Farewell, Dublin

I’m actually writing this back in the States – it took me a few days, between Bloomsday, jet lag, traveling home, and getting settled back in the house. But here’s what happened our last day in Dublin.

We started with a visit to Trinity College, which was really beautiful and had some gorgeous old architecture. Campus was really noisy because they were taking down a huge set from their Shakespeare festival (they performed an Indian-inspired version of The Tempest, which I heard was fantastic). However, it was still lovely.

Trinity College

It’s lovely inside!

Trinity College

The line for the Book of Kells was so long!

We toured the grounds and then saw the Book of Kells, which was beautiful. The library had a great exhibit on how illuminated manuscripts are made, right down to the vellum pages and the pigments for the paint. The pages they had on display were beautifully illustrated. Read a little more about it here, and then look for some of the pages online!

Later that evening, we met with author Claire Hennessy for dinner. We had a lovely time with her, talking about young adult literature (she recommends you all read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, among other things), schooling in America and Ireland, a young person’s perspective on all this Irish history I’ve been talking about, and the role of writing in public education. Claire gets to do these really cool workshops in schools where she comes in, sometimes for a day and sometimes for several weeks, and encourages students to write creatively. In addition to producing some awesome first drafts, she says the benefit is that writing creatively in the classroom can actually help students write better formally. Basically, the more you write, the better you’ll be – and the more you enjoy the act of writing, the better you’ll be as well. Think on it! We may be doing a little creative writing ourselves in the coming year.

Me and Claire Hennessy

It was a great way to say goodbye to Dublin – dinner and tea with a good friend, talking about education and young adult literature and all kinds of good things. I’m bringing a set of Claire’s books back to the high school library, so you can read them for yourselves and see some of the awesomeness I’m talking about.

We were sorry to leave Dublin on Monday, but all good things must come to an end. Plus now it’s time to share this with the school!

Keep looking here for more thoughts on many things Irish, and maybe some more pictures and book recommendations.  Cheers!


Happy Bloomsday!

Hoopsa boyaboy hoopsa!

Yesterday was Bloomsday, the day dedicated to celebrating and re-enacting James Joyce’s Ulysses. Because his novel takes place on a single day – June 16, 1904 – every June 16, people from all over the world gather to re-enact the novel and celebrate its publication and its author.  While we didn’t go in costume, we met people who were in full Edwardian regalia, and talked to people from all over Ireland and Great Britain as well as from America, France, Holland, Germany, Australia, and a number of other places. We even saw the Lord Mayor of Dublin and met an Irish Senator!

As Leopold Bloom catalogued his day, here’s ours:

We started with a Bloomsday breakfast at the famous Gresham Hotel, where we dined on a traditional Irish breakfast – including the kidneys Bloom ate for his breakfast, and black and white pudding (and no, that’s not Jell-O, kids). Mr. Shifflett and I were fortunate enough to sit with our friends from earlier in the week (the professor of zoology is Penny, and the surfer dude is Igor). We also met an Irish couple, who were musicians, and two young Irish women who’d moved to the city from Cork and who dressed up in costume for this every year. As we dined, suddenly, actors rushed in and began noisily and humorously reenacting key scenes from the book.

Stephen Dedalus and Buck Mulligan get their morning milk. Re-enactment in front of the James Joyce Center.

We would see these actors again throughout the day. Our next stop was the James Joyce Center, where we knocked on the door of No. 7 Eccles Street and then skipped out through the crowds.

Knocking at No. 7 Eccles Street – the real door!

We had planned on taking yet another walking tour with the James Joyce Center, but it was really crowded, and Igor told us he’d heard that Senator David Norris, the renowned Joycean scholar of Trinity College who’d become a politician, was speaking at the National Library in a free lecture. We booked it over to the National Library and just barely got seats for what ended up being a really incredible discussion!

