Monday, 29 December 2014

Mary Magdalene and Other Postcards

Suicide Oak, New Orleans.
I received this old postcard today and was struck by the caption, Suicide Oak, City Park, New Orleans. I wondered if the city of New Orleans had since cleaned up its act and renamed the tree; in California, where nobody ever dies, and you only transition, they would call it the Transition Tree.

Or maybe they would be more explicit and suggest that you had transitioned for a reason, for example that you had issues going forward.  So in California it would be the Issues Going Forward Transition Tree.

I checked out New Orleans and to my surprise and pleasure this is still the Suicide Oak.  It looks like the sort of tree made for suspending yourself from, but apparently not; the tree was a popular place for taking poison or blowing your brains out.  But the tradition seems to have died out, as you can see for yourself.

Zippy on the art of sending postcards.
Zippy the Pinhead has something to say about sending postcards as he explains on this postcard that I received from a friend of Zippy's not long ago.  This friend of Zippy's and I have been sending postcards to one another for a very long time now, always when we go to some new place but any excuse will do.

The Suicide Oak postcard today inspired me to look over the postcards I have received during 2014.  Some are beautiful, most are interesting, and some like this postcard from Rockville, Connecticut are sublime. 

Postcard of Rockville High School, Rockville, Connecticut.
Then there was a friend's great adventure to Holland which rewarded me with postcards from Amsterdam, Delft and Den Haag.  At a flea market in Delft he found this postcard of three fashionable people in the precincts of what looks like the Mauritshuis in Den Haag, the musuem of the Dutch Golden Age.  It has ten paintings by Rembrandt and three by Vermeer (out of a known thirty-four), including Girl with the Pearl Earring.

Alongside the Mauritshuis, Den Haag: vintage postcard.
Another thoughtful friend, knowing that I have been writing a book about Mary Magdalene, sent me a postcard showing Jesus and La Magdalene herself in Christus Gardens, Gatlinburg, Tennessee

There used to be another site in Gatlinburg called Tour Thru Hell featuring villains such as Pontius Pilate, and also a place with performing chickens that walked a tightrope, played basketball and played the piano. 

Postcard of Mary Magdalene and Jesus in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Alas they have all gone out of business, but Christus Gardens has in a sense been Born Again at Christ in the Smokies

If you cannot make it to Gatlinburg you can always go to Vézelay in Burgundy which has some of Mary Magdalene's ribs or to Saint Maximin in Provence which has her skull. As for the chickens, they come and they go.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

An English Christmas in New England

An English Christmas would not be complete with a good murder or two.
My friends in Connecticut, Jon Buller and Susan Schade, are having something of an English Christmas this year. Jon and Susan are 'les chatelains de Mont Becket' to whom I dedicated The Templars: History and Myth.

The idea began with Susan who was making the decorations for the Christmas tree.  Her decorations are miniature covers of books, all of them in English and from the British Isles.

Not surprisingly many of the covers are from children's books; Susan and Jon write and illustrate children's books. And others are from detective novels; when not writing children's books, Susan reads vintage detective novels.  For example, the tree is decorated with the cover of Hangman's Holiday by Dorothy Sayers.  An English Christmas would not be Christmas without a good murder and Hangman's Holiday is a cracker full of murder mysteries.  

Jon has contributed a Rupert Bear Annual but otherwise he is not well represented on the Christmas tree as he reads things like A la recherche du temps perdu which Marcel Proust wrote in French.  It is a book in which nobody gets killed.  In fact very little happens at all. 

Bertie Wooster stories first published in 1923.
The tree is also hung with the covers of Burns' Poems, The Recipe Book of the Mustard Club, Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales, and Ruthven Todd's Space Cat on Mushrooms

I got curious about some of these titles and looked into them more.  As I might have guessed The Recipe Book of the Mustard Club was anonymously written by Dorothy Sayers in 1926 when she was working as a copywriter for S H Benson, the advertising agency handling the J & J Coleman mustard account.  The editor was Sayer’s husband Atherton Fleming who wrote newspaper columns under the name ‘Gourmet’ and originated and tested many of the recipes. The contents include Fish Stories by Miss Di Gester; In Praise of Pig by Lord Bacon; Mutton and Beef by the Baron de Beef; Fair Game and Fowl by Augustus Gusto; Good Cheese and Good Cheer by Signor Spaghetti; Sandwiches by the Mustard Club's Travelling Correspondent; Sauces of Domestic Happiness by Lady Hearty; and Pickles by One of Them. 

