We have a puzzle for you: Can you guess where these two Novo Collegians, Andrew Schlag and Eliza Fixler (and their new friend) are, and why they’re there?
Hint: That guy in the window, who may be familiar to English lit students. And that sign over the door tells you a bit more.
If you haven’t figured it out or scurried off to Google, here’s the answer. That dapper guy in the hat and tie in the window is James Joyce. But that could be in any bookshop, right?
The sign over the door, Sweny, figures in Joyce’s most beloved work, Ulysses, which itself has some puzzles inside puzzles (though not so many as the fiendish fun that is Finnegan’s Wake).
Sweny’s, Joyce scholars know, is the chemist shop (or pharmacist) where Leopold Bloom stops to buy a cake of lemon-scented soap, which sets off other events.
Today, Sweny is no longer a pharmacist’s shop, but a place where you can buy Ulysses in Romanian – we know, because shopkeeper P.J. Murphy offered us one – and many other languages.
So. Joyce, Ulysses.. yes, we’re in Dublin. Schlag and Fitzler are New College’s first James Joyce Scholars, supported by a foundation created by Sarasota residents Tom and Maureen Steiner.
The Steiners have been bringing high school students to Ireland for a decade. This is a long-planned expansion of their program.
“Our dream was always to bring this to the college level, and we’re delighted to begin it with you,” Maureen Steiner said.
The Steiners are involved in the Sarasota-area James Joyce Society.There they met Kevin O’Halloran, retired assistant headmaster of Westland Row School, a preparatory school next to Trinity College, and the idea came together.
(O’Halloran is the mystery man in the picture above.)
The trip customarily happens in mid-June, so the students can experience “Bloomsday,” the annual celebration of James Joyce, held on June 16, the day of the events in his novel Ulysses. We’ll be here for it!
Dubliners and Joyce fans from around the world – often in costume – retrace the steps of the story’s protagonist, Leopold Bloom, around the streets of Dublin.
(The person who took the photo, and is writing at this moment, is Dave Gulliver from New College’s communications staff – and a former student of Irish literature. When the Steiners learned I wrote a senior thesis on the poet William Butler Yeats, they invited me to come along, to learn and to document the trip.)
Schlag is an English literature student entering his thesis year. He’s a devotee of the work of Samuel Beckett (another Irish writer!) and says he’s now building Joyce into his thesis.
Fixler is a third-year student studying Spanish language and literature, but applied for the scholarship upon English professor Miriam Wallace’s recommendation after completing her British Modernist Fiction class.
You’ll be hearing from them directly in future entries, which we’ll be adding daily, as well as on our Facebook and Twitter feeds.
Not right now, though. We arrived at 9:30 a.m. Dublin time, which is 4:30 a.m. Florida time, and then O’Halloran gave us a whirlwind tour. He’s an eloquent and encyclopedic storyteller and tireless guide. (We’ll have more from him directly, too.)
At the National Gallery, we saw works by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Monet.
At the National Museum of Ireland, we saw chalices and other artifacts dating to the eighth century – created in monasteries, lost to time, preserved in peat and some discovered by a man with a metal detector.
And we stopped at the National Library of Ireland, home to a massive exhibition on William Butler Yeats, complete with a multimedia feature of his classic poems read by the likes of Seamus Heaney and Sinead O’Connor.
So you’ll understand if our Joyce Scholars are taking a nap. But that’s just a recharge. You see, we’re headed back to Sweny’s in a bit – a group of Joyce scholars is getting together to do Ulysses readings – think poetry slam crossed with dress rehearsal – and sleep-deprived or not, we wouldn’t miss it.