Bloomsday June 16, 2009Posted by Mark Folse in books, Ireland, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Bloomsday, James Joyce, Ulysses
“Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read…”
– Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce’s Ulysses.
And so it is Bloomsday and there is nothing going on in New Orleans. No, that is not true. In this city there is always something going on, at this time of year when everyone is out on a stoop or sitting under a shady spot on the neutral ground or strolling in the shade of Audubon Park or Lake Vista, in spite of the dreadful heat that has finally arrived there are people everywhere, somewhere people are cooking, many others are drinking, and somewhere there will be something very like a parade (I think of the bicyclists I saw the other night coming out of the Marigny at Elysian Fields, of the woman who had dressed a tricycle out as a white fairy horse and rode it in a diaphanous Princess Buttercup gown into the Quarter. Never say “nothing is going on” in this city; ask yourself why you are at home telling yourself that).
I forgot to ask Amy at the bookseller’s party Saturday night why she was not holding a Bloomsday party this year and of course last year I didn’t go and there isn’t one this year and let that be a lesson to you, that if you see something good happening in this town and you do not go it will be your own damned fault if next time there is nothing, you will be one of those “if only a few more people had shown up” and you’ll have no one to blame to yourself. That was part of the long conversation I had with the famous geographer who came to collect his book award (and that long conversation part of the reason I forgot to ask Amy about Bloomsday), and he asked why I came home and I told him I was afraid for the city, that if there was not a critical mass of people sufficient to sustain the place it might fail and I wanted to be here, to help tip the scale toward survival. So if you don’t go, its your own damn fault when its gone.
So if there are no Bloomsday readings, not even a handful in a bar with broken copies sprouting yellow post-it notes and pouting favorite passages then maybe what I need to do is something solitary (no, I’m not going to go stand on a street corner and read into the crowd as I once suggested when no one answered my online queries, but if you see someone doing this somewhere tonight buy them a drink, will you?). The story of Ulysses is not just the story of Bloom the unlikely everyman or Daedalus his chronicler but also the story of the city, a picture of Dublin on June 16, 1904, the day James Joyce met Nora Barnacle, and the story advances as much by the action of it’s characters in the context of the street as by their interaction with the other characters, the city unfolds not when Bloom and Dedalus meet but as they each make their separate walks though it. Ulysses is probably the most ambitious and famous example of capturing the “the genie soul of the place“.
What I should do is not worry about the Dublin of 1904 but about the New Orleans of 2009. I should take myself out and walk some familiar street as I once walked the streets of Rehoboth, Delaware on our last trip to the ocean before we left for Fargo, to walk with a mind to build a perfect mental picture of a place I was afraid I might not see again. I should pick somewhere (perhaps a circuit of the French Quarter, or a walk the length of Magazine, somewhere there are certain to be people) and just take careful mental note of everything and everyone I see, every bit a conversation overheard, to do what I pledged to myself long ago but don’t do enough now (life is too busy: the counting house, the kids, her crazy job I have to hear about for hours every night) which is to be myself a chronicler of place, of people in a place, to tell the story of a city.
So don’t sit inside tonight reading about a city an ocean and a century away but set out down some street here in this city, your city–down your street, or an old street of fond memories or a new old street your barely know–with your warehouse eyes bright with Arcadian rum and drink it all in, let the city wash over and into every pore. Be a part of the city’s story, then tell it. There is not one great work of a single hand like Ulysses that tells the story of New Orleans and may never be, but there are a hundreds of bloggers each telling a small piece of the story of New Orleans. Step out sometime today into the city and remember all you see. Try sometime this week to tell a small bit of the story of June 16 in New Orleans