The first James Bond novel 1953.
It took me a while to wake up to the connection between A Child's Christmas in Wales and Space Cat on MushroomsA Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas grew out of a BBC radio piece of the 1940s and was finally published under its own title in 1955, two years after Thomas died of alcoholism in New York at the age of thirty-nine.  Ruthven Todd, a Scots poet who also wrote detective novels and children's books, was a close friend of Dylan Thomas' and was with him at his death, about which he wrote a harrowing account.

Not really on mushrooms.
With Space Cat on Mushrooms either Susan is pulling our leg or someone is pulling hers; the real title of Todd's book is Space Cat Meets Mars but encouraged by the mushrooms which belong to the original cover illustration someone has tinkered with the title.

Anyway, one thing led to another, and no sooner did Susan have her tree decorated than she thought she and Jon would have a Christmas Eve dinner at which everyone could come as a character from the sort of books decorating the tree.

Salman Rushdie tie.
So far they have Simone showing up as Irene Adler from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story A Scandal in Bohemia, Aven coming as Mina Harker from Dracula, Lynnie as Agatha Christie, and Ellanora will come as Matilda's mother in the eponymous children's book by Roald Dahl.  Jon is thinking of wearing his bookshelf tie and coming as Salman Rushdie.  
A dose of insanity for a merry Christmas.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

French Impressionism and London Suburbia


Pissarro's painting of St Stephen's Church in 1870. Looming in the background is the flank of the Crystal Palace.
Not only Emile Zola fled to the suburbs of London near Crystal Palace at a moment of crisis in France but also Camille Pissarro who came with his family a generation earlier in 1870 at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War.  At a space of nearly thirty years apart the two men walked the same ground and enjoyed the same views as I realised when I looked again at Zola’s photographs and compared them with Pissarro’s paintings – in particular the scene of St Stephen’s Church in College Road.

Emile Zola's photograph of St Stephen's in 1899.
Pissarro recalled those times years later in a letter to his English painter friend Wynford Dewhurst in 1902. ‘In l870 I found myself in London with Monet, and we met Daubigny and Bonvin. Monet and I were very enthusiastic over the London landscapes. Monet worked in the park, whilst I, living in Lower Norwood, at that time a charming suburb, studied the effects of fog, snow and springtime.’  The ‘park’ where Claude Monet worked was Hyde Park, the original site of the Crystal Palace.

Pissarro, Upper Norwood, Landscape Under Snow 1871.
While in London Pissarro and Monet viewed the works of the Romantic landscape painters Constable and J M W Turner, those great masters of colour and the drama of English skies, which confirmed their belief that to truly capture light and atmosphere it was necessary to abandon the French habit of sitting in a studio and instead get out into the open air. 

Pissarro, Lordshhip Lane Station 1871.
Pissarro’s paintings of this time, twelve in all, record Sydenham and the Norwoods when they were only recently connected by railways and before they were enveloped by suburbia.   

Pissarro, All Saints Church, Upper Norwood.
One of the largest of these, a view of St Bartholomew’s Church at Lawrie Park Avenue, is in the collection of the National Gallery in London.  Others include views of the Crystal Palace which had been relocated from Hyde Park, Norwood Under the Snow, Lordship Lane Station, Dulwich College, Sydenham Hill, All Saints Church Upper Norwood and two paintings of St Stephen's Church, one of which is lost.

Pissarro, Fox Hill, Upper Norwood 1870.
Monet lived in town at the Savoy Hotel overlooking the Thames which explains the genesis of some of his most famous paintings, for example his repeated studies of light on the Houses of Parliament which he continued when he returned to London again in 1901.

Monet, Houses of Parliament 1871.

Monet, Houses of Parliament 1901-2.
Their experience of the London outdoors contributed to Pissarro and Monet becoming more relaxed, more lively and spontaneous in their brushwork.   

Not that it seemed to help their careers at first; back in France they found no favour with the artistic establishment and turning their backs on the Paris Salon they and like-minded friends arranged the first Impressionist Exhibition in 1874.  Thanks to Upper and Lower Norwood, to Crystal Palace and the Houses of Parliament, and to Turner and Constable Impressionism was born.

