andrew burke





Bloomsday Halifax: Lotus Eaters on Spring Garden

Posted on: 2024-06-26

I'm describing my big Bloomsday Halifax project by writing up what I did for each episode. This is the fifth in the series, covering Episode 5 of "Ulysses": "Lotus Eaters".

In this episode, Leopold Bloom wanders through shopping areas of Dublin and does various errands: he stops by a chemist's to buy a bar of soap (which will remain with him throughout the rest of the novel); he pulls a card with a pseudonym from inside his hat and uses it at the post office to get an illicit love letter; he ogles a stylish woman across the street; he gets into a confusing conversation about horse betting; he sits in a church and misunderstands much of the symbolism; finally he goes to a Turkish-style bathhouse.

Since this episode is mostly focused on shopping it was natural to have it happen in downtown Halifax's main shopping area, Spring Garden Road. I really wanted to have some kind of real-world shopping experience happen for this episode. Since the soap is a big part of the book, I thought of just having people go into Shopper's Drug Mart or Lawton's or something, but getting buy-in from a large corporation seemed iffy. I decided instead on Jennifer's of Nova Scotia, the local gift and crafts shop.

Jennifer's was one of the first venues I tried to contact. It turns out, though, that I'm pretty shy about cold calling out of the blue and trying to pitch people on things–and I was especially so in the early phases of the project. It's funny that I have no problem standing in front of a crowd of hundreds and delivering a speech, but I often get really neurotic about making that initial ice-breaking one-on-one connection with people. Introvert issues, I guess!

Thankfully, I was able to get a friend to help out. I'm not very good at delegating, but this time it worked out really well. She works in phone support and organizes events and isn't afraid to talk to people at all, since that's what she does all day long. She got in touch with Jennifer's, and it turns out one of the owners is a big fan of Ulysses and was super excited about the project!

This inspired me to set the background picture for this scene right outside the shop, mixing in some people from J J Clarke's historical photos of Dubliners (which you'll notice I used a lot for these backgrounds).

Vintage Dubliners walking down modern Spring Garden Road

I initially thought of keeping things simple and just asking them to more prominently display lemon-scented soap, but then I decided to do something more ambitious: recreate the love letter.

The letter is described in detail in the book, including the full text (with typos!), so my ambitious plan was to recreate the complete artifact. I had some higher grade paper handy and was able to do two double-sided copies of the letter per page just using my printer at home. Back when I was working on Remembary I licensed several authentic vintage handwriting fonts, including Jane Austen's handwriting, which looked about perfect. This somewhat seedy love letter with a touch of S&M in it is pretty far from the world of Jane Austen's writings, but I think that adds an extra bit of contrast and frisson to the object.

A side-by-side print proof of the love letter from Ulysses

But just the letter wasn't enough for me. Joyce even describes the typewritten envelope with the full address on it, so I created that too, using my old favourite 1914 Woodstock Typewriter font. I didn't go so far as to figure out what the appropriate postage stamp and cancellation would look like–but I did manage to even include the flower: we had let our back yard grow pretty wild through "no-mow May" but needed to clear out at least some paths through the wilderness, so I spent early June weeding out a lot of tough and tenacious but also quite pretty buttercups. I kept the little yellow flowers and pressed them in some books (including my nice Folio hardcover of Ulysses, of course) and each of the 20 envelopes got a letter and a yellow flower, just like in the book.

Here you can see some of the packing work in progress, along with some of the other items I had printed for other locations (which I'll cover in due course):

Various printed objects for Bloomsday Halifax, including pressed buttercups for love letters.

I generally leave printing and the like to professionals these days, but this was artisanal small-batch printing, so it was easier to just do at home. It sometimes felt like crafts day in grade school, though.

On Bloomsday itself, the folks at Jennifer's not only eagerly handed out the letters to those who asked, but they even set out appropriate soaps, including one called "Bloom"!

A soap called 'Bloom' on the counter at Jennifer's of Nova Scotia

They also prominently displayed the posters I had made for them. The enthusiasm from the folks at Jennifer's of Nova Scotia made this episode special, but it also helped me get over my neurosis about contacting other venues for this project. By the 16th I was an old hand at it. Now I'm ready for next year!

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