Bloomsday in Paris

Bloomsday in Paris and the Origins of the Lilac Bloomsday Run

Bloomsday 2016 in Spokane
Bloomsday 2016 in Spokane (Click on photos to see larger version)

In 1979, my mother-in-law Beth Shaw ran her first Lilac Bloomsday Run in Spokane, Washington. My first time was in 1988. This year is my 27th year of competing in the race. My wife Brenda has done it a couple more times than I. Beth was the only finisher over age 90 last year, her 40th race. This community event has become a not-small part of our lives.

Hugh before Virtual Bloomsday
Hugh before Virtual Bloomsday

The man who started the Lilac Bloomsday Run, Don Kardong, finished 4th, only a few seconds shy of the Bronze Medal, in the Olympic Marathon during the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. In those days he was also teaching grade school in Spokane, after having graduated from Seattle Prep in 1967, then Stanford (psychology) in 1971, and then the University of Washington in 1974 with a degree in English and a teaching certificate. 1

In 1977 he left teaching, started a small running store, and organized the first Lilac Bloomsday Run. He was hoping for 500 runners, but nearly 1500 came. In the years following, the race quickly became a huge community event. Since 1986, it has never attracted fewer than 38,000 participants. 2

Virtual Bloomsday

Straightaway on Blvd des Invalides
Straightaway on Blvd des Invalides

The 2020 race was affected by Covid-19, just like practically everything else in our lives. First it was delayed to September from its traditional first Sunday in May. Then, when the organizers realized that the virus restrictions would still be in effect in September, they declared that this year, Bloomsday would be virtual. All one needed to do was register, pay a fee (which gets you the coveted, unique Bloomsday T-shirt), and run or walk a 12km course anywhere in the world. Submit your results on the web site, and you are done.

I had been training for this race for months. Then I strained an Achilles tendon – no running. I had skin cancer removed from a couple places – stitches. Still, I wanted to participate so I signed up, determined to walk if necessary the 12km course somewhere in Paris. My first idea was to make a course in the Bois de Vincennes, a large park on the eastern outskirts. There it would be easy to proceed uninterrupted by traffic.

Honoring Ulysses

Then, thanks to my wife, I got a better idea. Don Kardong named the race Lilac Bloomsday not only because the lilacs bloom in Spokane in May, but also because James Joyce’s classic Ulysses told the story of a day in the life of its protagonist, Leopold Bloom. Bloomsday in the novel is June 16, 1904. This date corresponds also to the date that Joyce met his future wife, Nora Barnacle. James Joyce wrote and published that book in Paris in 1922 after it had been banned in America. The courageous bookseller who agreed to publish this novel, since proclaimed a literary masterpiece, was Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare and Company in Paris. I live in Paris and was running the virtual Bloomsday race, so why not make my course about how Bloomsday is related to Paris?

Bloomsday in Paris

Course for Virtual Bloomsday in Paris
Course for Virtual Bloomsday in Paris

My race route was haphazard. I thought that I would walk the whole way, but decided to run a little because I doubted that I could make my predicted race time of 2 hours by walking. After running the first kilometer, I realized I hadn’t started my watch, so I had to start over. I ended up running 7km, the last 6km counting towards my race.

Then keeping away from crowds of people, I walked quickly (and ran occasionally), winding my way through Paris over to rue de l’Odéon, passing the former site of Sylvia Beach’s apartment and Shakespeare and Company, then to the Latin Quarter past the apartment building where Joyce lived when he finished the book, and finally back by the Seine to the site of modern day Shakespeare and Company. My course worked out almost perfectly even though I had no plan when I began running.

The Odyssey and Ulysses

James Joyce's Ulysses
James Joyce’s Ulysses

Homer’s poem The Odyssey is a story of Odysseus, King of Ithaca, who is trying to return home after 10 years of Trojan Wars. He longs to be united with his wife, Penelope. His son, Telemachus, searches for and finds him when Odysseus arrives again in Ithaca, and helps him to rid his house of suitors who have lined up for Penelope in his absence and to reclaim his kingdom. When the Romans translated the Greek works, Odysseus became Ulysses. In the Roman version I’m told that Ulysses is less formidable and needs more help from others – it’s a more human version of the tale.