Pissarro, Crystal Palace 1871.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Emile Zola and Lawrence Durrell: Elegant, Dead and Erotic in Upper Norwood

The Crystal Palace was home to the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park, London.
I mentioned in an earlier post that while flying over London recently my attention was caught by the site of the long vanished Crystal Palace exhibition building, though its imprint is still clear and the spot is marked by a high BBC television transmission tower. The 1851 Great Exhibition was the first world's fair and a showcase for the technical and cultural achievements of the Industrial Revolution which were brilliantly represented by the Crystal Palace itself.

Emile Zola's photograph of Crystal Palace in Upper Norwood.
When the Crystal Palace was moved to South London in 1854 it continued to attract great numbers of visitors who were served by a specially constructed railway station and several hotels.  The grandest accommodation was provided by the Queens Hotel in Church Road, Upper Norwood.  The Queens Hotel is a short walk from the site of the Crystal Palace.

Even today the hotel stands out and can readily be identified from the air.

The white blob above the wing of the aircraft is the Queens Hotel, and close by to the right is the Crystal Palace site.

The Queens Hotel (left) and Crystal Palace site (right) are visible to the left of the wing of the aircraft.
What is curious about the Queens Hotel is that it should have been the unlikely home to two great writers, Lawrence Durrell and Emile Zola.  Durrell lived here briefly in his teens in the late 1920s with his mother and brothers and sister a few years before they all decamped to Corfu. There in Corfu, in a fisherman's house overlooking the sea at Kalami, Durrell wrote The Black Book, what he called 'my first real book', an assault on what he saw as the English Death, the cultural and intellectual stultification of Britain that he epitomised in his descriptions of life in the Queens Hotel, or what he calls in his novel the Regina Hotel, in Upper Norwood.
This is the day I have chosen to begin this writing, because today we are dead among the dead. ... It is today at breakfast, while the yachts hound across the water, tear-stained and anxious, towards port, that I am dying again the little death which broods forever in the Regina Hotel: along the mouldering corridors, the geological strata of potted ferns, the mouse-chawed wainscoting which the deathwatch ticks.  Do not ask me why, at this time, on a remote Greek headland in a storm, I should choose, for my first real book, a theatre which is not Mediterranean.
The streets and parks and cemeteries and buildings and people of this part of South London fill the pages of The Black Book.
From Peckham where the children sail their boats, where the lovers play with each other and go mad on the dark common after dark, away to the lairs of Lee Green, where you can smell Blackheath stalking upward into the darkness, leperlike, eaten by roads and villas. From the fag end of Anerly where the tram lines thin away into a wilderness of falling tombstones; Elmer's End, a locality of white stumps in the snow; to the Crystal Palace stuck against the sky, dribbling softly, pricked with lamps. Lawrence knew this world. Look up suddenly into the night. O ponderous phalloi, you have impregnated the world, you are the hostage of these delicate girls whose virginities are hard as the iron rails of the beds on which they toss!
The 'ponderous phalloi' in Durrell's text is a reference to the two huge water towers that stood at either end of the Crystal Palace - one of which is seen in this photograph by Emile Zola.
The Durrells had a service flat at the Queens Hotel and to a young man like Lawrence Durrell, mad on jazz and girls and poetry in the late 1920s, the hotel and all that part of London round the transposed Crystal Palace could seem nightmarishly comfortable and staid. The 1923 edition of Baedeker's London explains that Crystal Palace was now used for exhibitions of flowers, dogs and poultry, and for 'admirable concerts'. For Durrell in The Black Book, 'The heavy signature of the mist glazes the dumb domes of the Crystal Palace: the final assured vulgar mark of Ruskin's word on history'.  Like English culture the Queens Hotel was the repository of the living dead: 'The hotel is crowded with ghosts. Since Edwardian times no one has dusted this statuary, these carpets, these indestructible potted plants'.

But to Emile Zola who lived in the Queens Hotel in 1898-1899 it was paradise.

The Queens Hotel in 1899, photographed by Emile Zola.
Zola had written J'Accuse, an open letter to the president of the French Republic which was published on the front page of Georges Clemenceau's liberal newspaper L'Aurore in which he accused the highest levels of the French military of an antisemitic conspiracy against Alfred Dreyfus who had been set up on a charge of treason, convicted of handing over secrets to the Germans, and sent to almost certain death in Devil's Island.  For this Zola was in turn brought to trial and fled to England.

