Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dare cross Joyce?

In ‘Eveline’, a short story in Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’, the protagonist aspiration of  taking a trip to Buenos Aires with her lover is meant as a metaphor for wanting to escape to a different world, a different life.
When Joyce said ‘daulphin’, ‘oldun’, ‘Tumplan’ and ‘Doubtlynn’ in Finnegans Wake, he actually meant the city of Dublin.
And when Joyce set the scene of Ulysses in Dublin, he actually meant Zurich…

Well, there is truth in my reference to Finnegan’s Wake (don’t forget, though, the other 247 or so phrases for Dublin), and my inclusion Eveline is a weak point due to its forgettability , but my Ulysses remark is completely ludicrous. Well, not completely.

Joyce's grave in Fluntern Cemetary

Joyce lived in Zurich in 1904 and then from 1915-19. And it was his first stop on his self-inflicted, or self-endowed, exile. He was supposed to teach English at the Berlitz Language school (I actually saw an ad on tram 6, going back into the city from Joyce’s grave, for Berlitz’s language school!) there, but was sent to Trieste instead. He returned to Zurich in 1915, and wrote ‘Exiles’, quite fittingly.  ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a young Man’ was published, and he began really getting into ‘Ulysses’. It is difficult to consider that his adopted city could not have inspired him in at least small ways during his time writing there.

One piece of quotable Joycean eloquence said of Zurich is along the lines of Bahnhofstrasse is so clean that you can drink minestrone soup off of it. True, the place is ridiculously clean. Admirable, in a way, but this quality deflates in my eyes when I’m reminded of a TripAdvisor reviewer saying ‘Zurich – world’s most boring city?’. Nah, I don’t think so. But I did have a mission, of sorts.

After seeking and finding his grave in a logical and direct manner perhaps typical of Zurich, but definitely not of our Dubliner, I headed to one of his former residences in the city. And I noticed this on the wall.

Granted, he lived here for less than a year (Jan 1918 - 26 Oct 1918), but I’d have to be some mad fan to trace all the residences in Zurich. Joyce’s tendency to not stay put mirrors his writing style well. Notice how in German ‘novel Ulysses’ translates as ‘Roman Ulysses’ – as opposed to ‘Greek Odysseus’? The house is on Universitatsstrasse, just up the road from… yes, the university. I can imagine the number of literature students who gain inspiration from Joyce’s historic presence in their town – well, those who notice the plaque anyway!

But Joyce is not a forgotten ghost of the Irish diaspora. He is regarded as a citizen of the city: there is a James Joyce Foundation in Zurich, I’m happy to say. As the biggest Swiss city, juggling French, German, Italian, and occasionally English, is a daily occurrence – I recall that having resolving an issue with a clerk at the railway station that I had used all four languages in our conversation – so I suppose the Joyce fanatics of Zurich are the best suited to dissecting sections from Finnegans Wake.

Going over my photos from my recent Swiss sojourn, I noticed I had accidentally captured one of Joyce’s favourite restaurants/pubs, Restaurant Augustiner.. You can see the illuminated sign on the right. I’ve put it in B&W so that we can try imagine it being taken ca 1915, and that that’s Joyce standing right outside.