Mishaps have brought me to a standstill at a dull Travel Lodge in Swords, Ireland. [see Swords documentary] I’ve gotten stuck here bringing to mind Bob Dylan’s tune from 1966 Oh Mama This Could Be the End I’m stuck in Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again. Because it’s the Centennial of the 1916 Easter Rising and Easter Weekend is approaching – Good Friday – Easter Sunday – I could not find a hotel room in central Dublin though I spent half a day on the internet/phone/airb&b. Neither could I get a flight out for less than a king’s ransom. Needless to say, I hadn’t known I’d need to plan ahead. So, here I am in postal code K67 until the resurrection, about 13 km from the Liffy, the medieval town of Swords a ten minute walk away.
My novel Clairvoyant visits Dublin too. In it Lucia Joyce returns to the place of her father’s birth, Ireland, to try to reconcile him with it. Following, an excerpt about this visit and its aftermath from section #34:
The strategy was—complete and total freedom. Mother shopped for weeks and prepared two trunks for me and I would reconcile my father and the entire country of Ireland. I would travel with my favorite aunt, Aunt Eileen, Father’s look-alike sister. Edgar would join me, my father agreed.
Aunt Eileen’s strategy was—Irish eggs, Irish air.
Edgar told his boss that he would be going away for a trip. He did not know where, but he would need to eat a salmon that had swallowed a hazelnut before he went.
Mother and Father accompanied me to the boat train for London. There was no scene at the station, the trunks were loaded, I was the Lucia of old—sweet and laughing at every wry comment made by either Father or Mother. My mother thought to herself that I looked too chic to be going to dirty old Ireland, that I should be going to a horse race instead. She didn’t say this out loud, having become, she believed, the world champion walker-on-eggs, always alert.
Father slipped an Irish pound into Edgar’s pocket. I brought him back to my compartment. There I presented him with a hatbox. He held the hatbox and slowly turned it with appreciation. “Charlie Chaplin!” I laughed and removed a black bowler hat from the box. I placed it squarely on Edgar’s large head. Though just slightly too small, it made him so happy that he tasted salt in his tears.
In London Aunt Eileen met me and took me by boat to Dun Laoghaire and then twelve more miles further along the coast, to the seaside town of Bray, where she had rented a half bungalow on Meath road quite close to both the railway station and the sea. I arrived on St. Patrick’s day, I carried a long walking stick like a scepter and wore a grand camel’s-hair coat.
Once Aunt Eileen had installed me and gone back into Dublin, I rearranged all the furnishings in anticipation of Edgar’s arrival. I put the bottle of veronal under the mattress, then changed into an oriental kimono with nothing on underneath and lit the gas.
Edgar arrived in the taxi that was bringing the trunks. He saw that the door was wide open and people from the neighborhood were standing at their doors and staring boldly at the half bungalow. I heard someone say, “She squints.”
He carried one trunk into the house and the taxi man carried the other. Then he closed the front door. He had stopped along the way and purchased groceries and a bag of large pamplemousse, which he now put into a glass bowl and placed in the center of the table.
First he sang a song he’d learned as a child in Genti Couli, the town outside of Saloniki, where he was born.
And so ask our bride
What do you call a head?
This is not called a head but
A round grapefruit hanging on a grapefruit tree.
Oh, my grapefruit in a tree,
Oh my spacious countryside,
Long live the Bride and Groom
Edgar and I were becoming fat as Christmas geese. We ate—pamplemousse, raw meat, and buttermilk scones with cabbage, sweetbreads, and porridge. Neither of us had ever been fat before and we decided that it was to our liking. It made noise seem further away, it made sleeping cozier. To prolong our health cure we purchased several jars of ocean swell carrageen, the mucilaginous dark green seaweed.
Back at our bungalow to keep us laughing I recited:
There was an old woman who lived in a lamp;
she had no room
to beetle her champ.
She’s up with her beetle and broke the lamp
and then she had room to beetle her champ.
While edgar mashed large bowls of hot cooked potatoes. together we sprinkled generous shakes of pepper and salt onto the potatoes, added hot milk and hot melted butter and with our invented concoction and sat together, back to back, outside in the little yard, while I read to him sections of Tolstoi in French which my father had sent.
Edgar understood none of what I read, but my voice, speaking slowly and softly, was a whisper away from his ear so that he could feel my intake and exhale of breath. I told Edgar that now that he was more stocky in girth he reminded me of Napoleon. after Charlie Chaplin, Napoleon was my idol. In fact, I told him that I had written at age seventeen a piece for no. 4–5 of Le Disque published by Valéry Larbaud in Belgium, an essay titled “Charlie et les Gosses” on both Napoleon and on my adored Charlie Chaplin.
I took a pair of scissors and cut Edgar’s hair into a short fringe like my impression of Napoleon. I showed him how to bend his hand across his chest and place it under his lapel à la Napoleon. I showed him how to pose and registered great laughter. He resembled Napoleon with the look in the eye of a wild horse and yet devoted and lovable as a Great Dane.