Senator Norris was an incredible public speaker with a thick Irish accent and a charismatic, theatrical manner. He told us about his first encounter with Joyce’s work, regaled us with funny tales of Ulysses‘s publication and how it had to be sold under the counter (because while it wasn’t strictly illegal – at least, not once it was finally allowed in the country! – it was still considered controversial), and showed us the human side of Joyce. He said that anyone who thought Joyce was unkind, or self-obsessed, or cut off from emotion, should just look at Joyce’s love for his daughter, Lucia, and how desperately he tried to find a doctor who could successfully treat her schizophrenia. He also talked about the passion readers feel for Joyce’s work: how Paul Léon, the Russian Jew who was one of Joyce’s closest friends and his business manager, returned at his own risk to Joyce’s French apartment ahead of the Nazi invasion to save his papers and manuscripts. (Léon was, in fact, later captured by Nazis and killed on the way to Auschwitz, but his son Alex considers his father’s relationship with Joyce and the saving of the papers to be a huge honor.) We ended the session by learning that the first Bloomsday was actually organized in secret, because the book was still so controversial and considered to be in “bad taste” – a fitting joke, considering it’s practically a national holiday now!

We followed Senator Norris to St. Stephen’s Green, where he gave a short speech to welcome readers and listeners alike to Joycean readings and songs in the Green.

Senator Norris welcomes Bloomsday readers and listeners, and reads from Finnegan’s Wake himself.

We heard readings from Irish men and women (and people of other nationalities as well) from such chapters as “Circe,” “Cyclops,” “Penelope,” and “Proteus.” There were also songs – members of the opera sang “I Dreamt I Dwelt” (from “Clay”), “Love’s Old Sweet Song” (from Ulysses), and “Jerusalem” (based on William Blake’s poem). It was cold and windy and a little drizzly, but we and hundreds of other people stuck it out to listen to and laugh at the wonders of James Joyce.

Mother and daughters in Bloomsday costume.

At least Mr. Shifflett and I were warmly dressed – a lot of people were still in costume!

Young couple in Bloomsday costume.

The highlight of the day, though, was meeting James Joyce.

Yep, that’s me and James Joyce.

Mr. Joyce was very kind and talkative, and surprisingly eager to chat with me about his works.

James Joyce was so chatty!

I now know all the secrets of his works, and will be torturing you, my students, with even more James Joyce in the coming year. You’ll love it.

After three hours of readings in the cold, we closed the ceremonies, and Mr. Shifflett and I bid farewell to James Joyce, Senator Norris, Penny, Igor, and our other friends, and sallied forth to find a cup of tea to warm up. We ended the night listening to traditional Irish music in O’Donoghue’s nearby – a real Irish jam session, with three guitars, a banjo, a fiddle, an Irish flute, a tin whistle, and a concertina, just a random assortment of men and women who got together to play a few tunes. It was the perfect end to the day.

Happy Bloomsday, everyone!

St. Patrick’s Cathedral & Temple Bar

Two very different locations in one day, funnily enough.

On Friday, still tired from being out so late the night before, Mr. Shifflett and I gave ourselves an easy day. In the early afternoon, we visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the most famous church in Dublin, named after St. Patrick, who came to Ireland and baptized so many people. It’s a beautiful building, and it’s huge – almost 100 meters long throughout – and has a number of historic stones with Celtic crosses on them, in addition to statues of famous deans and other historical figures, and memorials to Irish soldiers.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

The cathedral’s best exhibit is about the life of Jonathan Swift, its  dean during the late 16th/early 17th century, who is best known for his writing – he’s the author of “A Modest Proposal” and Gulliver’s Travels. What I learned about Jonathan Swift here was that he was also a statesman and actually sacrificed some opportunities for advancement in the church in order to speak out for Irish rights. For example, he stopped an English plan to flood Irish currency with useless copper coins… and he did it peacefully, through a written campaign. He also left much of his fortune to found a mental hospital with revolutionary humane standards upon his death. It’s hard not to like Swift.

Later in the day, we went to Temple Bar, which is a district unto itself (not just a single building) and is known as Dublin’s “cultural center,” with a vivid (and noisy) nightlife. This is where all the tourists come, and we saw them all, including about a dozen hen parties and stag nights (bachelorette and bachelor parties, respectively). Although all the locations out here advertise “live Irish music,” that music frequently turned out to be American party hits that the tourists could sing along to. While Mr. Shifflett and I liked it okay, it wasn’t really our favorite part of Dublin – we felt like this catered more to clubbers and tourists, and that’s not really what we wanted to see. Still, I’m glad we saw it; we probably couldn’t say we’d been to Dublin properly if we hadn’t walked through the Temple Bar crowds at least once.

