A(nother) Day in the Life
The wild wine that leads us on... to boutique bookstores and Victorian druggists!
“[I]t is the wine that leads me on,
the wild wine
that sets the wisest man to sing
at the top of his lungs,
laugh like a fool – it drives the
man to dancing... it even
tempts him to blurt out stories
better never told.”
― Homer, The Odyssey
“Good puzzle would be cross Dublin without passing a pub.”
― James Joyce, Ulysses
When we left you last week, we were enjoying the only repast any self-respecting Joycehead would dare consume at Davy Byrne’s pub in Dublin; a gorgonzola sandwich and a glass (ok, a bottle...) of burgundy. A feast to lead us on, as the muses spurred us forth, if not to sing and dance, than at least to blurt out stories better never told.
As you may well know, this past June 16 marked the centennial anniversary of the publication of James Joyce’s modernist epic, Ulysses, a retelling of Homer’s poetic tale of love and loss... infidelity and revenge... trial and redemption... cunning and guile... all set against the ancient Greek concept of nostos – from which we derive the term nostalgia – and the wandering, circuitous return of our hero, Odysseus, to his beloved Ithaca and wife Penelope.
But while Homer’s seafaring protagonist meanders for nigh on a decade, Joyce’s everyman, Leopold Bloom, completes his comparatively quotidian journey, around the streets of Dublin, in a single day, June 16... thereafter known among Joyce enthusiasts as Bloomsday. Aware of the irony, we had traveled far from our home, down here at the end of the world, in Argentina’s capital of Buenos Aires, to commemorate the occasion. (As it happened, it would be months before we eventually found our own way home... grist for another, future post.)
(New readers just joining us – welcome! – may wish to catch up on Part I of our Bloomsday reminiscence here: A Day in the Life.)
From our merry feast we made our way first to Hodges Figgis & Co., a delightful bookseller located a stone’s pitch from Davy’s moral pub, to purchase a centennial edition of Joyce’s mastework. (Note the nod to the original color and the gilt display window of a bookstore actually mentioned in the book itself. ¡Que meta!)
Turquoise tome under arm, we ambled along Lienster Street, past the stores and cafés and pubs facing Trinity’s College Park, on to Sweny’s Pharmacy, where Bloom himself purchased for his famous lemon soap and wife Molly’s special lotion.
Boasting the “only intact Victorian shop interior left in the city,” to enter Sweny’s is to take a step back in time, to see the world of Joyce/Bloom as it might have been 100 years ago and more. No longer a trading business, Sweny’s is now (since 2009) a James Joyce Heritage Center, crammed with books and assorted memorabilia, and managed entirely by volunteers. (You can pick up a block of Bloom’s lemon soap – or simply make a donation – at their website, here.)
In pouring Homer’s epic decade into a single, mundane day, and setting in place of that “man of twists and turns” a common, though profoundly “everyman,” Joyce appeared to simultaneously compress and expand both time and space, to peer through the utterly banal and glimpse the universal, to traverse a whole world in a single city, to encapsulate the human condition in all its filth and transcendent glory, and to leave us with a timeless classic that, with each passing Bloomsday, only grows in stature.
“I am, a stride at a time. A very short space of time through very short time of space.”
~ James Joyce, Ulysses
We’ll be back next Wednesday for another midweek reprieve from the panem et circenses that is public life, with more art, literature, travel and food, as we continue to flâneur the world, one idea at a time…
In the meantime, feel free to like our humble post, share it with literature-loving friends and/or leave a comment about your own favorite city in which to while away the hours.
Until next time...
P.S. Outside the Victorian chemist, we were thrilled to find ourselves in the presence of the dazzling duo behind the must-listen Blooms & Barnacles podcast. Of course we ambled over for a chinwag (listen in around 1:20:30) and were delighted to be upstaged by Dear Daughter (7yrs) who was cheerfully forthcoming with her own favorite moment in Homer’s timeless epic.