La Voie Joyce
(Translation Noga & Alan Sklar)
:Foreword to the edition commemorating 90 years of Ulysses:
an excerpt from my book “Holy Molly!”
The pity is the public will demand and find a moral in my book, or worse, they may take it in some serious way, and on the honor of a gentleman, there is not one single serious line in it.
When I saw the January of my Sixties approach, it suddenly hit me: I had to celebrate it in Paris. But why Paris? I had no special connection to the City; I liked it well enough, that was true, and I had not been there since 1992. More seriously, as Alan reminded me, and we confirmed in my novel No Degrees of Separation, I had never been there with a great love, never had loved anyone on the banks of the Seine, if you know what I mean. Neither had he.
Our story needed a path correction; It was the right time for Alan and I to be together in Paris. We got busy, reserved a flight, did the math, Alan guaranteeing over the internet what would come to be a key ingredient of our “forever,” forever lustful honeymoon: a pied-à-terre in Paris, though temporary, of course. Little did I know.
Our beautiful apartment was one of those romantic mansards, a shining point among the famous Parisian roofs with a front view to Notre Dame Cathedral: It would be Notre Dame when falling asleep, making love, waking up; Notre Dame for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, for each glass of wine on the balcony of our flat.
More. Better. Our local address placed us just a few steps from Shakespeare and Company, the cult bookstore beloved by ten out of ten lovers of literature, especially Joyce’s. After all, the author had been there in person on February 2, 1922, on his 40th birthday, when Sylvia Beach, the daring American bookseller, published the first edition of Ulysses, initiating the most famous of odysseys. Oba!
We arrived in Paris on a luminous, rainy Friday, January 20, 2012, my sixtieth birthday celebrated in the air, in a jet airplane. We checked-out of customs, took the metro almost to the door of the apartment, schlepped the bags up the stairs, and immediately went out to continue celebration, where else, at Shakespeare and Company, no doubt, nearby, just around the corner! We barely took a breath; and left Rue Galande to photograph a new cover for this book. Perfect timing: there was a notice glued to the window, notifying patrons that the bookstore would close its doors between Monday, January 23, and February 1, when we would no longer be there. Go figure.
First Epiphany: Ulysses was about to complete 90 years in print! I had already been involved with a new edition commemorating Ulysses‘ entering into the public domain on January 1, 2012, and now would have something else to celebrate. Et voilà!
The visit to Shakespeare and Company was our first confirmation that Paris, “the cradle of traditional culture,” was the most anti-digital city in the world. Hundreds, thousands, of books stood in dust-covered piles, on freestanding bookcases, on tables, on the floor, on the steps of the stairway to the second floor where so many writers had been guests and even written parts of their books. History, history, history in each hidden corner, the smell of books much stronger than usual, and I must confess: even for me, a digital publisher, it was paradise. I asked the cashier (What is it like to work inside an historical treasure?) where to find Joyce’s books, and soon found Gordon Bowker’s excellent, recently published biography of J.J. that I kept by my side for the rest of the trip.
Second Epiphany: Shakespeare and Company was not the Shakespeare and Company! In fact, I already knew that, but failed to remember. Sylvia Beach had closed her store during the war, when the Gestapo has threatened the bookseller and publisher, who never recovered it. The current bookstore has been opened in 1951 by George Whitman, an American who had died not so long ago, at almost 98 years of age in his apartment above the store—and it was later renamed in honor of the original S&C owner, who, by the way, used to come by. Moreover, Whitman would name his daughter, heir, and the current shop owner “Sylvia Beach” Whitman, what a crush, caramba.
There it is. Even the whole Joyce business considered, it was too much coincidence for my taste. If before I could not find a decent synchronicity upon which to base my book of essays about Ulysses, now there were so many I could not even decide which were most important. A warning? A sign?
I immersed myself in Bowker’s book. It wasn’t that hard to realize that Ulysses, and then Finnegan’s Wake, were for the most part written in Paris, more specifically on the Left Bank, where Joyce lived most of his life. Even if the convincing (and imposing) worldwide marketing of Ulysses had created Bloomsday (let’s face it, while Joyce was still alive and with his delighted approval), sending thousands of Joyce maniacs to Bloom’s Dublin every year, in adoration, to trace the steps of the celebrated fictional character—including a rendezvous with the one-legged sailor—as you will discover later reading this book.
Third Epiphany: Here was the reason why I came to Paris! To relive each happiness, difficulty, or sadness Joyce experienced as he wrote, published, and struggled to make Ulysses known!
And that was what I did. With Bowker’s biography and a map of Paris in hand, I set out to follow every idiosyncratic nuance of a prescribed route that coming Sunday—my “Day of Joyce in Paris.” I would trace every step of what I later called La Voie Joyce, the brilliant Irishman’s Parisian Via Crucis, seven crucial points in the writer’s existence in the city that sheltered him, fought him, (who knows?) during much of his life—a trajectory in reality, livelier than fiction. So here we go, every February 2nd, the day to celebrate James Joyce.
Station One: Shakespeare and Company, the fake Shakespeare and Company that I already mentioned, the neo-Shakespeare and Company of the neo-Sylvia Beach. It is worth a visit, for the reference and the spectacular collection of books—printed books, of course—37, rue de la Bûcherie.
Station Two: The real Shakespeare and Company of the real Sylvia Beach, complete with commemorative plaque. Today a simple boutique. Sylvia Beach and James Joyce appear immortalized on a winter clearance flier stuck to the shop’s door, “Sale” written in red, poor Joyce—12, rue de l’Odéon.
Station Three: Café Polidor, an institution of the Latin Quarter, a traditional restaurant where, for more than two hundred years, artists and writers from Verlaine to René Clair, including…James Joyce, fed their bodies and souls—41, rue Monsieur Le Prince.
Station Four: Hotel Lenox, where Joyce lived with his family while finishing Ulysses. He also wrote a large part of Finnegan’s Wake in this hotel, but the current management has no idea of who James Joyce was, and that’s sad. It still has the same narrow, spiral staircase that Joyce so often ascended, staggering and half-drunk—9, rue de L’Université.
Station Five: Joyce’s apartment near the Eiffel Tower. He lived there during a slightly more prosperous time, when Ulysses was finally launched—a quiet place, almost a villa. To get to the Italian restaurant where Joyce celebrated the expensive publication of his book with friends and family, one need only cross the street—7, rue Edmond Valentin.
Station Six: Trattoria dell’Angelo. This is not the restaurant where Joyce celebrated, that no longer exists, though it certainly was located on the same Avenue Rapp, a few steps from the writer’s home; but is the only Italian restaurant on the avenue and the food is excellent. Joyce liked to drink white wine, but could rarely do that in Paris, not even at the celebration in his honor, where red wine was served—6, Avenue Rapp.
Station Seven: Pont D’Alma. From this bridge over the Seine, which stretches from the Champs Elisées in the direction of the Eiffel Tower, Joyce leaned over to meditate on the rivers of the world, which, according to Finnegan’s Wake, connected in a single circular river, riverrun.
One final instruction: La Voie Joyce should be undertaken on foot, most of it along the rue de L’Université, with one’s thoughts focused on the literary happiness that Joyce has brought us and the acute awareness with which, ninety years ago, the writer wandered there, inspired by all of this historical cityscape.
Happy birthday, James Joyce. And a good reading to you all.
Petropolis, February 2, 2012