Temple Bar

We made it an early night, because we knew we’d be very busy the following day for Bloomsday… and busy we were.

Play: The House

Last night we saw The House at the Abbey Theatre, the national theater of Ireland, founded by W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory in the 1920s. The play was by Tom Murphy, an Irish playwright whose works are frequently staged here, and it was amazing. We weren’t familiar with the plot, so we were totally blown away – by the script as much as by the brilliant acting and the really incredible set design.

The plot is about Irish emigration, and what happens to men and women who leave Ireland – they don’t belong in their hometowns anymore, but they don’t belong in the outside world either, and when they return home (as the characters do in this play, visiting their families and friends), they’re changed. It’s described as an indictment of emigration, and I have to agree – nothing ends well here, although at the beginning of the play, you’d be tempted to call it a romantic comedy.

The dialogue was beautifully written, reflecting local cadences and speech patterns, and really capturing the flow of conversations appropriate to where they take place – the pub, the home, the street. And here, it was as much about the silences, as what’s not being said or what’s simply understood, as about what’s actually spoken. I imagine it would take a while for actors to get the pacing of the speech down pat, but this cast had it, and it was lovely.

I think, though, I was most impressed by the set design! The first scene seemed very simple – a few platforms, a garden table and chairs – but during the scene change, things started moving by themselves, and I realized that what appeared so simple was actually a very complex dual rotating set. The two halves of the stage had circular rotating platforms in the floor, and the set pieces were built in halves on those two platforms – so they could rotate out and bring in an entire home, or a whole pub, or open up to create an inner and an outer room of a house. It’s almost impossible to describe in words; I’d have to draw a diagram of it. I can’t even imagine how it went together, because they built hallways and doors and back rooms on this as well! It’s the most intricate set I’ve ever seen – I’d say it was on par with the huge mechanized sets of a Broadway production like Wicked. Dublin theater is just plain amazing. They accomplish so much, and they do it like it’s no big deal at all. I kind of want to move here, just to be a season ticket holder to the Abbey.

A right dirty oul’ day!

Yesterday (Thursday), it was absolutely tipping it down outside. That means it was raining cats and dogs. People will tell you that Oscar Wilde once said there was “no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” That’s not really true; I mean, the statement about needing appropriate clothing is true, but Wilde didn’t actually say it; apparently British adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes (not to be confused with Ralph Fiennes, Lord Voldemort) said that. At any rate, the weather yesterday was awful, and by the early afternoon we were soaked to the bone. But we ventured forth anyway, with plenty of tales to tell for it!

Our first visit was to the Dublin Writers Museum. Here we saw a broader view of the history of Irish literature from the Book of Kells to contemporary Irish authors. Their exhibit on Yeats, Synge, the Abbey Theater, and the Irish Literary Revival was particularly fascinating. A huge part of claiming an identity separate from British rule was reclaiming the Gaelic language and creating a national body of art. It’s always interesting to me how the Irish sort of have to write in English, a borrowed language (or Gaelic, also called Irish, which very few people here actually speak); however, the museum posited that English was the Irish’s greatest weapon against the English, in that they used the language to act and argue for independence, freedom, and autonomy.

Dublin Writers Museum

I also learned a lot about contemporary writers I’d like to study further, like Flann O’Brien, Patrick Kavanagh, and Brendan Behan. Heads up, students: you may be seeing some of these poets and authors this year. You’ll like them. In addition to their writing, O’Brien and Kavanagh are apparently responsible for stealing the door of No. 7 Eccles Street, featured in Ulysses (yes… literally stealing the door off a house, because they liked its book so much), and Brendan Behan spent years in prison for being an IRA rebel before starting an illustrious career of public drunkenness and authorship. (The story goes that he got off the plane in Canada and saw an advertisement that said “Drink Canada Dry!”… which is exactly what he tried to do.)

