Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Bloomsday in Austin (and Prague and Paris)

 Every year I fail at celebrating Bloomsday. I've never even made it to an Irish pub on June 16th, let alone put together something cool like the daylong project this blogger came up with for doing Bloomsday in Houston.

This year, the day lined up with Father's Day, so--since I figured I'd spend my day doing family things--it looked like I would miss the celebration again. I did buy some Guinness, and I sent out a Facebook status based on the first sentence of Ulysses' Bloom section ("Mr. Scholarly Texan ate with relish breakfast tacos made with potatoes and bacon."). A half-hearted tribute to the novel, I guess.

But it was shaping up to be a great day, nonetheless. We had brunch with H's family at Nau's Enfield Drug, and then H's parents agreed to take the little one for the night, so H and I planned to go out. We've been hoping to see Before Midnight, the third film in Austin director Richard Linklater's trilogy. Like most couples of our generation, we secretly imagine that Jesse and Celine are loosely based on us.


We got lazy and decided to stay in. Or, as we justified it to ourselves, we needed to re-watch the first two movies, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, so we would be properly prepped for watching the third (at some unspecified future date).

Through all this, Joyce never left my mind. I know this because, in Before Sunrise’s opening scene, when Jesse and Celine are shuttling along the train tracks between Budapest and Prague, Jesse shares his harebrained idea of putting together a public-access film series featuring regular people from different cities around the world, each recording his or her life unedited for twenty-four hours.

"Hey," I said to H, "that’s like 365 film versions of Ulysses." H wasn’t impressed. (In the film, Celine isn't impressed either. I told you they're like us.)

But I knew the Joycean echo wasn’t a coincidence when, in the film’s climactic moment, the parting lovers decide to meet again in Prague in six months. In the process, they reveal the date on which the film's events have taken place: June 16th. Bloomsday!

At that point, I remembered that Before Sunrise isn’t Linklater’s only tribute to Joyce and Ulysses. In his first movie, Slacker (1991), Linklater has a character read aloud from the novel after a bad breakup. Aside from that reference, Slacker borrows from Ulysses in two ways. First, by setting the entire film within a span of twenty-four hours around Austin, Linklater is clearly trying to record “the physiognomy of the city,” to quote Carpentier, “like Joyce did with Dublin.” And the film’s technique of jumping from character-to-character with each interaction (so, for example, the camera will follow one person down the street until he encounters another another person, and then after their interaction the camera will follow the second person) comes straight from the “Wandering Rocks” episode of Ulysses. 

Dazed and Confused (1993) is a slightly more polished version of what Linklater was doing in Slacker, and less showy in its experimentation. But the elements are there: the whole thing takes place in a day (and night), and the narrative jumps from character to character again. Rather than walking around Austin, Dazed and Confused's characters drive, and that's one of several ways the film's Joycean nature is more muted. Still, some people have caught it. 

So, no, I didn't hit a pub (or several), and I didn't spend my day wandering the streets of where I'm from. But in the end, I did have a very Joycean Bloomsday. And a very Austin Bloomsday. And, all right, I admit it, a very slacker Bloomsday. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Most Texan Meal Ever?

If you're keeping score at home, this dinner consisted of 1) 2 Earl Campbell Hot Links on Mrs. Baird's white bread with Best Maid jalapeño relish; 2) Ranch Style Beans;  and 3) a Mrs. Baird's cherry pie. All eaten with a Shiner Bock from the tailgate of a 20-year-old pickup truck at a ranch in the Hill Country.

PS--Also while listening to 98.1 KVET.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Happy Hour in Havana

My latest at pterodactilo is a how-to on drinking in la Habana. Here's a sample:

So here’s what you do: when you’re done researching and writing for the day, and the sun is starting to set and the heat is starting to fade, grab your colleagues or the friends that you’ve made on the island. Buy a bottle of Havana Club and some cans of TuKola. Go down to the malecón, where it will seem like the whole city is out sitting and talking and laughing. Claim some space. Face the city, not the sea. Open a can of Cuban coke, take a swallow, and pour the rum into the space you’ve just made. And there you go: a makeshift cuba libre.

Read it all at blog.pterodactilo.com.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Summer Reading

Summertime, and the labor’s back-breaking. Like the creeks around here, my fellowship checks dry up in the summer and so, when I'm not working on my dissertation at the PCL, I’m back working at the ranch three days a week. But summertime isn’t just for manual labor: it’s also the season for travel and, on top of that, the season for reading.

I love the intersection of reading and travel, and the resulting double-journey that comes with each summer. You go to one place and you read about another. Like the summer after 8th grade, when I laid out at my grandmother’s pool in Atlanta, looking up at Georgia pine trees over my paperback copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls: I was in Spain and I was in Georgia. Or during our honeymoon, when H and I stayed at an the out-of-the-way finca in Extremadura, and it was unseasonably cold and windy, so instead of hiking around we huddled in our room and read about Tuscany. Last summer, in Havana, I was reading The Rum Diaries, and so I spent the trip skipping between Cuba and Puerto Rico.

The best is when somehow the two places overlap each other, different as they may be. In fact, the more different they are, the more acutely you feel their overlap. That summer in Atlanta, for example, Hemingway’s descriptions of pine trees in Spain in some surprising way taught me something about those pines by the pool, made them more real.

It happens at the ranch, too. Two summers ago, I was studying for my comps and one of the books on my list was José Donoso’s Casa de campo (A House in the Country), which is a strange Chilean novel about a group of kids who get the run of their summer house when their parents head out on an excursion. That was the summer that the drought was the worst in Texas, when everything dried up and it looked for all the world like the Chihuahua desert was about to swallow up the Edwards Plateau. Donoso has these amazing, surreal descriptions of the tall white grasses that surround the house and threaten to overrun the grounds. Looking out over the bleached fields of the ranch that year when even the cedars were losing their color, it seemed like Donoso was also writing about the Texas Hill Country.  

This year, I’ll be going (physically) on a road trip across the South with my family. And it looks like I’ll also be visiting (mentally) Paris with Enrique Vila-Matas, and maybe New Orleans, since I plan to finally read Confederacy of Dunces (that will be a return trip with a quick turnaround, since I just finished re-reading The Moviegoer after writing about Walker Percy). Where else? New York with Anne Roiphe, wherever Mary McCarthy goes in her short stories, and the Dominican sections of New Jersey with Junot Díaz.

And of course, working on my dissertation, I’ll spend a lot of mental time in Havana and in Harlem. But that’s where I live; I’m ready to get away.    

EDIT: I thought of two more: I half-read The Brothers Karamazov in college, and I mean to make amends this year. Also, Simone, by Puerto Rican novelist Eduardo Lalo, which just won the Premio Rómulo Gallegos for 2013.