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Tale of a Century

When night fell on June 16, 1904, it appeared that the day would go mostly unremembered. In Pennsylvania, Leah Bowman "died of the infirmities of old age." Elsewhere, the Marlin (Texas) Democrat reported that Ike Low's murder conviction was discharged. Dutch architect Gerald Holt was born and the New York Giants nosed out the St. Louis Cardinals 4-3 at the Polo Grounds, but nothing of historical import happened in the known universe except that James Joyce went on his first date with Nora Barnacle. The day was of obvious importance to Joyce and his lifelong companion, and he selected it as the subject of his 1922 novel Ulysses, but people fall in love every day. Any reason we should celebrate the hundredth anniversary of an evening stroll?

Consistently ranked one of the top ten novels of the Twentieth Century, Ulysses is a modernist masterpiece, a literary Citizen Kane or Rite of Spring. People love and hate it. The narrative innovations, symbolism, and philosophical themes enthrall intellectuals, while its detractors claim it too difficult and allusion-laden for common readers. Although structurally modeled after Homer's epic poem The Odyssey, Ulysses contrasts the heroic events of Odysseus's (Ulysses in Latin) journey with the supposedly insignificant events and thoughts that occurred to Leopold Bloom while walking around on June 16, 1904, thus elevating middle- and lowbrow Dublin to fine art. Joyce would refer to it as "the dailiest day possible," while fans called it Bloomsday. Banned in the U.S. thanks to candid passages that caused publishers to be charged with obscenity, the book legally made it stateside in 1934 -- ten years after Joyce scrawled in his notes: "Will anyone remember this date?"

Not only remembered, "this date" is celebrated all over the world, especially in Dublin, where fans retrace Bloom's route throughout the city and read excerpts aloud. Miamians can join the fun, with Coral Gables standing in for Dublin. The 100th anniversary of Bloomsday falls on Wednesday, so for some a pair of warm-up events on the weekend will have to do. On Saturday at the Coral Gables Branch Library (3443 Segovia St.), enjoy excerpts from the novel, dancers, musicians, and Irish tea. Prizes will be awarded for best period costume. The next day at JohnMartin's Irish Pub & Restaurant (253 Miracle Mile), a witty presentation will introduce neophytes to Bloom's travelogue.

Bloomsday itself begins at 6:00 p.m. Wednesday with a proclamation at the Coral Gables City Hall (405 Biltmore Way). Immediately following, members of the Actors' Playhouse will recite excerpts at Books & Books (265 Aragon Ave.). Afterward, a short odyssey around the block will end at JohnMartin's. There, fans will find a special menu, more recitations including Molly Bloom's erotic soliloquy (not for delicate ears), and what's an Irish pub without songs and stories (hopefully indelicate as well)? Costumes are encouraged.


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