Saturday, June 16, 2007

Bloomsday: ReJoyce!

So after taking care of some responsible-adult-type duties this morning, I made the trek over the bridge to check out Philly's Bloomsday celebration. Long story short, the day commemorates the anniversary of the events that occur in James Joyce's Ulysses. There are big celebrations all over the world, notably in Dublin (obviously — although Joyce certainly experienced some “prophet in his home town” receptions in his life) and Spokane, where they have a 12K run in the spirit of a true odyssey. Philly's connection (beyond its history as a hub of Irish immigration) is the Rosenbach Museum and Library which houses Joyce's handwritten manuscript of the novel.

In keeping with the occasion, I parked in the office lot and walked the mile or so over to the Rosenbach. It was a perfect day for it — warm and sunny without the crippling humidity that a Philly summer can bring. Surprisingly, this was my first walk through Rittenhouse Square Park rather than past it. It was bustling with recreation — there was a four or five stand farmers market setup, sunbathers, people administering a trust/blindness experiment with blindfolds. Two notable canine spottings: a St. Bernard wearing a bib and a Basset Hound in a muzzle.

I've never visited the Rosenbach before either. Everything for the reading was set up as a sort of block party in the street outside the row of rowhouses that houses the active collection. There were a few booths selling memberships and memorabilia*, and one with gelato, bordering rows of folding chairs facing a makeshift stage on one of the stoops. Readings, by local celebs, business owners and donors, were about 3 or 4 pages each, interspersed with live musical selections. In that way they expected to get through the whole novel in about 7 hours. I only stayed through a handful of readings because I didn't want to hear too many spoilers (everyone thinks I'm joking when I say this) and I hadn't managed to rustle up anyone to come along. The surprise highlight was local Action News anchor Monica Malpass whose (duh, professional reader) inflection and rich newswoman basso were spot on, if delivered a bit fast.

Took a brief tour of the museum proper as well. The accompanying exhibit this year is on Bloom's Jewish heritage and the kinship of the Jews and the Irish as an oppressed people, so relevant pages of the manuscript were on display, as was a collection tracing the evolution of the Torah Hebrew scripture in Europe. Also caught a little Sendak material and some short amateur|artistic films on the Homeric Odyssey. Ultimately, I couldn't shake the feeling that the real party was going on outside though, so I didn't really dally. I'll have to return some other day to give it a thorough look.

*Missed opportunity: commemorative eyepatches

No comments: