Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ulysses and Suburb Vomit

Excerpt from a colleague's obituary six years back (translated): "He was from XXX. The city must have been dear to him, since he ridiculed it continuously."
Those words came back to my mind after I yesterday did a five-hour walking tour by myself in Dublin. Wandered from place to place having only a map and a camera in my hand.
The route in the map was from Ulysses (written by James Joyce). Showing the places where protagonist Leopold Bloom and other characters wandered during that one day novel takes place.
Time has changed. Bloom's house in Eccles Street was demolished to accommodate Mater Hospital. As was the Cabman's shelter, which apparently had been replaced by AIB trading centre. I couldn't find all the places with the plaques that were supposed to be there. But apparently what still exist from 109 years back are the pubs, though with different names. Ruggy O'Donohoe's pub is now International Bar and Barney Kiernan's pub The Capel.
I saw the shady letters 'Finn's Hotel' still in the wall of the old hotel in Nassau Street where Joyce's future wife Nora Barnacle worked as a chambermaid and whom he met first time romantically on that exact day Ulysses takes place on June 16th, 1904.
I also tried to find the place in the corner of Dawson Street and Molesworth Street where Bloom helped a blind man across the street. While I was standing there, a horse carriage passed by. As if I had suddenly jumped 109 years back in time.
It was a nice eye-opening day for me after having lived in Dublin region for over seven years. Seeing the history and today. After reading some pieces from Wikipedia I'd like to jump in the time machine, just to see what Joyce's and Barnacle's first date on that June 16th, 1904 was like. Did it really have that magic to base a full massive novel on that exact date.
And what the city was like. Were people happy? Happier than now? Did they feel like Dubliners now do? Were they then proud of their hometown, then much smaller than it is now?
And was the city comfortable to go for a walk. Spend time. Live. Did it have enough character to really base a novel on. Trying to depict it as Joyce did so people like me would be wandering around it hundred years later.
I'm not sure what Joyce's relationship with Dublin, Dalkey, Dun Laoghaire and other places nearby was. He lived most of his adult life abroad. Was there a reason to depict Dublin again and again deep inside his mind? As well as with other artists, who depict their hometowns.
I started thinking about books I've read, films I've seen, music I've listened to. All the stories in them that have something to do with processing some place. Maybe romanticizing it. Or barking at it. Processing the events, even traumas that happened there. The past. Nostalgic or the opposite. Events and memories that formed these people.
I've been dealing with the same issues through writing. Gathering ideas and memories from past times, mixing it with fiction. I recently noticed a Finnish novel written by Anu Juvonen, who is few years younger than me. The book is titled Lähiöoksennus, translated Suburb Vomit. Events take place in Kannelmäki suburb in Helsinki. Only seven minutes' train trip away from where I grew up in Vantaa.
I read a newspaper story about her memories about the times she wrote about. There were lots of similarities to my memories from that era in a similar suburb. Supposedly million children growing up in that era have the same touching surface. I could feel the angst. See the pictures in my mind. Need to ridicule those certain madnesses in the middle of concrete building blocks.
I admit: I do have a love/hate relationship with my childhood and younghood suburb. I mention it with certain pride or happiness when Formula One drivers coming from there succeed. I share the new videos when progressive metal band Amorphis does something new and interesting. Still, I mock the suburb, especially its past, whenever I have a chance. I joke about Japanese tourists trying desperately to find Mika Häkkinen Square only to realize this has actually happened.
I'm thinking, will the place ever have any aspect that would mean anything to anyone else who hasn't grown up there? I suppose novels like Ulysses and Lähiöoksennus in their own ways immortalize these places. Especially for those who know the places. And through writing and reading to someone else, who can jump in the shoes of a person, who actually lived and experienced it. The time and place then.
Even to the point when they start understanding why someone ridicules the home place instead of maybe trying to forget or live with it.