It was another chilly morning in mid-March. Dark and early, I made my way up past the collection of apartments known as The Village. I glimpsed the bright full moon in between the buildings as I walked up Mahan Road, up past Alumni Hall, onto the muddy passage through some trees, up to the Walsh Athletic Center parking lot. Continuously cold weather meant that it would be the fourth day the team went out on the water. The tide was so low when we got there that the dock was halfway washed up on shore, and still going out. This makes for rather slow launching since the boats have less space and this holds up the line. I was stroking an 8 (which is the first time I’ve done that, since until then I’d only stroked 4’s), and there were some steering issues, since our coxswain had never coxed before. This really became a problem when we got out past the railroad bridge, where some fishing boats are docked, and the river begins to empty out into the sound. We got stuck. Run aground. There was probably a hand’s length of water above the mud. When someone tried unlocking his oar and pushing off, it didn’t really do anything because the mud was a few feet deep, and thus there was barely any leverage to be had. One of the coaches ended up tying a rope to the front of his launch, and tossing it out to one of the guys for him to catch on his oar, and then crawl out onto his rigger in order to grab and then fasten the rope to the rigger. This took several attempts. While sitting there shivering, someone pointed out that another 8 was having the exact same problem further out on the river. At this point, there was nothing to do but laugh bitterly. I must have turned blue by then. With the furious intense paddling of the guy sitting bow-seat, and our coach slowly backing up with the launch, we were pulled out of the shallow water and back to the river. We had to be careful when lifting the boat out of the water; it was icy. Somehow we were able to manage that. I learned while in the van back to campus that two guys in the other 8 got out of their boat, waist-deep in mud, and shoved the boat back into the river. Gott sei Dank that I didn’t have to do that. In fact, I wonder what I would have done if asked to do that. But I suppose I wouldn’t have, since it would have been the two guys in the back. All-in-all, after not having sat in that intense cold since last April, I’d forgotten what a toll that experience takes on you, even as I’d remembered how cold it was. I’d known it would be cold, but that experience made me collapse still fully-dressed on the couch when I returned to my apartment.
Back on campus, in good-old EN 319 (James Joyce), we were accompanied by a special guest; actor Stephen Rea. My professor and several departments on campus had worked to get him to come and speak that night in the Quick Center, and he sat in our class to add to the discussion about chapters 9 and 10 of Ulysses. He mostly stayed out of the discussion at first, but then he offered to read a passage from chapter 5 of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in which the protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, is speaking with an old Englishman about philosophy, about language, about the relationship between making a fire and making art. Obviously, Mr. Rea’s reading was excellent. He said part of why that particular passage stands out to him is that it exemplifies what he thinks was Joyce’s overall project; to take a foreign language, English, and transform it into something truly his own, using ordinary goings-on of ordinary people in Dublin.
I later heard that same reading-tone at his performance that evening, during which he read poems by Samuel Beckett, Derek Mahon, and Seamus Heaney. He then read the end of Joyce’s short story The Dead, which was almost chilling. He had reminded us during class that Joyce was twenty-five when he wrote it, indicating that he possessed some kind of understanding of tragedy and love one does not expect from a young man. Rea said of The Dead; “It might be the best piece of writing in any language.”
But finally we got to excerpts from Ulysses. The parts he read from are in Chapter 12: Cyclops. “It’s a bit of a riot” he said before he began. I guess all I can really say about that part was that the reading was very fast, with a very thick accent, and indeed hilarious. Even the profound parts were funny (especially since it was all done in the brogue one would find in Dublin), and it reminded me of something Mr. Rea had said earlier in class; that in Ireland nearly all kinds of conversation need to start with a joke.
When he was done, he said “Well, I guess you all ask me questions now?”
One woman asked about finding a BBC recording of his voice-acting. He said “I don’t know how these things work…There was a time when it’d be put on the radio and you turn it on at 8:30…now people access it day or night…I won’t be listening to it” (the audience laughed at that last part).
Someone asked if he’s come up against the Joyce estate. He replied “I think everybody has” (more laughter). He noted that in Paris on June 16, 2004 (the one-hundredth anniversary of Bloomsday, the day of the year dedicated to Ulysses and named after Leopold Bloom, the protagonist), they forbid any reading of Joyce and kept lawyers among crowds of people to enforce the rule. My professor said from the side of the stage; “There might be one around here tonight.” Rea replied: “I don’t care.”