After this we did another walking tour with the James Joyce Centre, but while this one was focused on Dubliners, we really didn’t go anywhere we hadn’t been before. That was a little disappointing, especially because by this point it was raining hard and my shoes were starting to hold some water (yuck), but the good part was the people we met on the tour. We met a professor of zoology from the University of Oklahoma who’d been a Joycean since encountering Finnegan’s Wake her freshman year of college. She’d just finished a cruise around the Mediterranean focusing on locations from Homer’s Odyssey (which, of course, is the basis for Ulysses), and came to Dublin for Bloomsday after that. She was very friendly, and we spent some time chatting about what Greece was like and how the Odyssey and Ulysses differ. The other person we met was a retired surfer dude from California (seriously, he kept saying, “Far out, man!” – and this guy was easily 65) who had read Ulysses 30 times and said he learned something new every time. He said that he’d tried to age like Leopold Bloom, taking life as it came and enjoying the world around him. We’ll see them again at the Bloomsday breakfast on Saturday, so I’ll let you know if how many more times he says, “Far out, man.”

Our evening was spent at the Abbey Theatre watching The House, but the coolest part of the day was after that. It was still raining hard when we got out of the play, and in walking back to our hotel, we ducked into a hotel lobby restaurant to dry off. As we sat there, we overheard an American and two Brits talking about Ulysses, and added a little bit to that conversation; then the guy next to us, an Irishman named Finn, jumped in. We talked for probably an hour about the state of education in America and Ireland, about children today, politics, and families. It was wonderful and warm, and Finn really had the gift of the gab, like many Irish.

Then a group of about 8 Irish men and women strolled in after watching Ireland lose to Spain in the Euro Cup, but still in good spirits, and that’s when the craic really started flowing.

The craic is good spirit, happiness, conversation, fun in a public meeting place. When everyone’s having a good time and people are making friends, the craic is flowing. The craic flowed nonstop last night. We made friends with a trade union organizer, with a Unionist Protestant, with a man who described himself as an “unrepentant Republican,” with a poet, with everyone in the lobby. And, because the craic doesn’t flow without music, the Republican taught us some classic Irish  songs, like “The Dying Rebel” and “The Galway Shawl,” and we sang along. If this happened in an American hotel, you’d imagine the restaurant staff and concierge would be horrified, right? But here, they joined in too. It’s all part and parcel of making friends, having fun, and enjoying the craic.

Mrs. Shifflett Went to Gaol

But they let me out again.

Sorry for missing yesterday’s update! The internet here was a bit dodgy, as they say here, so I just packed up the laptop and decided to head out for our adventures. This post is all about what we did on Wednesday, June 13 – which was a lot!

We started the day with a long trek out to Kilmainham Gaol, a former prison turned historical museum commemorating Dublin’s rebellions and civil wars, the men who fought and were imprisoned or executed in those conflicts, and the horrors of prison life during dark days. It was grim, but it was a fantastic exhibit. There’s a little bit of information about the gaol here and here, but the tour we went on was excellent and really helped put history in context for us. Basically, as we walked around, we learned about a few main events:

1. The skyrocketing number of prisoners during the Irish Potato Famine, where Ireland’s potato crops were destroyed and many peasants and farmers, whose main dietary staple was potato, starved to death or emigrated. If your choice was between taking a “coffin ship” to another country (so called because so many people died en route, the ships arrived at port loaded with coffins), starving to death, or going to prison where you got two square meals a day, you’d choose prison too, right? A prison built for about 200 inmates saw 9,000 incoming prisoners throughout a single year during this famine.

The center of Kilmainham Gaol

2. Many famous Irish rebels were held here during the series of conflicts against England for independence. The leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising were held and executed here – in this yard, in fact.

The Stonebreakers’ Yard, site of the execution of the leaders of the Easter Rising

Interestingly, while the Rising was initially unpopular with the general public, the people turned and supported the rebels after hearing about their sad stories – the brothers who were executed without being able to say goodbye, the man who was too ill with gangrene from a wound and was tied to a chair to be shot, the couple who were married in the prison chapel mere hours before the husband’s execution. Kilmainham actually played a huge role in garnering popular support for resistance and rebellion.