Joyce’s Ulysses is a modern parallel to the Odyssey, the action taking place in a single day (Bloomsday), June 16, 1904, in Dublin, Ireland. Our hero Leopold Bloom is an everyman, not a king. His wife Molly is a well-known concert soloist. In the story men ask, “what is she doing with him?” The Telemachus counterpart, Stephen Dedalus, is the well-educated son of Leopold’s co-worker. Leopold starts out in the morning serving his wife breakfast in bed. She has a big meeting scheduled with her concert promoter in the afternoon. He spends the day going to a funeral, trying to sell advertising, and winding along a haphazard path to get back home again, suffering life’s injustices along the way. He ends up helping Stephen, who becomes drunk. Still he returns home late in the evening. Finally in bed with his wife, he tells her about his day and requests that tomorrow, she makes him breakfast in bed.3

Joyce’s Unique Style

The beauty and uniqueness of the story lies in how Joyce renders his characters. The world is a stream-of-consciousness saga related through Bloom’s eyes, but as with all of us, with a thousand random distractions. Bloom keeps moving a bar of soap from one pocket to another across three chapters. He floats in the tub and thinks of a friend floating in the Dead Sea, hardly going beneath the surface; then he wonders what really is this thing we call weight. All along there are Irish terms you don’t understand, and places you don’t know in a fictitious Dublin, sounds of things and plays on words and style, and terms in Latin and French. Yet beneath all this is a plot that bumps along, gradually heading towards the end of the day. 4

Joyce’s First Trip to Paris

Ascending rue des Carmes towards the Pantheon. Saint Geneviève Library is just to the right at the top of the hill
Ascending rue des Carmes towards the Pantheon. Saint Geneviève Library is just to the right at the top of the hill
Hôtel Corneille is at No 5, other end of this short street next to the Odéon Theatre
Hôtel Corneille is at No 5, other end of this short street next to the Odéon Theatre

Joyce first came to Paris in 1902 after receiving his BA from the University of Dublin (with honors in Latin). He wanted to be a writer but thought he should support himself by becoming a doctor. Then he quit that idea, borrowed some money, and came to Paris, where he studied at the Saint Geneviève Library, near the Panthéon, and wrote articles to make ends meet. He lived at the Hôtel Corneille, a location which I passed by on Virtual Bloomsday.

Joyce returned to Dublin in 1903 because his mother was dying, met his future wife, and celebrated the first Bloomsday with her in 1904. He convinced her to leave Ireland with him, and they moved across Europe to modern-day Croatia, to Trieste, to Rome, and back to Ireland as he taught language, wrote stories, worked at a bank, promoted his writing, and tried to organize a chain of movie theaters. Not much panned out.

James Joyce and Sylvia Beach

Joyce finished Ulysses at 71 rue du Cardinal Lemoine
Joyce finished Ulysses at 71 rue du Cardinal Lemoine
Placard for James Joyce at 71 rue du Cardinal Lemoine
Placard for James Joyce at 71 rue du Cardinal Lemoine

In 1915 he moved to Zürich to avoid World War I, and it is there he began work on Ulysses. After World War I he returned to Trieste, and upon the invitation of Ezra Pound, he moved to Paris in July 1920. He and Nora lived at 71, rue Cardinal Lemoine, another location I passed by on Virtual Bloomsday.

12 rue de l'Odéon site of Shakespeare and Company
12 rue de l’Odéon site of Shakespeare and Company
Placard to Sylvia Beach and Ulysses
Placard to Sylvia Beach and Ulysses

James Joyce called her Miss Beach, Sylvia Beach, owner of the Shakespeare and Company bookstore at 12, rue de l’Odéon. A character in Ulysses is named Gladys Beech, based on a name Sylvia Beach’s mother had intended to use for Sylvia, who called herself by a name more in tune with her father’s tastes. Joyce and Sylvia Beach met in 1920 when she was 53 years old. She and her friend and former lover Adrienne Monnier, who had a French bookstore (La Maison des Amis des Livres) just across the street, operated between them for 20 years a unique territory for French and English Literature.

