With straw hats, bonnets and lace-trimmed dresses — but barely a mutton kidney in sight — thousands of James Joyce fans on Wednesday immersed themselves in the fictional 100th anniversary of “Ulysses.”
“Bloomsday” festivities, commemorating the one-day wandering of Leopold Bloom into every nook and cranny of a long-lost Dublin on June 16, 1904, have grown each year. The current “ReJoyce Dublin” festival featured more than 80 exhibits and events across the capital devoted to Joyce and his masterwork.
None was more traditional than Wednesday’s breakfast at the James Joyce Center, a Georgian town house in the shadow of the writer’s Jesuit-run alma mater, Belvedere College.
“I’ve brought my best walking shoes. I’m going to cover the whole route Bloom did — unless the pubs stop me,” said Stephen Hammond, a visitor from England who set off with a map of Dublin annotated with “Ulysses” landmarks.
On an unusually warm and blazingly sunny day, hundreds of tourists in T-shirts and shorts stood in the street alongside afficionados sweating in heavy Edwardian costumes, waiting their turn for breakfast. Inside, an elite crowd — among them President Mary McAleese — dined in the shade.
The event recreates Episode 4 of the mammoth novel, as Bloom cooks a hard-core breakfast of organ meats for himself and his adulterous wife, Molly.
“Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls,” goes the famous passage, which was read aloud by local celebrity guests and diners alike. “He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod’s roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”
No sign of that on most people’s plates Wednesday, though.
“We’ve found that mutton kidneys aren’t terribly popular. We have some available, but they tend to end up in the bin,” said Helen Monaghan, a grandniece of Joyce who runs the center. “People much prefer their ‘Bloomsday’ to be washed down with a breakfast pint of Guinness.”
Banned in Britain and the U.S.Indeed, the many pubs still standing today that were featured in the “Ulysses” odyssey of Bloom and Stephen Dedalus were the targets of special attention Wednesday, particularly Davy Byrne’s off the posh Grafton Street shopping precinct, where drinkers poured into the street and surrounded a few horse-drawn carriages ferrying sun-soaked Joyceans.
Later, thousands were expected to celebrate “Ulysses” with an evening of parades, dancing and drama on O’Connell Street, the main Dublin boulevard.
In the southern coastal suburb of Sandycove, where the novel opens in a Napoleonic-era tower, breakfast led on to a daylong street party dominated by seafood, wine and a few impromptu readings from the opening of “Ulysses.”
Joyce briefly lived in that tower in Sandycove in 1904 before he fled Ireland for literary inspiration in the Adriatic port of Trieste, Paris and the Swiss city of Zurich, where he died in 1941 at 58.
Joyce never set foot in Dublin after 1912, yet devoted his career to recreating the feel, language and mood of the city. “Ulysses,” published in Paris in 1922, explored stream of consciousness and a range of other experimental styles.
It was banned in Britain and the United States until the mid-1930s because of its hearty description of such bodily functions as masturbation and defecation, and also critiqued mainstream views on religion and nationalism. It didn’t gain social acceptance in Ireland until after Joyce’s death.
“If only Joyce could see Dublin now. I think he’d be amused and even pleased,” said Bloomsday breakfast-goer Hope Drummond, who admitted she’s spent a good part of her reading life dipping in and out of “Ulysses” trying to grasp its myriad meanings. “We still don’t understand it all, but we certainly appreciate it.”