Together we swam in the sea, plump, wearing nothing. In four languages as we strolled through the town, so happy. The hill in Bray looked like father’s profile—forehead and all—as though he were watching over us. I put an ad in the newspaper for someone to come and teach us Italian as it had been the language of my childhood home. I wanted our children to speak Italian also and one day I would teach it to Edgar in bed, word by word.
Our blissful holiday went on until it began to rain and the windows dripped night and day with large rolling drops. On a dark, dreary afternoon my buttered bread fell butter side down. The butter was covered with ash and charcoal bits I started to weep. Edgar had never seen me weep and purposely threw his own bread down in the ash and charcoal so that I would not be alone in ruined buttered bread. The coal bin was empty and Edgar insisted that he go into town for the night’s supply. I said no to him with my wet eyes.
He saw that I was shivering with chill and promised that he would quickly return with coal to keep us warm through the damp night. He was upset and spoke quickly to me in Greek, which I did not know. If only I had learned Chinese, or had taught him Italian by then. I think he said that he would always love me.
I sank down into a chair. He placed a slide into my unwieldy ginger hair, which he found so lovable, and a blanket around my shoulders. He turned on the lamp, put his opera cape around his shoulders, before he shut the front door behind himself.
Father was told that the neighbors, smelling gas, had broken into the bungalow and found all the gas jets turned on at once. The entire room was painted black. An empty aspirin bottle lay on its side beside the blue bottle of veronal, also empty. Fires were smoldering in the rug and in both my trunks.
I was found asleep in Kilmancanogue and made to drink mustard. Both sleeves of my coat were burning. On 13 July I was taken to a maison de santé in Finglas. Some of what had happened was kept out of the newspapers but several items appeared.
“Beware of torpor” were the words telegraphed to me by my father from Fontainebleau. “Je suis bien triste,” he told me.
Aunt Eileen took me by boat to Holyhead and Miss Weaver’s house, where all the windows but one were nailed shut. Before they could nail it, however, I threw out the white gossamer curtains.
I knew from the touch of her thumbs that the new person was a nurse. Then a second nurse was hired, then a third was needed. I had become as strong as a gorilla and was refusing to eat. Voices warned me night and day of approaching doom.
They first took me, now catatonic as an old dishrag, to Surrey to a net hammock tied between one oak and one ash tree. After breakfast the two nurses placed me in it and the third rocked me gently until lunch.
Father thought that perhaps a fur coat would help. Mother persuaded him to try a tweed coat this time. Father was being sued for £100 by the landlady in Bray: for broken furniture, burnt carpets, gas jets destroyed.
Father sent me a camera as a gift. Between bouts of torpor I would sing to no one in either English, Italian, German, or French, at times in all four languages all mixed together. I went into manic singing contests with myself, songs from my whole song-infested life crowding at once into my mind.
I asked the nurses if it was true that my father had been reconciled with Ireland? Had Edgar and I achieved our goal? I was not sure. When I tried to catch hold of a memory, it was too slippery and would shoot away.
I tried repeatedly to write letters to my parents. Father wrote reams to me daily to cheer me on, pleading with me not to give up. I asked for young nettle tops to be mixed in gloves when picking them and to cut them with very sharp scissors. Before I’d go to sleep I’d make a line of empty milk bottles in front of my door so that I would be warned by hearing the glass break of any intruder’s approaching to menace me in the dark.
When my father was a young man wearing a nautical cap he walked on spidery legs like a heron. My father had always bragged that lice would refuse to live on him, and in my sleep I imagined lice falling from trees onto my father’s head as he brushed by waving, leaving a trail of squirming live lice in his wake.
I saw a boy who had touched me in a private place when I was a little girl. I saw that boy now in my mind’s eye, with stumps at the ends of his wrists as his hands had been removed. I asked to be put into a maison de santé. one was found one hundred miles from London.
They gave me tests.
I could not remain unless Father would certify me. My father refused, and I was brought back to him and Mother in Paris.
Yes, while in Ireland Lucia was about 12 km. south of Dublin in Bray, making a mess. We both made messes in our own way, both were here for St. Patrick’s day. Her town has a hill that resembles her father’s profile, Bray Head, with a concrete cross at the top. My town also has a hill. Spittal Hill, is 13 km north of Dublin. Mine is named after its pure well water, has a 13th century castle, a round tower, the Ward River runs through its center. There are two badminton clubs, a basketball, boxing, soccer, tennis, and golf club. It’s a center for dog shows, over 80 last year. Her town also has tennis and golf clubs, as well as sailing and horses, the River Dangle skirts the town. Swords is considered the second cleanest city in Ireland; Bray is the first. I’m sorry to say, I’m jealous, since only Bray has Mute Swans with white plumage and orange bills (bordered in black) silently gliding in pairs or flying in V-formation at a high altitude above the Irish Sea. I would have liked to be a swan today, as rain begins to fall.