The story began so far as Zola was concerned in November 1897 when the details of the Dreyfus Affair were outlined to him.  'It's gripping', Zola would say from time to time.  'It's thrilling!  It's horrible!  It's a frightful drama!  But it's also a drama on a grand scale!' Zola told his friends that their legal efforts to overturn the verdict would get nowhere and instead a campaign had to be launched in the press against the antisemitic conspirators in the French military who had connived at Dreyfus' conviction.

Zola selfie.
Antisemitism disgusted Zola, but it was rife in France.  Already in May 1896 he had written an article in Le Figaro called For the Jews: 'For several years I have followed, with growing surprise and revulsion, the campaign against Jews in France.  I see it as a monstrosity, by which I mean something outside the pale of common sense, of truth and justice, a blind, fatuous thing that would put us back centuries, a thing that would lead to the worst of abominations, religious persectuion, with blood shed over all countries'.

On 25 November 1897 Zola published his first article on the Dreyfus Affair in Le Figaro.  A week letter he followed with another, in which he blamed the xenophobic popular press and behind it the Ministry of War for creating a scapegoat to explain away all France's ills, not least its defeat in 1870-71 in which it lost Alsace-Lorraine to the Germans.  In his third article Zola wrote against anti-Dreyfus student demonstrations in the Latin Quarter: 'So there exist fresh young brains and souls that this idiotic poison has already deranged? How very sad, and how ominous for he coming twentieth century'.

 In France they have antisemitism,
in England potted plants.
Then on 13 January 1898 Zola published J'Accuse in L'Aurore.  He was at the height of his literary fame and could not be ignored.  'I accuse', went the litany of his indictment, as Zola accused the war ministry and accused each of the military conspirators by name and accused a court martial of deliberately clearing one of the known conspirators on orders from above. For this last remark the French cabinet drafted a complaint against Zola who was brought to trial in February during which he received numerous death threats and met with shouts of 'Death to the Jews', while all over France there were antisemitic demonstrations and Jews' homes and shops and synagogues were attacked.

On 23 February 1898 Zola was found guilty.

In April the appeal court overturned Zola's conviction on technical grounds, but in July he was brought to trial again, this time by the military for slander.  On this occasion his friends, including Georges Clemenceau, bundled Zola into a cab and drove him to the Gard du Nord and put him on the boat-train to England where he arrived incognito.  For the next several months he stayed under various false names at Wimbledon, Weybridge, Walton and Addlestone until October when needing to be closer to city life he moved to Upper Norwood and the Queens Hotel where he lived as M Richard.

Crystal Palace by Zola.  Notice the woman on the bicycle.
'Never had I seen an autumn more clement or luminous', Zola wrote to his wife from England, this towards the end of a long visit by his mistress. After lunch, always taken in his rooms at the Queens Hotel, Zola would go for walks round Upper Norwood until teatime.  His walks would often take him to the Crystal Palace or he would go the other way, past Beulah Spa towards Streatham Common.

Elegant and erotic; Zola works the shutter atop Sylvan Hill.
Throughout his time at Upper Norward Zola would take photographs.  He photographed the Queens Hotel and the Crystal Palace - and he was especially impressed with English women, particularly women cyclists in their dresses, finding them elegant and erotic.

Zola's view along Church Road from the Queens Hotel to the Crystal Palace.
Zola remained at the Queens Hotel until June 1899 when following a change of government in France the conviction of Dreyfus was annuled and Zola returned to Paris - where he died from carbon monoxide poisoning, thought to be murder, three years later.

The Queens Hotel is still there.  If you want to book a room, here you go. 

But the Crystal Palace is no longer there.  It burnt down in November 1936 just as Durrell was finishing The Black Book.
A small fire in 1936 burnt out of control and within hours the glass and iron and wood structure of the Crystal Palace was destroyed.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Only the City is Real: Lawrence Durrell’s Journey to Alexandria

Only the City is Real: Lawrence Durrell's Journey to Alexandria, by Michael Haag, was originally published in Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, the annual journal of The American University in Cairo (26, 2006).

The crossroads in Durrell's original Book of the Dead: view north in 1929 into Tottenham Court Road from Charing Cross Road, with Oxford Street entering from the left. In The Alexandria Quartet the crossroads would be Rue Fuad and Rue Nebi Daniel, supposed site of Alexander the Great's tomb.
Lawrence Durrell’s travel books on Corfu, Rhodes, Cyprus and Provence are books of place. To the extent that there is movement, it is not about arrival, instead about leaving. In every case these books end with a departure, traumatic or verging on the traumatic; in the case of Durrell’s last book, Caesar’s Vast Ghost, the departure is from life itself, and the book ends with a poem in which ‘time is winding down’, its last line containing a single word: ‘Goodbye’. It is the same in Durrell’s group of novels The Alexandria Quartet, in which one volume ends with a death and funeral and the other three with the narrator’s departure from Alexandria, or rather his escape.

