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Belated Bloomsday

“Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-law. But always meeting ourselves.”

James Joyce’s Ulysses is arguably one of Ireland’s most famous literary offerings. In some 265 000 words, 30 000+ of them unique, it chronicles the life of Leopold Bloom in the course of a day –June 16, 1904 – in Dublin. Joyce chose to mark this date, the day on which he first stepped out with the woman who would become his wife, Nora Barnacle. Today, June 16 is celebrated globally as Bloomsday. And one of the most notable celebrations outside of Dublin is here in Hungary, in Szombathely, the birthplace of Bloom’s fictional father, a Hungarian Jew by the name of Rudolf Virág, who emigrated to Ireland.

Back in 2007, Hungarian filmmaker Csilla Toldy, who’s now living in Ireland, made a 26-minute documentary The Bloom Mystery on the Hungarian-Jewish origins of Leopold Bloom. The film was shot simultaneously in Hungary and Ireland on Bloomsday 2007, and underscores the almost intangible affinity that exists between the two nations.

A couple of years ago, in 2013, Ambassador Kevin Dowling and the Irish Embassy here in Budapest, launched a Belated Bloomsday, designed to coincide with the Night at the Museums. There’s a lot of interest in Ireland and her literature here in Hungary and this night is a welcome addition to the literary scene.

bloomThis year’s venue ‒ 2B Gallery, Raday utca 47 ‒ will host music, readings, a film, talks, and an art exhibition on Joyce from 5.30 to 10 pm on Saturday, 20th June. Hungarian actors from the Atrium Theatre Company will read from Joyce in English and in Hungarian [I believe that they’re hoping to put on a full performance of The Dead later this year – something else to look forward to]. And if you fancy a bit of fancy dress, don your Bloomsday threads, enter the Joycean Best Dressed competition, and get a free glass of Guinness to put you in the mood. [If you’re a punctuation pedant, you’ll need a Guinness or three.] One of the features of the night will be the screening of Pat Murphy’s wonderful film, Nora. For more details, check the Embassy’s Facebook page.

Ulysses is a treasure trove of great advice and its relevance hasn’t dimmed with the passing of time.  I’ve tried, on a number of occasions, to read the book in its entirety, but have failed miserably. It’s a punctuation thing.  I did partake in a 24-hour reading of the text in San Diego one year and admittedly at 3 am in the morning it began to make some sense. I went so far as to buy the unabridged audio version in the hope that hearing it might be easier. But alas, besting the beast is something that I still have to do before I die. I agree with Carl Jung who said that Ulysses could ‘just as well be read backwards, for it has no back and no front, no top and no bottom’. Mad in the head, Joyce was.

Flicking through the tome this week, I came across a few pertinent quotations that still stand tall.

On smoking: ‘The mouth can be better engaged than with a cylinder of rank weed.’ On intolerance: ‘It’s a patent absurdity on the face of it to hate people because they live round the corner and speak a different vernacular, so to speak.’ And on the passing of time: ‘Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past.’ For all his battiness, our man Joyce did us proud. And it’s great to be able to share him.

First published in The Budapest Times 19 June 2015

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Grateful 26

Week 26. Half-way through the year. It’s hotter than hades here in Budapest and I’m finding very little to be grateful for this week. The blasted heat. Yes, I know Ireland is cold and wet but what I wouldn’t swap for some of that coldness and wetness. Forty-two degrees yesterday. It is any wonder that I’m slowly losing my will to live.

I was in Szombathely last weekend and who did I run into but the bould Mr Joyce. I’d heard tell that there was a town/city in Budapest that translated into ‘bloom’ and was home to some severe Joycean celebrations each June. But, not for the first time, I got the story a little addled and it turns out that it was Leopold Bloom’s fictional father (him being fictional himself) that supposedly hailed from Hungary – Szombathely – and it’s his name – Virag that translates in to flower or bloom. In his novel, Ulysses, Joyce gives Leopold Bloom’s ancestry as Bloom, only born male transubstantial heir of Rudolf Virag (subsequently Rudolph Bloom) of Szombathely . . .

Bridget Hourican writes in the Irish Times that:

Virag means flower in Hungarian, hence Bloom, but it’s a conceit of Joyce’s that Leopold’s father began life as Rudolf Virag. There were Jews in Szombathely called Blum, but never Virag. Laszlo Najmanyi, writer, musician and organiser of the Hungarian Bloomsday, says: “The Blums were big textile traders in Szombathely and members of the family were posted in Trieste. It’s likely that Joyce met them there.” Trieste was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and Joyce certainly met Hungarians, including Teodoro Mayer, owner of Irredentist newspapers, and one of the models for Bloom. A motif in Ulysses is Arthur Griffith’s Resurrection of Hungary – the history of the struggle for independence from Austria, presented as a model for the Irish. The United Irishman serialised the book from January to June 1904, so of course characters in Ulysses are busy reading it.

Someone took the time to trace the Blum’s old house and erect a plaque over the door that further confuses the Blum/Virág/Bloom issue. I have to keep reminding myself that Leopold Bloom was a figment of Joyce’s imagination and neither he, nor his creator, is likely to be turning in his grave at the apparent inconsistencies. I have no one with whom to share my pain.

This week, as the barometers soar and the heat makes irrationality normal, I am grateful for being Irish. I am grateful that our reach is broad and our influence wide. I am grateful that we have left, and continue to leave, our mark on the world. As the lovely Colin Farrell supposedly said: Being Irish is very much a part of who I am. I take it everywhere with me.

PS – a nice gesture from the Mayor of Poznan after the Irish fans’ performance during Euro2012.