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Wednesday, June 16, 2004

ReJoyce! Fans fete Bloomsday centenary

Special to The Japan Times

DUBLIN -- One hundred years ago today is the day described in arguably the greatest novel of the 20th century, James Joyce's "Ulysses." June 16, 1904, was when Joyce's hero, Leopold Bloom, set out on a meandering stroll through Dublin, and the date is now celebrated worldwide as Bloomsday.

News photo
Dublin's main thoroughfare, O'Connell Street, is closed and turned into an outdoor eaterie for the Bloomsday Centenary breakfast, June 13.

In Dublin, events to mark the centenary continue until the end of August, and Japan, too, is feting the occasion (see boxed details).

Highlights of the celebrations include an exhibition at the National Library of 19 previously unknown Joyce draft notebooks (bought for 12.6 million yen in 2002), and, being held this week, the 19th International James Joyce Symposium. On June 19, an arts installation project on the River Liffey titled "Elijah is Coming!" celebrates Dublin's most famous literary son and the city where he set all his works.

Breakfast is a big part of Bloomsday. Bloom was a man who "ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls," and he started the famous day with a kidney. Near the site of Bloom's house in northern Dublin, fans can partake of a kidney for breakfast. Indeed, on June 12, 10,000 Dubliners and visitors ate at the Denny Bloomsday Centenary Breakfast and today the James Joyce Centre hosts the traditional Guinness Bloomsday Breakfast.

But why bother remembering the details of a book written 100 years ago?

"Ulysses" took Joyce seven years to write -- and some daunted by its prose would say it takes almost that long to read. Yet even those who haven't risen to the challenge will have felt the book's influence. Films such as Sam Mendes' "American Beauty" and Richard Linklater's "Slacker" owe Joyce a debt, and in literature "Ulysses" is almost omnipresent, echoed in writers from Philip K. Dick to Salman Rushdie to Umberto Eco.

So with Joyce's influence seemingly inescapable, it's not necessary to live in Dublin -- nor even to have read "Ulysses" -- to celebrate Bloomsday. However, the traditional way of marking the day is to follow Bloom's route across the city. This is what thousands of Joyce fans, many dressed in period clothing, will be doing in Dublin on June 16.

On that day in 1904, Joyce had his first date with Nora Barnacle, a girl from Galway. Within months, following an intense courtship, they were living together in Paris. In "Ulysses," Joyce immortalized the date he met the love of his life. At the same time he immortalized the city he grew up in. The streets that Bloom walked are still there (a series of bronze plaques set in the pavement marks his route), and many of the places he visits are still intact.

After his breakfast, Bloom spends a vividly memorable period in the outside toilet, but his exertions here are not memorialized by the James Joyce Centre in Dublin. Instead the next place Bloom and Bloomsday participants visit is Sweeny's chemist, unchanged since Joyce's day. It still sells the same lemon soap that Bloom purchases (before you ask, the price, naturally, is no longer the same).

Bloom then wends his way along O'Connell Street, apparently the widest boulevard in Europe (certainly it's the widest street lined with fast-food restaurants and neon-bright game centers). He passes Trinity College (the city's oldest university and home of the Book of Kells) and walks up Grafton Street to have lunch at Davy Byrne's, a "moral pub," still standing. Committed fans can order what Bloom had for lunch: A glass of Burgundy and a gorgonzola cheese sandwich with mustard.

Moving on to the National Library, next to the Irish Parliament, Bloom's path crosses that of the novel's other central character, Stephen Dedalus. Together, Bloom and Dedalus visit Temple Bar, now the city's cultural center. It's almost as packed with pubs and bars as Kabukicho in Shinjuku, and Dedalus spends the afternoon getting drunk.

Bloom catches up with him later and they head to Nighttown, where Dublin's brothels were to be found. The celebrations on Bloomsday don't usually follow the hero this far. If it was called Dedalusday, perhaps tourists would enjoy smashing up whorehouses and fighting in the street, as Dedalus does.

Joyce fans don't do this on Bloomsday because the city of Dublin celebrated on June 16 has to sit comfortably with tourist agencies -- but also because "Ulysses," more than anything else, is a celebration of language. The Dublin that it describes is grittier and messier than the one the tourist board promotes. It's more complicated, and more interesting.

Personally, I think the best way to mark Bloomsday is with a pint. I said as much to a Dublin colleague, herself a bawdy lass who could have been lifted from the pages of "Ulysses."

"What do you think of Bloomsday?" I asked.

"Shite put on for tourists," she told me.

Rowan Hooper is a researcher at Trinity College Dublin.

More on Bloomsday can be found at www.rejoycedublin.com

Where to celebrate in Japan

Japan is hosting a number of Bloomsday-related events:

* International Joyce-Bloomsday Centenary Exhibition

Centenary exhibitions have been organized by the Irish Dept. of Foreign Affairs in conjunction with Irish embassies around the world. The Japan exhibition is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m., June 16, at Aichi Syukutoku University, Hoshigaoka Campus, Nagoya.

The exhibition then runs June 22-July 2 at the second-floor exhibition room at Waseda University Main Library, Nishi Waseda Campus, Tokyo. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is free at both venues.

All visitors to the exhibition will receive an attractive free catalog.

* James Joyce Society of Japan 16th Annual Meeting

Workshops, symposia and presentations, most in Japanese, will take place over the weekend of June 26-27 at Conference Room 19, Souken Building, Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo. Events are open to the public, and take place 1 p.m.-6 p.m. on June 26 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on June 27. For more information, e-mail sean7331@aol.com

* The Tokyo Bloomsday Pub Crawl

This pub crawl kicks off at 4:45 p.m., June 19, at The Wishing Well, an Irish pub in the basement of the Roppongi Hills complex.

Please see the Embassy of Ireland Web site for further information and links: www.embassy-avenue.jp/ireland

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