In fact the theme of an irruption from place was anticipated by Durrell in a notebook dated 1938 when he drew a map and labelled it ‘Plan for the Book of the Dead’. This is apparently Durrell’s first mention of the Book of the Dead, his working title for the novel that would evolve into The Alexandria Quartet. At the centre of the map was the crossroads of a city, but the city was not Alexandria where Durrell would unexpectedly find himself four years later; instead this was a map of Bloomsbury and its environs.

At the crossroads of his map, Durrell indicated Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road. On the west side of Tottenham Court Road he marked Fitzroy Square and Howland Street, and on its east side he marked Millman Street, Guilford Street, the British Museum and the publishing offices of Faber and Faber.

Charing Cross Road, view south from the crossroads, 1935.
The map amounts to a sketch of Durrell’s youthful experience of London, when not quite twenty but determined to be a writer he immersed himself in powerful literary associations by renting a room off Charlotte Street in Bloomsbury, in the very same house on Howland Street, Durrell believed, where Verlaine and Rimbaud had carried on their tumultuous affair in 1872. Later he briefly took a room around the corner in Fitzroy Square, one-time home to Virginia Woolf and still inhabited in the 1930s by members of the Bloomsbury Group.

Durrell would read voraciously in the Reading Room of the British Museum, and in 1932 he moved into a flat in Guilford Street where he was soon joined by Nancy Myers—a painter at the Slade School of Fine Art—who would become his first wife. ‘Love, despair, agony’, he wrote next to his flat in Guilford Street. In an attempt to make a living doing something arty, Durrell and Nancy set up a photographic studio nearby in Millman Street. ‘Last gasp’, Durrell wrote next to Millman Street; the photographic studio failed and with it their attempt to survive in London. Supporting themselves on exiguous inheritances they soon moved to Corfu. 

Durrell's favourite pub, the Fitzroy Tavern, Charlotte Street.
Now in 1938 and still only twenty-six years old but having written The Black Book, the novel he described as ‘my first real book’ and which won him international recognition, and the attention of T S Eliot at Faber and Faber, Durrell was casting his eye back over his Bloomsbury days, over a cultural environment he had triumphantly abandoned for the Mediterranean, and was planning his Book of the Dead.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Lawrence Durrell's London from the Air

Looking northwards over London from Crystal Palace to Hampstead Heath.
I was flying into London last week, and looking out the window I noticed that Crystal Palace was passing just under the wing.  I have walked round that part of London and down through Dulwich and all the way to the Thames as part of my explorations of the city of Lawrence Durrell's youth, and so I was quickly able to pick out some relevant and otherwise interesting sights which I have marked in red.

1. Bottom left: Queen's Hotel (Hotel Regina in Lawrence Durrell's The Black Book). Emile Zola also lived in the Queen's Hotel when he fled France after publishing his J'accuse letter about the Dreyfus case.
2. Bottom right: Crystal Palace.
3. Above Crystal Palace: Hillsboro Road in Dulwich (where Durrell lived while going to school at St Olave’s in Bermondsey).
4. Farther up, long oblong, from left to right: Hyde Park, Green Park, St James’ Park, running into one another.
5. Yet farther up: Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill.
6. To the right of 4 and 5: Fitzrovia (Durrell’s haunts, eg Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Tavern, British Museum).
7. Top: Hampstead Heath.


I have also walked from Hampstead Heath to the Thames.  So I have walked from the top of that photograph to the bottom. London is a wonderful city for walking and making associations.  And you can do much of it walking through parks.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

All Hallows


The west door of the Basilica at San Juan Capistrano.

Jesus Saves.  Limited offer.

Friday, 31 October 2014

All Hallows' Eve

Hallowe'en in London.

Monday, 13 October 2014

London Foxes

I have heard estimates that there are 10,000 foxes living in London.  I am surprised that there are so few.  I frequently see them strolling up and down the pavement or crossing the road from one garden to another, often in broad daylight, though most often at dusk or night.  I know where to look to see them curled up when they are taking an afternoon nap.  

One of my neighbourhood foxes coming out from his front door.


















