Thursday, 14 August 2014

Coffee With Joyce

  As part of a camping trip to Istria in northern Croatia, I discovered this tribute to my favourite writer James Joyce at Cafe Uliks (Croatian for Ulysses) in the beautiful Italianate town of Pula. The bronze statue seems a substandard second-cousin of Gaudier-Brzeska's head of Ezra Pound - whether that's a deliberate reference given their connection I'm not sure.
   Pula was the first place Joyce lived in after he had eloped from Dublin with Nora Barnacle in late 1904, then called Pola and part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He taught English here at the Berlitz School for some months before moving on to Trieste, the first city of the famous peripatetic trio of locations cited on the last page of Ulysses. It seems a suitably multicultural, polyglot meeting-place for a writer who incorporated so many languages into his prose: I recall there being Serbo-Croat and Hungarian words melded into Finnegans Wake from the time I studied it intensely although the references escape me now. The head of the Berlitz Schools in Pola and Trieste, the euphonious Almidano Artifoni, is immortalised in Ulysses by lending his name (somewhat improbably) to Stephen's music-teacher, to whom he speaks Italian in the 'Wandering Rocks' chapter.
    I also came across an allusion to Pula in Dante, Joyce's favourite writer:

"As at Arles where the Rhone sinks into stagnant marshes,
   as at Pola by the Quarnaro Gulf, whose waters
   close Italy and wash her farthest reaches,
the uneven tombs cover the even plain..." (Inferno, Canto IX, tr, John Ciardi)

  Basically Dante's drift is that Pola was the site of an extensive Roman cemetery (ie. a pagan sepulchre comparable to the one he finds in the City of Dis). Pula today still boasts some impressive Roman monuments such as the amphitheatre and Forum.

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