3. My favorite part of the trip was in the condemned man’s room, where men awaited execution, and here’s why: Robert Emmet, who led a failed rebellion against the English in 1803, awaited death there for treason against the crown. At his sentencing, he gave a famous speech that has been quoted again and again, eloquently conveying his passionate belief in his country’s freedom:

“When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then and not till then, let my epitaph be written.”

An elderly priest, white-haired, leaning on a cane, was on the tour with us. He hadn’t said a word; he’d struggled up and down the crumbling stairs. He had to sit in this room, as he was too tired to stand any longer; he even closed his eyes. But as our tour guide quoted Emmet’s final words, the priest proudly said them along with her. He knew the words by heart. The passion for history and pride in the Irish who have sacrificed themselves for freedom is so strong here; it’s the lifeblood of the country, and it’s humbling to see.

The Irish Flag: green for the Nationalist Catholics, orange for the Unionist Protestants, and white for the peace for which they still strive.

We did a few other things this day, but this was the most profound and most striking experience. What a day.

Play: Glengarry Glen Ross

Okay, so this isn’t technically an Irish play… the playwright, David Mamet, is American. However, it was produced and performed at an Irish theatre this year, so I’m adding it to the list. Theater buffs, this post is all for you.

Last night, Mr. Shifflett and I saw Glengarry Glen Ross performed at the Gate Theatre, which is known for being one of Dublin’s avant-garde theaters. It was founded in 1928 and brought edgy European plays to Dublin, contrasting with the Abbey Theatre (more on that later this week), which produced Irish works. The theater itself was small and a little threadbare on the inside, but the production was absolutely incredible.

Glengarry Glen Ross (GGR from here on out) is the story of 1980s American salesmen who are trying to sell worthless properties to poor saps over the phone. The people they’re trying to sell to are called “leads.” If you sell a lot of this worthless property to these people, you qualify for the “prime leads,” or people who are actually more likely to buy property, so you can make more money. Four salesmen work for this company, and their bosses are having a contest this month to see who can sell the most property to these leads. First prize is a Cadillac; second is a set of steak knives; and third and fourth prizes are getting fired. Obviously no one wants to get fired, but how can the guy in fourth place, Shelley Levene, sell enough property when he  can’t get the prime leads? In Act Two, however, the game changes: the leads have been stolen, and everyone’s a suspect.

This play has been compared to Death of a Salesman and The Iceman Cometh, both plays about the role of salesmen and the necessity of dreams, the American dream, even if it’s hollow. But here, there is no dream: there isn’t even greed. There’s senseless, bloodthirsty competition for the sake of winning, just because it’s what the characters have always done. Glimpses of their humanity – a character’s apparent concern for a daughter, as it’s hinted (especially in the film version) that she might be sick – are denied us. We laugh and laugh at the snappy (profanity-riddled) dialogue, characteristic of all of Mamet’s work, but in the end we realize we’re laughing at a tragedy.

Mamet’s dialogue is a wonder to hear. It’s musical, it has an incredible rhythm, and it sounds real – the stammers, the pauses, the repetitions, the self-interruptions, are all written by Mamet, and it sounds almost like real speech. It’s too real, too good, to be real speech – it’s hyper-realistic, and it’s unlike any other dialogue you’ll hear on stage. Each character has their own quirk of speech – one character interrupts himself mid-word, one character always repeats himself, another never does. It’s just plain great writing.

In this version, in addition to the fantastic acting, I think I was most impressed by the set: they built an office on stage for the second act, and trashed it. It really looked like an actual, run-down, midtown office, and one that had been broken into to boot. There was (imitation) glass scattered across the floor, papers everywhere, dripping water stains on the ceiling beams, scuff marks and scratches on the desks and filing cabinets – they even added dust to the wood paneling. It’s probably the most realistically and intricately detailed set I’ve ever seen. I can’t imagine designing or building something like that.

All in all: extraordinarily well done. I’d love to talk to some of our school’s theater classes (or just theater fans) about Mamet and producing a play like this.