Adrienne's Bookstore La Maison des Amies des Livres
Site of Adrienne’s Bookstore La Maison des Amies des Livres
Odéonia - with the Odéon Theatre at the end of the street
Odéonia – with the Odéon Theatre at the end of the street

Adrienne called it “Odéonia”. Joyce, who used Shakespeare and Company as his office, called it “Stratford-on-Odéon”. The outline of Odéonia was comprised of “the bookstalls on the arcades of Théâtre de l’Odéon, two bookshops, a music store, a library appraiser, and, in the boulevard Saint Germain, the writer’s favored cafés, Le Flore and the Deux Magots (a particular favorite of Joyce), and the Alsatian Brasserie Lipp.” I passed by these places on Virtual Bloomsday. 5

After Ulysses

Les Deux Magots, one of the writer's favored cafés in Odéonia
Les Deux Magots, one of the writer’s favored cafés in Odéonia
Église Saint Sulpice in Saint Germain des Prés
Église Saint Sulpice in Saint Germain des Prés

After the publication of Ulysses, Joyce became well known and better able to support himself. He lived in many different places during his 20 years in Paris, including 10 years in 2 apartments near where we live now. 6 Yet he always used Shakespeare and Company as a sort of office. He worked on his book, Finnegans Wake, for many years, finally publishing it in 1939. The German invasion of France in 1940 put an end to Odéonia. Joyce fled in ill health across the border to Zürich, where he died in January 1941.

The End of Odéonia

Sylvia Beach closed her bookshop and lived upstairs in the harsh conditions of occupation France. She hid her most valuable books, including the original manuscript of Ulysses, at Adrienne’s bookshop across the street. In 1942, she was detained with other Americans and moved to a German camp at Vittel. She was released in March 1943, but she didn’t return to her apartment, instead choosing to hide out with a friend on Boulevard Saint Michel. During the day she would sneak over to Adrienne’s, where they became part of the literary resistance to the occupation.

In August 1944, when the Allies were coming, she moved back to her apartment. Earnest Hemingway visited her there when he arrived with the liberation forces. Still, she never reopened the bookstore. Conditions in Paris after the war were almost as bad as during the occupation. There was no meat, no milk, no eggs, no butter, no chocolate, no hot water, nor light, nor coal. Adrienne’s health declined, and she died in 1950. Sylvia joined the board of the American Library. In 1962, she traveled to Dublin to dedicate a center for Joycean studies. Four months later, she died at 12, rue de l’Odéon. 7

Present Day Shakespeare and Company

Modern Day Shakespeare and Company
Modern Day Shakespeare and Company
Cathedral de Notre Dame de Paris
Cathedral de Notre Dame de Paris

In 1964, an American, George Whitman, changed the name of the eccentric bookshop Le Mistral, just across the Seine from Notre Dame, to Shakespeare and Company. He named his daughter, who manages the growing concern today, Sylvia Beach Whitman. I ended my Bloomsday run at the modern-day Shakespeare and Company.

My time was 1:34:30, handily beating my predicted time of 2 hours, yet considerably slower than my typical time in Spokane, where I run the whole way.

Reflecting on all this, I realized another thing. I’m on my own Odyssey. Brenda has been in Spokane since May, and I’m trying to get back to her. Of course, she is running her own Virtual Bloomsday, and she is on her own Odyssey, trying to get back to me. We have plans to be together again in Paris in November, when we can renew our relationship with Shakespeare and Company and James Joyce and Bloomsday in Paris.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Kardong ↩︎
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lilac_Bloomsday_Run ↩︎
  3. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ulysses-novel-by-Joyce ↩︎
  4. Joyce, James, and Hans Walter Gabler. Ulysses. New York: Random House, 1986. ↩︎
  5. Glass, Charles. Americans in Paris: Life and Death under Nazi Occupation. New York: Penguin Books, 2014. http://rbdigital.oneclickdigital.com.  ↩︎
  6. https://nyti.ms/3kPpfDa ↩︎
  7. Glass, Charles. Americans in Paris: Life and Death under Nazi Occupation. New York: Penguin Books, 2014. http://rbdigital.oneclickdigital.com.  ↩︎

28 comments

Add Yours
    • Hugh Nelson

      Bonjour Ardis,

      I’m sure that you will remember everything, except the details in the footnotes and my time in the race. The rest, it’s the stuff of life.

