Bloom on the Beach was its usual enchanting self in Toronto, the customary clear, dry, sunny, breezy day. Falling on a Saturday did not seem be bring out more than the usual 50 or so regulars with several new faces.

Perhaps the early start, 8:30am, keeps away some. Others may find anything connected with James Joyce to be intimidating. This is the day (June 16) where the entire intimidating tome of Ulysses took place, and it is the day where, in many corners of the world, lovers of Ulysses pay tribute to this masterpiece that should be enjoyed by many more.

Mary Durkan, Bloomsday’s Grand Poohbah

For those of us who show up, year after year, for a morning of dramatic readings along the shore of Lake Ontario, it is an anticipated ritual, perhaps like students who take comfort in viewing Casablanca at exam time each year or those who have seen Rocky Horror Picture Show umpteen times. We know the lines before they are spoken. We delight in the shared experience of familiar words.

A committed and extraordinarily talented group of Irish players who do all sorts of day jobs, come together each year for our pleasure. The grand poohbah is Mary Durkan, who led a fabulous Classical Pursuits trip to Ireland a number of years ago, the only Bloomsday she missed being  in Toronto.

Many who have even a glancing acquaintance with Ulysses know about Molly Boom’s soliloquy. Very few will know the name Gerty McDowell. A young woman named sits on the beach, exchanging glances with a grave, distinguished-looking man sitting nearby. (He turns out to be Leopold Bloom, the husband of Molly and ad salesman. I wish I had caught the entire amazing monologue on film. Here is what I missed before I thought to turn on the camera.)

“And while she gazed her heart went pitapat. Yes, it was her he was looking at, and there was meaning in his look. His eyes burned into her as though they would search her through and through, read her very soul. Wonderful eyes they were, superbly expressive, but could you trust them? People were so queer. She could see at once by his dark eyes and his pale intellectual face that he was a foreigner, the image of the photo she had of Martin Harvey, the matinee idol, only for the moustache which she preferred because she wasn’t stagestruck like Winny Rippingham that wanted they two to always dress the same on account of a play but she could not see whether he had an aquiline nose or a slightly retroussé from where he was sitting. He was in deep mourning, she could see that, and the story of a haunting sorrow was written on his face. She would have given worlds to know what it was. He was looking up so intently, so still, and he saw her kick the ball and perhaps he could see the bright steel buckles of her shoes if she swung them like that thoughtfully with the toes down. She was glad that something told her to put on the transparent stockings thinking Reggy Wylie might be out but that was far away. Here was that of which she had so often dreamed. It was he who mattered and there was joy on her face because she wanted him because she felt instinctively that he was like no-one else. The very heart of the girlwoman went out to him, her dreamhusband, because she knew on the instant it was him. If he had suffered, more sinned against than sinning, or even, even, if he had been himself a sinner, a wicked man, she cared not. Even if he was a protestant or methodist she could convert him easily if he truly loved her. There were wounds that wanted healing with heartbalm. She was a womanly woman not like other flighty girls unfeminine he had known, those cyclists showing off what they hadn’t got and she just yearned to know all, to forgive all if she could make him fall in love with her, make him forget the memory of the past. Then maybe he would embrace her gently, like a real man, crushing her soft body to him, and love her, his ownest girlie, for herself alone. “

And here is what follows: (Do watch it!)

Gerty McDowell monologue 

Please share your own experience Ulysses, either a Bloomsday celebration, the Milo O’Shea film adaptation, or the 900 pages between two covers.





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