In the Footsteps of Leopold Bloom

Yesterday, on Day 2 of Dublin, Mr. Shifflett and I took two walking tours with the James Joyce Centre. The first was the Joyce Circular, which covered some highlights of Joyce’s life and a few locations from several of his works; the second was In the Footsteps of Leopold Bloom, which covered Bloom’s journey through the city in a single chapter of Ulysses.

Before I tell you about the walking tours, though, I should tell you that we did all of this with full bellies: we dined on the majesty of the Full Irish before leaving for our day’s journey. If you’ve never heard of or enjoyed a Full Irish, here’s what it is: it’s a Full Irish Breakfast. Eggs (fried or scrambled), bacon, sausage patties, a sausage link the size of a hot dog, baked beans, and a baked tomato. And several slices of toast. The idea is that when you eat a Full Irish, you feel full – for the rest of the day. Baked beans may sound weird for breakfast, but they are delicious. Beans on toast, beans on egg, beans on sausage, beans on everything. All of this should be enjoyed with several cups of tea. (Yes, for those of you who know what a coffee fiend I am, I have been drinking tea, and plenty of it.)

With the Full Irish under our belts, we took walking tour #1, which took us around some lovely Georgian streets (if you look at Dublin Mapped, we started at N Great George’s Street, walked north-ish to see Joyce’s school Belvedere College, around back to pass St. George’s Church (which figures in the first Bloom chapter of Ulysses), over to Eccles Street where Leopold Bloom lived, past playwright Sean O’Casey’s birthplace, down to the building where “The Boarding House” took place in Dubliners, and down O’Connell Street (which is like the grand boulevard of Dublin) to the statue of Joyce. I have a few pictures for you:

First, the types of buildings we were seeing everywhere on our walk: lovely restored/maintained Georgian buildings.

Georgian Dublin Buildings

Next, the James Joyce statue:

James Joyce Statue, Dublin

Finally, St. George’s Church:

St. George’s Church, Dublin

Now, we noticed something funny about the church. It has four clocks on the tower, and they’re all stopped at different times, seemingly randomly. One is at 2:43, or something like that. But the clock on the front is stopped at 8 o’clock… and when Leopold Bloom hears the bells of this church in his first chapter in Ulysses, guess what hour they’re tolling? If you guessed 8 o’clock, you’re right, and hopefully you’re as mystified/excited as we were. THE SPIRIT OF JAMES JOYCE LIVES IN DUBLIN AND WANTED TO JOIN US ON OUR TOUR!

Our second tour was Leopold Bloom’s journey through the Laestrygonians chapter of Ulysses, and it was really cool. Seriously. If you remember your Homer, you know the Laestrygonians were giant cannibals who devoured many of Odysseus’s men. This chapter in Ulysses is about Bloom’s hunger and how he stops for lunch, but it’s also about the bodily hunger of Dubliners who were destitute/starving, and the intellectual and spiritual hunger of a city looking for meaning. Beyond that, the physical path Leopold Bloom walks – straight down O’Connell over the Liffey River, around the curves of D’Olier and College Streets past Trinity College, down Grafton Street, and turning on Nassau and then on Kildare to end at the National Library – actually reflects digestion! Look at the map and check out the straight stretches (O’Connell is the esophagus), the curves (D’Olier and College are peristalsis), the end stretches (Grafton, Nassau, and Kildare become the intestines and the end stop).

Okay, that sounds weird, but it’s really cool. James Joyce knew his city so well, even writing from a foreign country – that’s right, he wrote Ulysses while living in Europe – he could remember the streets, their shops, and the monuments, and could map out a perfect route that reflected the symbolic content of his chapter. He’s one smart dude.


The city has installed these plaques in the sidewalk to mark Bloom’s journey in this chapter:

Bloom’s Footsteps Plaques

A view of the city from the south bank of the Liffey, looking over the river to O’Connell Street:

View from the Liffey

The tours were amazing – I felt like I learned a lot, which is saying… well, something. My knowledge of Joyce and Irish history is okay, but it’s not my specialty, so all of the things we’re doing have something to teach me, which is awesome.

Next up: a play review of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, and then I need to get out of here and have some adventures today.

Book: Ulysses

Well, students, I did it. I finished Ulysses. All 783 pages of it.

