Sunday, June 13, 2010

Bloomsday in Brooklyn

Mannix, age 3 and I attended Bloomsday in Brooklyn yesterday. It was a very sweet affair of about 50 people standing outside pubs reading excerpts from Ulysses. We were not allowed inside the pubs, alas, the world cup had them all filled to capacity, but the roaring of the crowds behind us made for a celebratory backup track. It was a walking tour of bars along fifth avenue. Many Bloomsdays around the world, such as the one in Dublin and the one in Toronto, stage scenes from the book around the city. Usually, they stop at one bar to signify Barney Kiernan's pub and The Cyclops episode. In Brooklyn, the revelers attended six. A bagpipe player started up and led the crowd from one location to the next. There were also several other musicians playing Irish folksongs on the street after the reading. Mannix and I lasted for two bars before he redirected us to a local park. We did have a chance to hear an Irish actor read the opening pages of the book and see Judge Bernie Graham and the DA Joe Hynes read an excerpt from Cyclops. We did not have a beer alas, as Mannix had left his fake ID at home but as Molly says in her monologue: "my belly is a bit too big Ill have to knock off the stout at dinner or am I getting too fond of it."

My first encounter with Bloomsday was when I was eleven in Dublin taking the bus to meet my aunt at Holles Street Hospital the maternity hospital where the fictional Bloom visits the fictional Mrs Purefoy and meets ups with the imaginary Stephen and where my real aunt Mary had a real job as a matron. Coming down to meet me, she had to push through a throng of site seers. What are they here for? I asked. Bloomsday, she said. James Joyce's novel. Americans, mostly. O, I said, marveling at the fact that real people were visiting a fictional character in the hospital and coming all the way from America to do so. Hollis Street is an amazing hospital and it even has an art's budget. One year, it commissioned the playwright Marina Carr to write a play and gave her a stipend and a room in the hospital to do so. The result was the stunning, haunting play, Portia Coughlan which my friend Mercedes staged at Show World a few years ago in its New York premiere.

In Brooklyn, the organizers made note of the fact that the first Bloomsday in Ireland was celebrated in 1954 by Irish writers Patrick Kavanaugh and Flann O'Brien and read a poem by Flann O'Brien. Sylvia Beach organized the first Bloomsday Lunch in Paris in 1929. The day out in Brooklyn was organized by The Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick and they mentioned that they hope to do it again next year which would be grand.

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