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ReJoyce! Homage to Irish Author

Writer James Joyce (below) and a night in a Dublin pub (above) Photo Credit: herooutoftime-flickr.com

For those of you who have never visited Ireland, be advised: the island is very green, the people are extraordinarily warm and Guinness flows like water. All of these can make for extraordinary experiences, so let me share just one.

If, like me, you are a James Joyce fanatic, no visit to Dublin can be complete without visiting the James Joyce museum. For the uninitiated, James Joyce is the poet laureate of Dublin. His book of short stories, The Dubliners, portrays a cross section of vivacious, sparkling Dubliners and conveys both the complexity of their situations and the frothy spirit of their Irish souls. Ulysses, his masterpiece novel follows one erstwhile Jewish Dubliner through his typical day.

Photo: Alex Ehrenzweig

As the only one in our group who was interested in visiting the James Joyce museum, I went alone and had the singular pleasure of browsing there to my heart's content with no pressure to shorten my stay. The visit was enhanced by the collection of both descriptive brochures and texts describing his life and works.

Upon leaving the museum I realized it had been hours since I'd had anything to eat or drink, and not having an easily accessible kosher restaurant, I entered the most presentable looking pub determined to quaff a late lunch. The pub was crowded. The only available place was at a table for ten which was partially occupied by two couples. I asked if I could join them, sat at the opposite end of the table, ordered my pint and immersed myself in reading materials I had collected at the museum.

Time flew by. I was totally unaware that the two couples had left until I felt a tap on the shoulder and looked up at a group of eight young middle aged Indian gentlemen who politely asked me if they could share the table. With a welcoming and sweeping inclusive wave of my arm, I invited them to join me, simultaneously gathering the printed material that surrounded me.

They sat and ordered a round of Guinness taking care to include a pint for me in their order. Now we were drinking buddies.

Photo Credit: David Jones-flickr.com

The gentleman sitting closest to me peered at my materials.

"What are you reading?" he asked.

"Biographical material about James Joyce, the famous Irish writer," I replied.

"Tell me about him."

"He wrote the classical novel of the twentieth century, Ulysses. It's a novel that describes a day in the life of a Dubliner but which encompasses universal themes of searching for identity."

Staring at me in disbelief, my newfound friend inquired, "Why would some Dubliner's life be of enough interest to you to both read the book and then visit a museum dedicated to the writer?"

Anesthetized by my two pints of Guinness, I pushed ahead. "I'm Jewish and live in Israel, having emigrated there from the U.S. My life is a search for identity and self-determination. The protagonist in Joyce's book is Leopold Bloom, an Irish Jew, and his day deals with issues of identity and self-determination. It speaks to me. In defining the specifics of one day's errands, the author parallels Odysseus's search for home, people and honor; the mundane becomes meaningful."

My inquisitor jumped to his feet. "Hey", he shouted the length of the table, "my friend here is Jewish, he's a wanderer, he's gone from his home in New York to Israel searching to define himself. What is his culture? Where does he fit in? How does he integrate into his new society?"

He turned to me. "My name is Sami. We are all from London and have come here to Dublin to watch a soccer match. None of us were born in London; we were all born in Africa to Indian parents who were the shopkeepers and middle class in the English colonies, in Kenya, in Rhodesia, in South Africa. With the emergence of Black Nationalism, we were expelled from Africa and immigrated to England. We are identified as Asians but none of us have ever seen Asia; tell us about identity crisis."

The table erupted, everyone was talking at once. "Yes, we are migrants; we are displaced persons; we too are 'Jews'. We can identify! Who are we, Brits, Africans, Asians?"

Within minutes, another round of Guinness had been ordered and served and now we were shedding tears, hugging and bonding. They toasted Israel, I toasted India. They toasted James Joyce, I toasted Manchester United. They toasted their wives who had given them permission for this magical excursion; I toasted my wife who thought I was still browsing in the Joyce museum.

The waitresses and the others in the pub were watching with mouths agape. One even suggested that we forgo the next round but here we were, having "found" ourselves. We knew who we were! We were the eternal Jew, searching, ever searching.

Dublin is quite the experience.

A bridge over the River Lifffey in Dublin
 

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Tuesday, 24 November 2020

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