The celebration of holidays like St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo has become downright awful in America, thanks mostly to their embrace by drunken masses that have little to no cultural affiliation with the countries where the holidays originated. Bloomsday, which honors James Joyce’s Ulysses, is something of the literary version of those days, but with fewer frat boys throwing up in the streets. It is a fun day on the calendar for Joyce lovers, and even those who couldn’t finish or didn’t understand Ulysses, to celebrate — and it’s just about as official as literary holidays get.
But exactly how should one enjoy Bloomsday? What do you do? How do you party in a way that ensures your festivities don’t become the modernist equivalent of SantaCon? Is that even possible?
The first, and most important thing, of course, is drinking. If you’re an American, then congratulations — this is one of those rare instances when you can accept a pint of beer in an Irish pub with a hearty “Cheers,” and not have it sound touristy and amateurish.
What do you order? Obviously, there’s always Guinness, but consider this delicious act of sacrilege: change things up this year and drink something like Left Hand’s wonderful Milk Stout. Your beer, of course, should also be accompanied by a whiskey, and this is where you can’t accept any substitutes. No Kentucky bourbon, no scotch from Scotland: Irish whiskey only. So if somebody says they’re getting a Jameson on the rocks, you had better order the same damn thing. To be honest, you could, in theory, get away with drinking anything today — but we’d suggest is you stay away from cider, since that stuff made Bloom gassy. The most important thing is to get at least a solid two drinks in your belly before you’ll be ready for a reading from the book itself.
But what happens when you get through the public reading (one that hopefully takes a substantially condensed approach to the book), and you need something to soak up all the booze? As ready as you might be to say “Yes!” to a greasy hamburger by the time someone utters Molly Bloom’s famous book-ending words, a more appropriate meal, as Irish Central suggests, would be a nice hearty plate of liver slices fried with crust crumbs and bacon. Not really your thing? Since Leopold “ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls,” there’s a whole host of other delicious insides to choose from. Hopefully they won’t have the same “tang of faintly scented urine” Bloom seemed to enjoy, but if you aren’t a huge fan of organ meat, maybe you could just get some lamb or beef and spice things up by using an Indian recipe to make sure your meat taste less like, you know, pee.
How about Joyceans who don’t eat meat, or at least shy away from stuff like liver and thick giblet soup? Davy Byrnes Pub’s gorgonzola sandwich — another of Bloom’s meals — is pretty easy to make. You need two slices of soda bread, some tomatoes, lettuce, unsalted butter, pungent mustard, and stinky gorgonzola cheese. You might want to also keep some breath mints or gum handy.
But the most important thing, and the way to avoid the empty cultural tourism of St. Patrick’s Day, is that you try your damnedest to either read some of Ulysses today or just spend some time listening to somebody reading it. Read any of the dozens of works of critical analysis of the book that are likely available at your local public library — or just pick out a single episode to read on June 16th each year, and savor one of the strangest, most controversial, toughest, yet ultimately most rewarding reading experiences in the English language.