    • Hugh Nelson

      Thanks Larry! I thought that Bloomsday in Paris was an unusual title, but having now searched for it, there are hundreds of articles about how people in Paris celebrate Ulysses and Joyce and Shakespeare and Company every June 16th. Where was I?

  1. Patty Wilson

    Clever how you brought the various storylines together. An enjoyable read for me as I sit out on our back deck enjoying the sunshine after days of rain musing on how we each have our own odysseys to travel both personally and as a people. Lots, almost too much going on these days. We’re on one crazy odyssey. This too shall pass.

    • Hugh Nelson

      Thank you Patty! I feel the same way. I spend the day alone with a big list of things to do, yet find myself stopping and starting, distracted and led astray, much like what we read of Leopold Bloom in Ulysses. I’ve been reading a history of England, and wonder at the period of the English civil war, essentially a battle of progressives in Parliament versus conservative followers of the King, though each side also represented a religious faction as well. It raged on for many many years until the side of Parliament won. But then the anger seemed to fizzle out, and much of what had been changed was changed back without provoking the earlier outrage. I wonder if that’s what is happening to us.

  2. Gretchen Pickens

    Hugh, What a wonderful account of your virtual run/walk.

    You are a fantastic writer and historian. Can’t wait to see all

    your blogs published in one volume. It will surely be a best

    seller.

    • Hugh Nelson

      Hey Gretchen, it’s great to hear from you! Thanks for the complements, but just being able to connect to friends out there is what it’s all about. Glad to know you’re out there listening and hope all is going well for you. Hugh

  3. ED SWENSON

    Hugh, Ruth is amazing! Bloomsday in Paris so reminded of the book 84 Charring Cross. The two bookstores are so interesting. Unfortunately the bookstore in London is no longer.

  4. Peter Nelson

    Was the church Église Saint Sulpice on Blvd St. Germain des Pres used by Woody Allen in his movie Midnight in Paris? Could that be where the bell tolled and the time changed from the present to the 1920’s?

    • Hugh Nelson

      Bonjour Pierre! Église Saint Sulpice, located along rue Saint Sulpice at Place Saint Sulpice, is the 2nd largest church in Paris after Notre Dame. It is featured in a movie (and book), Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code”, where the plot encounters the Gnomon of Saint Sulpice, which is a device installed there in the early 1700s to follow the sun from the winter to summer, thus providing a way to track time and also the variations in the accuracy of time (using the sun) through the year. In the Da Vinci Code it was seen as a pagan device handed down from the Egyptians, even though this wasn’t really the case. They also imply that it was the Paris meridian, established by Louis XIV before there was a Greenwich meridian. There was a Paris meridian, but it wasn’t here, it was a few hundred meters away at the Paris Observatory. The church on Blvd Saint Germain you are thinking of is the Abbey de Saint Germain de Prés, which as been on that site since the 500s, and the church which stands there (just beside Les Deux Magots). The oldest parts of the current church were built in about 1000. There were three towers, but only one remains after the other two were destroyed in the French Revolution. The church in Midnight in Paris is up the hill next to the Panthéon, Église Saint Étienne du Mont. It was started in the early 1400s and houses the shrine of Saint Geneviève, patron saint of Paris, as well as the tomb of Blaise Pascal, among others. In the movie, the characters wait on the side steps every night to be picked up in a car and taken back in time. I’ll send you photos.

  5. Mark J. Harper

    Another fascinating and informative piece, Hugh. Merci!
    I have always been a follower (admirer?) of Joyce, although never finished any of his books. Started a couple on the boat, but other things prevailed, as well you can imagine.
    Tracked him down in Trieste a couple years ago when I spent some time there at the ICTP. Nearly bumped into him as I crossed a bridge, as he failed to get out of my way . . .

    • Hugh Nelson

      Thanks Mark, good to hear from you. Poor old Joyce – he could hardly see, that was his biggest problem, other than a daughter who was mentally ill. They made him an honorary American so they could operate on him at the American Hospital in Paris, cataracts, glaucoma, other stuff.

