Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dublin Psychogeographical Society: Bloomsday Special #2

Westland Row

The birthplace of the playwright and essayist Oscar Wilde, Westland Row is now, as you can see, much grubbier than it was in Bloom's time, both graffitoed and vandalized. Built in 1776 by Jacob Epstein, it now appears to be the permanent home of unkempt students from Trinity College who congregate in indolent clusters hereabout smoking all manner of substances, taking photos of one another, and generally being a nuisance to both the living and the dead. In Ulysses, Bloom pays a visit to Sweny's chemist at the bottom of the street, where he buys some lemon soap, presumably to remove all the lipstick, and a packet of johnnies "in case Molly fancies a tumble when I get home." This is what is generally known to literary scholars as dramatic irony: The reader, unlike Bloom, knows that, at that very moment, Molly is being taken up the shitter by Blazes Boylan, using neither soap nor johnnies.

Sweny's can still be found at its old location. It is now a secondhand bookstore, but it still stocks lemon soap. If you require johnnies, there's another pharmacy a little further up Westland Row, but if you ask the Sweny's staff politely, they are only too happy to lend you johnnies from their own personal stash. The store is under new ownership, and they're trying to oblige all customers. Just say that you always used to get your johnnies there.

Davy Byrne's Pub

Davy Byrne's. The moral pub. The moral being, don't drink in Davy Byrne's. Bloom stops off here and consumes a glass of burgundy and a Gorgonzola sandwich, even though Gorgonzola was not invented until the First World War and anyone who has visited this pub knows that burgundy is only ever drunk out of the brain cavity of the original Davy Byrne, whose skull is kept behind the bar specifically for this purpose, as requested in his will. It has been suggested that this cheese reference is in fact a tribute to Émile Zola, the chronicler of Parisian working-class life on whom Joyce closely modeled his own career. Others have said that it was simply a mistake, one of the several thousand historical inaccuracies that have been spotted in the work to date. Experts in the field are now generally of the view that Joyce was "making it up as he went along."

It is interesting that, per Joyce, nobody drinks Guinness in Davy Byrne's, since the pub featured in a recent advertising campaign celebrating the 250th anniversary of the brewery's founding. In one television advert, drinkers are seen outside the pub offering a toast "To Arthur!" a reference to brewery founder Arthur Guinness, and in a semi-humorous relay of Chinese Whispers across Dublin pubs, the toast becomes increasingly distorted: "To Martha!" "To Hearth Rugs!" "To Bath Plugs!" "To Garth Brooks!" "To Garth Crooks!" and so on, until it has done the rounds of Dublin and gets back to Davy Byrne's, by which time the drinkers have actually sampled the brew. At that point, they shout, as one, "To Lager!" and spend the rest of the night drinking Stella.

But that bit was cut.

The bat motif that you can make out on the wall is the symbol of Bacardi rum. It is often asserted, mistakenly, that the Bass triangle was the first brand logo to appear in a work of art, in Manet's Bar at the Folies Bergere, but this sculpture predates it by 12 years. The motif is also a reminder of another Irish novelist, Bram Stoker, who used to come into Davy Byrne's and drink Bacardi by the gallon. The bar staff let him sleep off his appalling hangovers during the daytime in the cool of the cellars, because the slightest glimpse of sunlight caused him immense agony. Thus was the story of Dracula born.

The National Museum

There are some artifacts behind these doors that date back to the days of pre-history, when humans were little more than grasping, instinctual, selfish, animalistic monsters. Take a contemporary Dublin citizen and hand them one of these items, and they simply wouldn't know what to make of them. There are no clues to how they should be used or, indeed, to how they were used. They belong to an era that we can barely conceptualize, and the presence of these artifacts only compound our confusion. That we should even encounter them in the midst of our own, advanced civilization seems so anachronistic that one can only wonder what purpose could lie behind the act of displaying them to us other than to confront us with the Other which we once were, to disprove Montaigne's assertion, "I am a man. Nothing human is foreign to me."

Leopold Bloom visits the National Museum principally to contemplate the arses of the statues within. There were a number of arseholes in here when we dropped by, too, but we didn't find them arousing in the way Bloom did. Autres temps, autres mœurs.

Martello Tower, Sandycove

At this point in our dérive, we slipped into something long and uncomfortable, namely, the 5.13 DART from Pearse Station to Bray, alighting at Sandycove in order to visit the Martello Tower where Joyce opens his novel. The DART now runs underground, and the drivers are all French.

As you can see, Sandycove is, despite its name, one of Dublin's leafier suburbs. The Tower itself, in the distance, was built by the British to spot Napoleon's forces should he attempt anything so underhand as inciting the Irish to revolt. Joyce has Buck Mulligan and Stephen Dedalus play his modern-day "lookouts," although they fall out over the fact that Mulligan has invited an Englishman, Haines, to stop with them, thereby illustrating the tension between Irishmen of the time over their relationship to Empire. Also, there are only two beds.

There are 365 steps to the top of the Martello Tower, which is why Mulligan complains about his tea being cold when Dedalus brings it up to him. There are several witty puns about Dedalus taking years over breakfast that will escape readers unless they know this fact. Several other puns relating to cramps, caresses, and Crete cannot be fully appreciated without a full knowledge of the story of Daedalus and Icarus, who jumped off a high tower to escape King Minos. Interestingly, Paul McCartney got the name of his band Wings from this chapter of the book. The Beatles acquired their name from the Ladybird Book of Beetles.

Part the Third suivant.

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