying Potato I Have

I actually didn't make it back to Uncommon Grounds after dropping the potatoes off in the morning, but I heard from other people who did manage to get a potato to keep with them for their Bloomsday adventure.

Finally for the background image, I mashed up a shot of the original 7 Eccles Street with the Vuze (ex-Fenwick) high-rise, up until recently the tallest building in Canada east of Montreal, which is a looming presence over much of Schmidtville.

A modern high-rise looming in colour above a black-and-white image of stone row-houses

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