He is a well-dressed fox.
The London fox is the red fox which began moving into the city in the 1940s.  In Ireland they had already taken up residence in Dublin in the nineteenth century.  Having moved in, they stay and breed.  Most London foxes have been here for more generations than human Londoners.  

The London fox prefers living in leafy residential areas where there are large gardens and plenty of space to roam.  I do not know what they live on, but definitely not pets, nor am I aware that they make a special point of scavenging in rubbish bins; when I see signs of that my impression is that it could as much be the work of a dog or a cat.  But there is plenty of food lying about and also people like to put out food for foxes. 

This fox I followed round and round when he was not following me.

Environmental scientists say that foxes are ideally suited to city life.  It is not a case of why would they want to live in cities, rather why not?  They are found in every habitat from the deserts of North Africa to the Arctic Circle.  London is just another habitat. 

The foxes I know are quite tame.  This summer one strolled across my garden in the evening and came to the patio table where I was sitting with friends and casually enquired for something to eat.  When I see them in the street I sometimes follow them and they follow me; we go round and round in circles, the fox not sure if I am chasing him or trying to give him dinner. 

Having given up on dinner from me, he moves off.
Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, thinks our foxes should be culled.  He favours fox hunting through the streets – on bicycles. Boris has his value but if I saw him tally-hoing on his bicycle after my neighbourhood foxes I would be tempted to set the hounds on him.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Mary Magdalene - Companion of Jesus, Goddess, Whore and Icon


Detail of Noli Me Tangere by Fra Angelico.

From the Bible to the Gnostics, the Cathars and mystics, this quest for Mary Magdalene pursues the history and the legends of one of the most remarkable figures in Western culture - apostle to the apostles, goddess and whore, companion of Jesus, and icon of womanhood.

The Quest for Mary Magdalene by Michael Haag will be published by Profile Books, London, in March 2016.

Mary Magdalene is a figure larger than any text, larger than the Bible or the Church.  She has been portrayed as a penitent whore, a wealthy woman, Christ's wife, an adulteress, a symbol of the frailty of women and an object of veneration.  And to this day she remains a potent and mysterious figure. 

In the manner of a quest, this book follows Mary Magdalene through the centuries, exploring how she has been reinterpreted for every age, and examining what she reveals about man and the divine.  It follows her from the New Testament to the Gnostic gospels where she is extolled as the chief disciple of Christ, through the early Church's reimagining of her as a fallen woman, to the Renaissance artists for whom she became a symbol of compassion, sensuality and humanity and up to the present day, where we see Mary Magdalene as a symbol of a new and powerful femininity.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Ghosts of My Grandfather and Leopold Bloom in Dublin


Myself, David O'Toole and my aunt Eileen
with rabbit and chicks behind 56 Upper Clanbrassil Street.
Plaque at 52 Upper Clanbrassil Street.
Not that I knew it at the time, but my friend David O'Toole and I would play in the streets and alleys of Dublin that would have been familiar to the young Leopold Bloom, James Joyce's fictional hero in Ulysses.  My grandfather's house was at 56 Upper Clanbrassil Street and David lived almost next door; in fact he might have lived at 52 Upper Clanbrassil Street, the house in which Leopold Bloom was born. 

My grandfather's house at 56 Upper Clanbrassil Street, Dublin.

There is a plaque about Bloom on the facade of 52, while the side of 56 still bears the sign my grandfather Thomas Maguire painted the better part of a century ago.  To my surprise I discovered the sign still there when I had a look on Google Street View.  The house has been refurbished and converted into flats but 'Thos Maguire & Sons' has been left intact; it seems to have become an institution, a small part of Dublin's heritage, and I see it has also been included in the enjoyable website called Dublin Ghost Signs.

My mother's birth certificate, born at 56.
My grandparents Thomas and Elizabeth Maguire raised eleven children at 56 Upper Clanbrassil Street and my mother Maureen (Mary) was born there.  The house stands near the Grand Canal where it is crossed by the Harold's Cross bridge (now renamed the Robert Emmet bridge); the area is called Portabello and was heavily settled by Jews in the nineteenth century fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe.  Little Jerusalem it was sometimes called, explaining why Leopold Bloom happened to be born here.

The Harold's Cross bridge leads over to the road running into the Wicklow Mountains.  There is a story about that.  My grandfather was a fierce republican; the British had a guard post at the bridge to intercept armed republicans coming down from the mountains; the position of my grandfather's house proved convenient for republicans during the Irish War of Independence.  But that is a story for another time. 

