Today is Bloomsday, Dublin and the literary world’s most celebrated event, commemorating the day on which Ulysses takes place, itself a commemoration by James Joyce of the day in 1904 on which he had his first date with Nora Barnacle. He was twenty-two and she twenty; the two left for Europe four months later, and kept their marriage alive despite all challenges for the next thirty-seven years.
Because the action in Ulysses has a double eight a.m. start, anyone lucky enough to be in Dublin for Bloomsday is forced to make a character choice. Those who wish to wake with Stephen Dedalus and “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan” travel to nearby Sandycove for a tour and reading at the Martello Tower, or perhaps a swim at the Forty Foot. Those who wish to breakfast with Leopold Bloom and Molly stay in the city, commemorating the most famous kidney in literature at a restaurant, perhaps after following Bloom as he leaves his house at 7 Eccles Street on the first leg of his long day’s journey:
Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod’s roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.
Kidneys were in his mind as he moved about the kitchen softly, righting her breakfast things on the humpy tray. Gelid light and air were in the kitchen but out of doors gentle summer morning everywhere. Made him feel a bit peckish.
…On quietly creaky boots he went up the staircase to the hall, paused by the bedroom door. She might like something tasty. Thin bread and butter she likes in the morning. Still perhaps: once in a way….
Bloom’s meal has been somewhat enlarged by tourism, the traditional Bloomsday breakfast now a kidney on top of “the full Irish”—sausage (black or white pudding), bacon, egg, tomato, and beans, and often a pint of Guinness rather than the tea. This can be justified by tracing Bloom’s route in the traditional city walkabout, listening to the open-air readings, and hanging on for Bloomsday lunch: a gorgonzola sandwich and a glass of burgundy.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.