Take the “Rocky” road to Dublin this Bloomsday.
Big celebrations attract the bandwagon crowd, like casual fans rioting on Broad Street after winning the pennant. I don’t see why our literati should be so different from our sports fans.
So don’t let the intimidating reputation of James Joyce’s Ulysses keep you from Bloomsday—the Joycean tailgate party held each June 16 (the day in 1904 the book takes place) at the Rosenbach.
Ulysses is as much Philadelphia as Dublin, fit for any underdog who’s ever been told he or his city is second-tier. Think Rocky with a doctorate, and tons more "Mickeys."
Joyce structured his book on Homer’s Odyssey, updating each episode (still identified by their Greek names) to comprise one day in the life of his 20th-century hero. The story is easily grafted, once more, onto modern-day Philadelphia.
Here’s the Cliff Notes, chapter-by-chapter, Philly-style …
Chapters 1-2, 9:30 am / Telemachus, Nestor: Portrait of the Hipster as a Young Man
Like Joyce, we begin at the cheap student digs of Stephen Dedalus, a young man of artistic sentiment. Now an aspiring blogger, he’s a real enfant terrible of New Media (in his own mind), chaffing at the price of PBR, and in need of a father figure.
Stephen’s stately schooled, plump roommate parodies a Catholic mass with a slice of leftover Lorenzo’s. He rags on Philly and calls Stephen’s mother a Cowboys fan, upsetting the precious genius who decides it’s time to move out.
They say “those who can’t, teach.” So does Stephen, part-time. His students are bored, the principal tells racist jokes.
Chapter 2, 11 am / Proteus: Penn’s Landing
Stephen takes a walk, ponders a career at Huffington Post, pees and picks his nose (latter two, straight from Joyce). The Spirit of Philadelphia blows its horn, foreshadowing the arrival of our second protagonist…
Chapter 3 / Calypso: Bella Vista
Leopold Bloom, 38, is an advertising hump as respected as Rodney Dangerfield, an outsider in his own city. A Jew in an Irish country, for Joyce, our Bloom is set apart by qualities far more dramatic: he’s a voting Republican, a Tastykake virgin who pronounces it “wahter.” He longs for a son, but endures an unfaithful wife, which any Iggles fan can attest isn’t much of a stretch, metaphorically; dem Birds always screw you.
Mrs. Bloom, Molly if you’re nasty, is a curvy flirt whose college band had a hit on WDRE. Bloom suspects she’s schtupping the promoter of their World Café reunion, who’s visiting that afternoon.
For breakfast, our hero fries up some scrapple, registering a slight smell of urine. Evidently they live near the Broad Street line.
Chapter 4 / The Lotus-Eaters: The Italian Market
Chorizo, Chevas jerseys and the espresso purr of Fante’s transport our hero to exotic lands (mostly Mexico) while on his morning errands.
Chapters 5-6, 11am / Hades, Aelous: SEPTA
Joyce’s Bloom attends a funeral, triggering thoughts of an eternity of decay. Ours descends into the murky depths of the orange line until he rejoins the living at his office.
Chapter 7, noon / Laestrygonians: Jeet Yet?
Garrulous roofers scare Bloom from a grease truck, so he tries a deli instead, ordering a cheesesteak with Gorgonzola or something else equally removed from “Whiz wit.” Good thing he’s not running for office.
Chapter 8-9, 2:00 pm / Scylla & Charybdis, The Wandering Rocks: The Newswatch Never Stops
Whereas Odysseus’ journey involved whirlpools and monsters, our heroes deal with more modern obstacles, chilling on a friend’s stoop (Stephen) and zoning out to Sports Talk (Bloom). The rest of the city’s abuzz with Will Smith sightings.
Chapter 10, 4:00 pm / The Sirens: The Sound of Market
Bloom woos platinum clients Gamble and Huff at a folksy Dirty Frank’s, but barmaids threaten to derail his sales pitch with bawdy jokes and distracting ringtones. The jukebox plays Molly’s band followed by Hall and Oates’ “Maneater.”
Chapter 11, 5:30 pm / Cyclops: Geno’s
Modern Cyclops has both eyes but is only capable of seeing things his own way. Still craving a decent cheesesteak, Bloom goes to Geno’s where a xenophobic Joe Sixpack rails against immigrants, students, and everything else (except the sandwich wrappers littering the streets for blocks around). Bloom narrowly escapes an 85oz soda hurled at his head.
Nausicaa / Now: Rittenhouse Square, 7:00pm
After ogling three MILFs, Bloom sullenly guesses at what’s happened in his bed today.
Oxen of the Sun / Now: Everybody Who Knows Goes…, 8:30pm
Here, Joyce compares human gestation to the evolution of the English language. We instead find Bloom joining Stephen and crew at the Melrose Diner for eggs over-easy, where the Philly accent continues to baffle linguists with its rhotic, schwa-voweled mystique.
Spake the waitress, “wa’keye-ge’yiz, hun?
Circe / Now: The Afterparty, 11:00pm
Emboldened by a South Street bar crawl, the gang visits a massage parlor in Chinatown. Messy Stephen breaks a chandelier; Bloom covers the damage. Outside, “happy endings” turn to “you startin’ something?” between Stephen and some off-duty cops. Bloom, again, intercedes to save the boy’s neck and is saddled with getting him home.
2:30 am / Eumaeus, Ithaca / Now: Nite Owl
After a 16 oz. at Wawa, Stephen pukes. Bloom calls him “a lightweight.” They stagger home, a surrogate father-son coupling briefly made whole while urinating in Bloom’s garden. Stephen’s offered the couch but takes a cab home, the two enriched from their encounter.
4:30am / Penelope / Now: Wifey
Has Molly really cuckolded Bloom? Oh, most definitely! But, picturing a music video montage of their imperfect marriage, she figures “as well him as another,” ending our story with tepid optimism. Would she marry him again? Yeah she says she would sure Yeah.
Bloomsday in Philadelphia can be celebrated at the Rosenbach Museum. See the museum's website for details.
"I've made friends this way. There are people I look forward to seeing every year at Bloomsday," says Drucie McDaniel, the Philadelphia-based stage and film actress who portrays Ulysses' Molly Bloom...
If things run true to form, the crowd outside the Rosenbach will start swelling around 6 Saturday evening, expectation hanging heavy over the marble staircase that serves as the stage for Bloomsday, ...
Gabriel García Márquez, 1927-2014