56 Upper Clanbrassil Street. left, and Bloom's birthplace at 52, right.

For the moment, back to Leopold Bloom.  'I, Rudolph Virag, now resident at no 52 Clanbrassil street, Dublin, formerly of Szombathely in the kingdom of Hungary, hereby give notice that I have assumed and intend henceforth upon all occasions and at all times to be known by the name of Rudolph Bloom' - that is Rudolph's declaration, in James Joyce's Ulysses, of his change of name. In 1866 his son Leopold was born at that same address.

Where Leopold Bloom was born.

All of Leopold Bloom's life opens up from 52 Clanbrassil Street (Upper was added later).

Ulysses first edition.
What is the age of the soul of man? As she hath the virtue of the chameleon to change her hue at every new approach, to be gay with the merry and mournful with the downcast, so too is her age changeable as her mood. No longer is Leopold, as he sits there, ruminating, chewing the cud of reminiscence, that staid agent of publicity and holder of a modest substance in the funds. A score of years are blown away. He is young Leopold. There, as in a retrospective arrangement, a mirror within a mirror (hey, presto!), he beholdeth himself. That young figure of then is seen, precociously manly, walking on a nipping morning from the old house in Clanbrassil street to the high school, his booksatchel on him bandolierwise, and in it a goodly hunk of wheaten loaf, a mother's thought. Or it is the same figure, a year or so gone over, in his first hard hat (ah, that was a day!), already on the road, a fullfledged traveller for the family firm, equipped with an orderbook, a scented handkerchief (not for show only), his case of bright trinketware (alas! a thing now of the past!) and a quiverful of compliant smiles for this or that halfwon housewife reckoning it out upon her fingertips or for a budding virgin, shyly acknowledging (but the heart? tell me!) his studied baisemoins. The scent, the smile, but, more than these, the dark eyes and oleaginous address, brought home at duskfall many a commission to the head of the firm, seated with Jacob's pipe after like labours in the paternal ingle (a meal of noodles, you may be sure, is aheating), reading through round horned spectacles some paper from the Europe of a month before. But hey, presto, the mirror is breathed on and the young knighterrant recedes, shrivels, dwindles to a tiny speck within the mist. Now he is himself paternal and these about him might be his sons. Who can say? The wise father knows his own child. He thinks of a drizzling night in Hatch street, hard by the bonded stores there, the first. Together (she is a poor waif, a child of shame, yours and mine and of all for a bare shilling and her luckpenny), together they hear the heavy tread of the watch as two raincaped shadows pass the new royal university. Bridie! Bridie Kelly! He will never forget the name, ever remember the night: first night, the bridenight. They are entwined in nethermost darkness, the willer with the willed, and in an instant (fiat!) light shall flood the world. Did heart leap to heart? Nay, fair reader. In a breath 'twas done but—hold! Back! It must not be! In terror the poor girl flees away through the murk. She is the bride of darkness, a daughter of night. She dare not bear the sunnygolden babe of day. No, Leopold. Name and memory solace thee not. That youthful illusion of thy strength was taken from thee—and in vain. No son of thy loins is by thee. There is none now to be for Leopold, what Leopold was for Rudolph.

Thomas Maguire, my grandfather.
As for myself, Dublin included days out with my grandfather who had a reputation for being stern but whom I always found kind.  He would take me as a child on outings round the city, to Phoenix Park, to Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains, and he would give me a penny so that I would walk up Clanbrassil Street to the shop near the bridge where I would have a slab of ice cream cut from a block and put between two wafers, and where once I went into the nearby pub instead and lost the penny to a one-armed bandit.  Behind the house my grandfather kept a horse and he also kept a goat, and my grandmother kept chickens and my uncles kept racing pigeons.  They would race all the way back to Dublin from as far away as England.  There was a big dining table at 56 and the whole family would gather round, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles and cousins and friends like David O'Toole and people straying in.  I once counted forty-two immediate relatives in Dublin, but then I gave up counting.  And I remember, oddly, riding my bicycle along the Grand Canal and falling off, knocking my head hard, and losing my memory all day.  And many other things.  But I only found out about our neighbour Leopold Bloom later.

Dublin is not my universe; it is a small part of my world.  Even so, I understand Joyce when he said, 'For myself, I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal.'

56 Upper Clanbrassil Street stands near the Grand Canal;
to the north is the river Liffey.