June 16th is like St. Patrick’s Day for booklovers instead of greenmouthed drunks. And while it’s often difficult to remember exactly what you’re supposed to be celebrating on St. Paddy’s Day (it’s Bono’s birthday, right?), remembering the rationale behind Bloomsday is easy: it’s a celebration of the day depicted within James Joyce’s Ulysses.
Every year, great Bloomsday events pop up all over the country (Symphony Space in NYC, the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, Poldy’s Perambulation in Portland, Maine) but let’s be honest here, how much fun are things like marathon readings, period costume re-enactments, and sobriety? (One of the great things about Bloomsday is that if you want to turn it into an alcoholiday by getting pissed, acting rowdy, and staying out until “blue o’clock in the morning,” you can totally do that, too!)
Joyce wrote Ulysses as a book for the everyman, so why shouldn’t it be celebrated by everyone? But what if you live in a city that doesn’t advertise an organized Bloomsday celebration?
“Don’t mope over it all day… give up the moody brooding.”
Here are ten easy ways to create your own Bloomsday celebration:
1. Start your day by not taking a shower
Ulysses begins with “stately, pump” Buck Mulligan and Stephen Dedalus sharing a moment atop the Martello Tower. Because Stephen is hydrophobic, Mulligan playfully taunts him by inquiring, “is this the day for your monthly wash?” (If you think forgoing your morning shower sounds unhygienic, just wait until you get further down the list!)
2. Carry around a tiny bar of soap in one pocket and a potato in the other
Leopold (“Poldy”) Bloom carries both of these objects in his pockets during the course of the day. The bar of Sweny’s sweet lemony soap is a gift for his wife, Molly; the potato is a talisman for good luck.
3. Find a public work of sculpture (preferably nude) and sneak a peak at its bum.
This has to be my favorite part of Bloomsday. While contemplating Greek sculpture, Poldy wonders how anatomically correct they are… you know… down there. “Never looked. I’ll look today. Keeper won’t see. Bend down let something fall see if she.”
4. Contemplate your favorite Shakespeare play; and while you’re at it, engage in some casual heresy.
The blasphemy in Ulysses is often so subtle that it’s easy to miss. Stephen’s Shakespeare-inspired heresy goes like this: Hamlet questions who his real father is. (Shakespeare never tells us exactly when Claudius and Gertrude’s affair began; he only mentions that King Hamlet used to spend a lot of time away from the castle.) According to Stephen, Hamlet’s dilemma is universal. “Paternity may be a legal fiction. Who is the father of any son that any son should love him or he any son?”
5. Have a go in public
OK, this probably sounds excessively lewd, obscene, and of questionable legality, but hey that’s exactly what people said about Ulysses when it was first published! Leopold Bloom has a go on Sandymount Strand in the shadow of a Catholic Church (I told you the book was blasphemous!)
6. Find a quiet corner of an Irish pub and shout, “HE’S A BLOODY RUFFIAN, I SAY, TO TAKE AWAY POOR LITTLE WILLY DIGNAM!”
This quote is shouted at Barney Kiernan’s pub by Bob Doran, who we’re told earlier in the book is “on one of his periodic benders.” Doran shares a name with an old Irish ballad about a husband who is unfaithful to his fiancee with a donkey.
[Editor’s note: If you want to turn Bloomsday into an alcoholiday, you’ll want to ratchet up the boozing now. But keep in mind: you don’t have to drink Guinness. Joyce didn’t; he preferred Swiss wine. For lunch, Poldy drinks a glass of Burgundy with his Gorgonzola sandwich. And Stephen and his friends chase the “Green Fairy’s Fang,” aka absinthe.]
7. Go somewhere where there are loose women, shout “Iagogo!,” and break something
Nothing ruins a trip to the local whorehouse like the appearance of your dead mother’s ghost! As for that “Iagogo!” cry, it’s shouted by the beardless, partially paralyzed face of William Shakespeare, which appears in a hallway mirror “crowned by the reflection of the reindeer antler hatrack in the hall,” in what has to be Ulysses‘ most baffling WTF moment.
8. Before going to bed, step outside for a quiet pee
After Stephen trashes the whorehouse and gets punched in the nose, he and Poldy end their evening urinating together in Bloom’s backyard.
9. Crawl into bed upsidedown and kiss your partner on the rump
After kissing the “plump mellow yellow smellow melons of her rump,” Poldy passes out, leaving Molly wide awake. He’s sleeping upsidedown in bed because he doesn’t want to lie in the impression left by Molly’s lover. When Molly sees how her husband is sleeping, she shrugs it off as a “Jewish thing.” Like most men, I find Molly slightly terrifying, but I suspect that’s exactly what Joyce wanted. In Molly, Joyce created the perfect personification of the kind of powerful female sexuality that gave Shakespeare the shivers his whole life.
10. Drift off to sleep while contemplating love
After lengthy, contemplative dissertations on metempsychosis, parallax, onanism, absinthism, Dublin “street furniture,” blasphemy, and Shakespeare, Ulysses ends with a simple, universal message: love.
Poldy poetically articulates this message in the following exchange within Barney Kiernan’s pub:
– It’s no use, says he [Bloom]. Force, hatred, history, all that. That’s not life for men and women, insult and hatred. And everybody knows that it’s the very opposite of that that is really life.
– What? says Alf.
-Love, says Bloom. I mean the opposite of hatred.