Jay Meehan: Perchance to dream…
Park Record columnist
“You should approach Joyce’s “Ulysses” as the illiterate Baptist preacher approaches the Old Testament: with faith”
– William Faulkner
These days, the ol’ body seems to get the “heads-up” before the ol’ brain. A few days prior to one of these often-obscure Irish cultural holy days, like this upcoming Friday’s “Bloomsday,” my liver will toss its head back and roll its eyes while a certain jauntiness will insinuate itself my normally Walter Brennan-esque mosey. Realms of fantasy also have been known to enter the equation. Take the other night, for instance.
I had been minding my own business negotiating my way down Park City’s Historic Main Street while taking full advantage of its legendary angle-of-repose when I cranked a hard left into the Alamo-like entrance of the No Name Saloon. Or so I thought.
Once the heavy door had swung open upon it’s equally heavy hinges, all bets were off. The game was afoot. Shelves that usually housed a quantitative and qualitative array of libation options now found themselves providing organizational atmospherics for the physical fruits of literature. Books, of all things.
There were no edges to the space-time. I was either dreaming or the Russians had hacked my prefrontal cortex. With everything unfolding in high-def and surround sound, less than perfect production values had obviously been checked at the door. Not that the visuals approached Bruce Hamme quality, but Jimmy Wong Howe would have loved them.
I had stumbled through time and into Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company bookshop at its second location on the rue de l’Odéon. It was Paris in the early ‘20s and by the looks of the joint, Modernism, or Post Impressionism, had taken wing.
Now, even in this altered state, I was very much aware that I had never been east of Provincetown, but, at the same time, I was hip that books and booze can pretty much transport you anywhere at warp speed.
Someone must have called “action” just prior to my entrance. James Joyce, the man of the hour, and Sylvia Beach, who had agreed as a last resort to publish Joyce’s scandalous “Ulysses,” were huddled over a quite hefty-looking hardbound volume at a table near the far wall. The all-dressed-up-with-nowhere-to-go hot-off-the-press masterpiece that Edmond Wilson described as “symphonic rather than narrative,” bided it time. Having been published in English and immediately banned in both the United States and Britain, it pondered opening a tab in Joyce’s name at one of the nearby Cafés.
The times they were a changing. And Joyce wasn’t alone in shifting the paradigm. While he busied himself tipping the literary applecart or, as Ezra Pound put it: “In a single chapter he discharges all the clichés of the English language like an uninterrupted river,” the rest of the scientific and cultural communities hardly lazed about.
While Leopold Bloom, Molly Bloom, and Stephen Dedalus, the main characters of Ulysses, first begin their fictional (and individual) 24-hour romps through Dublin, Einstein is bending light rays, Freud is articulating psycho-speak, Schoenberg is going atonal, and Picasso and his ilk are fracturing the two-dimensional with geometry.
In the novel, all the action takes place on June 16, 1904, not so coincidentally the date Joyce first met his future wife Nora Barnacle. And it’s upon that date we wannabe “Joyceans” annually follow Leopold’s route across the Irish capitol from Burgundy to Absinthe and beyond. We call it “Bloomsday.”
Such shenanigans began on the 50th anniversary, June 16, 1954 when a few lads of the poetic persuasion set out to retrace Leopold’s footsteps but, forgetting to properly pace themselves, never made it beyond the first watering hole. Although I attempt to honor Bloomsday each year, it is, way more often than not, in a solo fashion. I drag out my 1961 edition of Ulysses along with a bottle of Jameson or whatever else speaks to me from the cabinet. Some years, due to a quite localized “Irish Whiskey famine,” I’ve been “reduced” to uncorking one of my jugs of Single Malt Scotch.
I’ll hoist a few to friends now gone with whom I’ve shared Bloomsdays-past, most always in Park City. I’ll read a few of my favorite passages – something from the denizens of “Nightgown” to be sure. And, as always, give Molly the last word. “Yes I said, yes I will, Yes!”
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.
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