A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Friday, June 16, 2006


Today I celebrated Bloomsday in Worcester, Massachusetts. The Worcester County Poetry Association has an impressively well-conceived and organized observation. Friend and fellow Joycean Christopher, always a good sport, agreed to accompany me on this little pilgrimage.

Bloomsday commemorates James Joyce's novel Ulysses, which is set in Dublin on June 16, 1904: a day in the life of hero Leopold Bloom. Ulysses is the greatest novel of the twentieth century, and Joyce is understandably a hero in Dublin, his hometown. Bloomsday celebrations have been taking place for about the last fifty years, most notably in Dublin, of course, but in other cities throughout the world as well. The method of observation might range from a group of fans getting together to read passages from the novel, to a tour--if you happen to be in Dublin--of all the locales mentioned in the book, with appropriate readings at each stop.

The Worcester event was about as close to the latter as it's possible to get on this side of the pond. It began at 8:00 in the morning and lasted until about 10:00 at night. Christopher and I planned to do the whole thing, and we did.

Ulysses opens at 8 a.m., with Stephen Dedalus and Buck Mulligan in the tower they share as a residence (Joyce actually lived for a week in the Martello Tower in Sandycove). Worcester, fortuitously, has its own tower--Bancroft Tower--so 8 a.m. found us there, with about a dozen other hardcore enthusiasts. WCPA President, Francine D'Allesandro, supplied coffee and doughnuts. Last year's WCPA president read the opening of the Telemachus chapter, holding a bowl aloft as he read Buck Mulligan's "Introibo ad altare Dei." Then the rest of the group took turns reading until it was time to decamp and head for the next spot.

10 a.m. found us at the Ben Franklin Antiquarian Bookshop, where we read from the Calypso chapter (and had coffee and scones). At noon, we lunched in the courtyard of the Worcester Art Museum while reading from Lestrygonians. 2:00 found us in the main hall of Union Station, reading from Sirens--for the first and only time sans refreshment.

We finally lifted glasses of Guinness at 4:00, reading from Cyclops at the Hibernian Cultural Centre. Then it was dinner at 6 at the Belfry Restaurant, a cool little desanctified church with a bookshop in it. We didn't read as we ate, but we discussed the book! Finally, at 8, we gathered at the Village Arts Gallery--WCPA's headquarters--for a reading from Circe.

The Worcester poets were friendly and hospitable. Mapquest got us to the tower, but once there, we just followed Francine. Christopher was universally acknowledged to be the best reader, which didn't hurt our popularity. Ulysses is a bear to read, and even the most experienced literary types stumble over one part or another--the Latin, the Italian, the baby-talk, the impossibly long lists, the deliberate tongue-twisters. Christopher credits his facility at reading on the fly to karaoke, but fluency in Latin and French, plus general braininess, don't hurt, either.

It appears that this year's Bloomsday celebration in Dublin was cancelled by the board of the James Joyce Centre, out of respect for prime minister Charles Haughey, whose funeral and burial were held today. (I personally think Haughey must have been pissed, if dead people are allowed to be, as he was a great fan of Joyce.) So it turned out that perhaps Worcester was an even better place to be this Bloomsday than Dublin. But I'm definitely adding the Dublin pilgrimage to my list of resolutions. Yes I said yes I will yes.


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