  6. Bob Steele

    Very good multi-themed article with interesting twists and turns. I knew a little bit about James Joyce and Sylvia Beach, but you really brought it alive with the prose and photographs. Well done!
    Although I do believe I know where at least a little bit of your literary skills come from. Recently, while doing some research on my relatives in Iowa and Davenport, I became sidetracked and found an interesting article about and photograph of Alfred C. Volkens. I am trying to find a way to forward this information (which you may already know about) to you.
    Again, well done, sir!

    • Hugh Nelson

      Thanks Bob! My grandfather Al Volkens lived in Davenport much of his life, so he had a lot of links to the community. He was President of a chain of autoparts stores, Seig Company (very German name), President of the Putnam Museum and a long time board member, long time member of the Davenport Rotary Club, and probably a bunch of other stuff that doesn’t come to mind right now (like cemetery boards, etc). And of course he had lots of links to the old German community that settled in Davenport 2 generations before him. I would love to see what you found.

      • Bob Steele

        Based on previous information about Sieg, I was able to find your grandfather’s name. He was a very impressive man! I first found his obit and verified I had the right name. Then I found an article & photo about him when he was a senior in high school and went to a speech contest in Canton, IL. Short of posting it on FB, I can’t figure out how to send you a copy. Therefor, if you go to the Davenport Iowa History page on Facebook and do a search for “Volken” it has the article I found. Very interesting and a good photo. I think you will enjoy the entry.

        • Hugh Nelson

          Thank you Bob! There are three Volkens entries – the first about the Davenport Post Office names my great grandfather. A second about the High School Auditorium mentions a debate with my grandfather involved. In the memoire my grandfather wrote for the family, he makes no mention of prizes and awards, and in fact says that by his senior year he was losing his focus. His biggest story is about how in the middle of a debate he forgot what he was going to say, so had to ad lib for a few minutes just to cover his tracks. Grandpa did most of the reporting about everyone else, so it’s nice to have some information about him from a third party. I’ll share this info with my family. Great work!

          • Bob Steele

            Merci. I am glad you and your family are able to enjoy the information about your grandfather. The Quad Cities has a few other resources with great info that are growing all the time. Also, my son’s girlfriend work in the special collections section of the D’port library. I will be sure to pass along anything else I find.
            I also hope you and Brenda will soon be able to reunite, especially since France (and us) are reimposing COVID restrictions. Have a great day!

  7. Bob Steele

    Merci. I am glad you and your family are able to enjoy the information about your grandfather. The Quad Cities has a few other resources with great info that are growing all the time. Also, my son’s girlfriend work in the special collections section of the D’port library. I will be sure to pass along anything else I find.
    I also hope you and Brenda will soon be able to reunite, especially since France (and us) are reimposing COVID restrictions. Have a great day!

    • Hugh Nelson

      Thanks Bob for all your help. Some day maybe I’ll get a chance to poke around Davenport some more. 4 generations of our family history is there.

  8. Chuck O'Dell

    Hugh, I want you to know I have read all your posts from Bloomsday through “Some thoughts from France on Covid”. Honestly, I wish I had read your Bloomsday post a little more thoroughly before starting Ulysses by Joyce. I would have least known what I was getting into before starting the book. You can tell how read I am when I expected the Greek version. I should have had the clue when I saw Dublin 16 June 1904. The reason I am writing today is to let you know I have finished the book in spite of Latin and French, and the company I am still running. I must admit that I am disappointed that there have been no more posts by you, at least that I have seen. Hope you and Brenda continue to stay well. I assume you are still in France. Best,

    • Hugh Nelson

      Bonjour Chuck, I’m thrilled that you’ve completed Ulysses, quite an achievement! I’ve been waylayed in the US for the winter, but we are planning to return to Paris soon. I apologize for the paucity of new posts recently. I did just finish the first volume of Marcel Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” (but in French, where it’s titled “À la recherche du temps perdu”). It will be fun trying to make an interesting Paris story out of that one. I’ll send you an email off line to let you know all the details that have kept me in the US. Great to hear from you!

      • Chuck O'Dell

        Hugh, I will never attempt Proust’s book in French; way beyond my pay grade I hope remaining in the US has not been due to family illness. I think you posted before why you and Brenda moved to Paris but of course, I have forgotten. Remind me again when you have the time; probably when you have returned to Paris. Best to you both!

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