James Joyce’s Ulysses

“Oh, Mrs. Shifflett,” you’ll say, “what’s so hard about that? We read long books all the time. We’re brilliant.” Well, yes, you are, but this book is different. Each chapter of Ulysses is written in a different style, from blustering, bloviating, overblown prose, to stylized Middle English, to David Lynch-esque dialogue with creepy stage directions, to 40 pages of stream-of-consciousness monologue with nary a punctuation mark to be seen. Did I also mention that the allusions are miles thick, there are multiple languages incorporated, and you frequently have no idea what’s going on?

Now you’re saying, “This book sounds awful! Why would anyone want to read that?” Well, why would anyone want to run a marathon? You prepare for months, or years, and push yourself to the limit for not much other than personal glory at the end. Reading this book is the same way. Now I get to walk around Dublin and really get the literary references to Ulysses. But even more than that, I have the satisfaction of having read and studied one of the most difficult books ever written in the English language: a retelling of Homer’s Odyssey as a single day’s adventure in the life of Leopold Bloom.

Beyond that, though, I have to say that I enjoyed it. I’ve always had a thing for banned books, and Joyce struggled for a decade to get Ulysses published; it was called inappropriate, inaccessible, illegible, or just plain bad. (It’s not. It’s brilliant.) And while reading it, not only did I get to see Stephen Dedalus from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man again; I also kept running into characters from Dubliners. It was very Wizard of Oz: “And you were there, and you, and you!” It was like seeing old friends, even the characters you didn’t like very much. And while I usually find Joyce depressing (all modernism is depressing to me, really), I have to say that I felt uplifted at the end of this novel; hopeful, even. Maybe that’s my mistake in reading it, but I felt like despite all the misadventures of Bloom and Stephen, there was something hopeful and forward-looking at the end of the book.

More on Ulysses this week as I traipse the city like Bloom.

Mrs. Shifflett’s Really In Ireland!

I arrived yesterday morning at 7:45 a.m. Irish time (that’s 2:45 our time), and to try to ward off jet lag, threw myself into a day full of getting to know Dublin.

If you’ve never travelled internationally, jet lag is the phenomenon where you travel to a different time zone, but your body’s still on home time. So when I arrived at 7:45 a.m. Irish time, my body still though I had a few more hours to sleep before I should have to get up and march around a new city. The thing is, though, if you arrive in a new time zone and don’t try to move with that time immediately, you’re likely to end up doing weird things like sleeping all day and staying up all night. So when we arrived at our hotel, we took a short nap, and then got up to walk around the city.

Grafton Street

Grafton Street

We ended up exploring Grafton Street, which is a posh pedestrian shopping avenue; taking a City Sightseeing bus tour around Dublin (one of the big, red, open-top buses; they aren’t just in London!); and doing a brief literary walking tour of the Grafton area. (If you’d like to see a map of the city, click here.)

Here’s what I loved most about day 1: the literature. Dublin has a campaign called One City, One Book, where the whole city reads the same book together. This year’s choice? James Joyce’s Dubliners, of course. (What better to read when you’re in Dublin?) But even more than that, the city is full of literary life. Every pub has pictures and quotes from famous authors who visited or wrote there; every tour guide is full of anecdotes of writers’ lives. Our evening literary tour guide had a great story about Oscar Wilde being a boxing champ in his youth… who knew? Even our taxi driver had read some Joyce! We talked about Ulysses, of all things, as he took us to our hotel in the morning. You’ve got to love a city where the taxi drivers and publicans are fluent in Joyce.

Today, Mr. Shifflett and I are off on two more walking tours, this time specific to James Joyce. The first is a Joyce Circular, to get a feel for important locations in the life of James Joyce. The second is called In the Footsteps of Leopold Bloom, which will make us more familiar with where the events of Ulysses take place. Both of these tours are with the James Joyce Centre, which is organizing all of the really nerdy awesome stuff we’ll be doing for Bloomsday. Tonight, theater buffs, we’ll be seeing David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross at the Gate Theatre.

Next post: all about Ulysses, which I finally finished. Tonight (or your afternoon): updates on the walking tours and a play review.

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