James Joyce is truly loved world­wide... so why doesn’t he get the same re­spect in his home coun­try?

Irish Daily Mail - - News - ROSLYN DEE

THE taxi driver, a man in his 70s, was sit­ting in his gleam­ing Mercedes out­side the Savoy Ho­tel. I’d heard all about the price of taxis in Zurich, namely that they are the most ex­pen­sive in the world.

Al­ready forced to jet­ti­son the tram op­tion upon re­al­is­ing that on a Sun­day morn­ing the one I needed wasn’t run­ning, I toyed with the idea of aban­don­ing my plan al­to­gether and head­ing into the city’s leg­endary Sprun­gel café in­stead.

But no, I wasn’t go­ing to do that. I’d come this far and, come hell or high wa­ter, I was de­ter­mined that be­fore I left in a few hours’ time, I was go­ing to stand at the grave of James Joyce.

‘How much will it cost?’ I asked the taxi driver who, I later found out, was called Graziano, cour­tesy of his Ital­ian mother who, to­gether with his Swiss ‘Papa’, was also buried, like Joyce, in the city’s Flun­tern ceme­tery.

Hon­our

We struck a deal on the spot, and yes, he would wait for me.

As the taxi glided through the streets and be­gan to climb in the di­rec­tion of the ceme­tery, it started to snow. I smiled to my­self. In hon­our of my James Joyce pil­grim­age, ob­vi­ously, snow was now gen­eral all over Zurich.

I had al­ways loved The Dead, his won­der­ful fi­nal story in the Dublin­ers col­lec­tion, set in a house on Ush­ers Is­land in a snow­bound Dublin on the day of the Epiphany. It was also the story that John Hus­ton turned into what would be his fi­nal film.

So am I a Joyce afi­cionado? Not re­ally. Dublin­ers and A Por­trait Of The Artist As A Young Man I read as a teenager and have re-read many times. Ulysses I waded through at univer­sity be­cause it was a text on my course. Some of it I found dif­fi­cult, some in­vig­o­rat­ing. Fin­negans Wake? You’ve got to be jok­ing.

But, de­spite a rather scant knowl­edge of Joyce’s work, I’ve al­ways been fas­ci­nated by the man. By his re­fusal to bend the knee to Church or State, by his love af­fair with Nora Bar­na­cle, by the way he bounced around the world, fam­ily in tow, from Ire­land to Tri­este, to Zurich, to Paris, and back to Zurich where he died, fol­low­ing com­pli­ca­tions from a long­stand­ing stom­ach ul­cer, in Jan­uary 1941.

Some 77 years on, James Joyce still looms large in Zurich, a city whose peo­ple took him to their hearts and in whose hearts he still re­mains to this day. It’s ac­tu­ally quite hum­bling to wit­ness how cel­e­brated he is there, and not just among the literati.

‘You’re from Ire­land?’ queried the break­fast wait­ress in my ho­tel.

‘You must have a cof­fee in Café Odeon – it’s where your James Joyce used to meet his friends.’

‘Look,’ said El­iz­a­beth, my guide on the Satur­day morn­ing, point­ing to­wards a distinc­tive his­toric build­ing in the Old Town, ‘that’s the James Joyce Foun­da­tion.’

I told her I had con­tacted them in ad­vance but that they were closed on Satur­days and Sun­days.

‘Hmmm,’ she said. ‘Let’s see if we can get in any­way. It wouldn’t be right for you not to see it. It’s won­der­ful.’

And then there was the Kro­nen­halle, still one of the most fa­mous restau­rants in Zurich. I knew that Joyce was a reg­u­lar here, that owner Hulda Zum­steg used to feed him for free be­cause he had no money, and that after he died she con­tin­ued to look after Nora.

So I’d booked a ta­ble for lunch well in ad­vance.

Beau­ti­ful

It’s a beau­ti­ful brasserie-type restau­rant and I ex­pe­ri­enced one of those tin­gle-down-the-spine feel­ings as I sat there, in the very room where Joyce used to meet friends and where he ac­tu­ally wrote part of Ulysses.

The man­ager came over to me just be­fore I left. I had men­tioned that I was Irish when I’d booked on­line. ‘I am so sorry,’ he said. Sorry? ‘Yes, I wanted to give you that ta­ble over there,’ he said, in­di­cat­ing one a few feet away. ‘That’s where Mr Joyce al­ways sat – look, you can see that we have his pho­to­graph and a por­trait of him hung be­side it. I wanted you to sit there to­day but, as you can see, it is oc­cu­pied.

‘That gentle­man and his wife are reg­u­lar din­ers and they al­ways ask for James Joyce’s ta­ble. We love Mr Joyce in this city.’

I felt a flush of pride that I can’t quite ex­plain.

In Zurich, with­out doubt, they love Joyce. But do we? Do we cel­e­brate him enough here at home, this man who left such a mark on the world?

God knows we cel­e­brate all other kinds of peo­ple who have left lit­tle of worth be­hind them.

Yes, I know that Blooms­day comes around ev­ery year and vis­i­tors love it. But how about us? I’ve only par­tic­i­pated once in the day it­self – on the cen­te­nary of Leopold Bloom’s Dublin stroll, cel­e­brated with much ado on June 16, 2004. And I’m ashamed to say that I have never set foot in the James Joyce Tower in Sandy­cove, now a mu­seum.

Good­will

Nor am I the only one guilty of not giv­ing Joyce his due. The very fact that this Joyce mu­seum is only open be­cause of the good­will of vol­un­teers says it all.

But then, there’s form here, for the Irish State never ac­cepted James Joyce. He didn’t play the game, after all. And even when Nora wanted his body repa­tri­ated, as Yeats’s had been after his ini­tial burial in France, that dig­nity was de­nied her.

And so he re­mains in lovely Flun­tern ceme­tery, high above the city that still loves him so well.

As Graziano parked the taxi on Sun­day morn­ing, he kindly told me to take my time. The me­ter wasn’t run­ning was what he meant. So he walked with me into the ceme­tery and be­fore he veered off to the left to pay his re­spects to his own longdead par­ents, he told me ex­actly where I’d find James Joyce, the ‘won­der­ful… schrift­steller’, he said, un­able to find the English word for writer.

And so, fi­nally, I found my­self stand­ing at the grave. A flat tomb­stone, dif­fi­cult to read, but with in­scrip­tions that in­di­cate that James, Nora, their son Gior­gio and his wife are all en­tombed be­low. Be­side the grave sits a sculp­ture of the man him­self – legs crossed, slim walk­ing cane by his side, book in hand and ci­garette be­tween his fin­gers.

The snow was fall­ing faster now as I stood there, cas­cad­ing from the Swiss sky, fall­ing softly on James Joyce, and, ap­pro­pri­ately, and to quote him­self, ‘on all the liv­ing and the dead’.

I felt a strange sense of pride wash over me, a pride in this man who left such a mark, a man re­jected in Ire­land yet cel­e­brated around the world, and loved and hon­oured to this day in his adopted city of Zurich.

So maybe when Blooms­day comes around again this June, we should take stock. And ac­knowl­edge that when it comes to cel­e­brat­ing him on home turf, James Joyce shouldn’t just be for Blooms­day. James Joyce should be for life.

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