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French Letter

Bloomsday in Paris

Jun 16

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009  RssIcon

Happy Bloomsday! We hope you’ve been dipping into the great book today, perhaps even visiting the Martello Tower or other Dublin locations.

Guitar tuned to 'The D-E-A-D': James JoyceAs you may know, ‘Ulysses’ was published in Paris by Shakespeare and Co. – not the hip boho bookshop across from Notre Dame but the original store near the Odéon. And Joyce lived here for many years, finally leaving only because of the Nazi occupation.

There are flashes of Paris thoughout ‘Ulysses’, mainly because Stephen has just returned from the French capital as the story begins. He recalls meeting shady exiled Fenians in dark café-bars, remembers seeing wealthy traders on the steps of the Bourse, and he wants to put lemon in his tea. ('O damn you and your Paris fads', says Mulligan in exasperation to him.)

But what if Joyce had set ‘Ulysses’ in Paris rather than Dublin? It could have been done. There’s a famous tower here – not Martello but Eiffel. The Seine is as ‘snotgreen’ as Dublin Bay but you wouldn’t want to swim in it. Eccles Street, Bloom’s home, corresponds on the map to Le Marais, the traditional Jewish quarter of Paris. Stephen could expound his literary theories in the Sorbonne – perhaps blathering about Joyce to American academics. For Sandymount Strand in Dublin you have in Paris the banks of the Seine, where Stephen can stroll in contemplation and Bloom can do obscene things while spying on a young girl. (This is generally what goes on along the Seine most days and nights.) And for Night-town there’s Pigalle or Rue Saint Denis or the side-streets near Boulevard Haussmann or… lots of other places that we’ve been told about.

Tonight at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris, Terence Killeen will discuss music in Joyce. Of course, CLUAS readers will already be experts on this subject, having read Rev Jules’ fine article on Joyce’s influence on popular music.

So, for the day that’s in it, here’s the Joyce-esque genius of Kate Bush and her Molly Bloom-inspired ‘The Sensual World’. The Fairlight production may be a bit dated but the track is still thrilling:


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Aidan Curran, based in Paris, has been writing for CLUAS since 2004. More info about Aidan...

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