I frequently feel like a lurker when it comes to James Joyce. Not a lurker as in a pimple, but more like a stalker-ish person. I admit it…I am on a mission. I want to park my butt in the seat next to him. Maybe take a couple of goofy selfies together. (Me and James Joyce, woohoo! A Facebook post, of course.) I definitely want to order a macchiato and bask in the glory of sitting next to this amazing writer.
BUT… the seat is NEVER empty. So, do I lurk around the corner and make a mad dash at the right moment? Do I start taking photos with reckless abandon? I always just end up glaring at the person sitting next to him and then walking on, hoping that I’ll get a chance another day.
The James Joyce I’m talking about isn’t actually the REAL James Joyce. It’s the life-size bronze statue of the famous Irish writer who lived in the Istrian coastal city of Pula, Croatia. The statue is seated on the terrace of Caffe Uliks (named after Joyce’s novel Ulysses), in Pula’s Portorata Square. From the café, you can see the Roman Arch of the Sergii. This is just one of the slew of fabulous ancient Roman monuments that can be found in Pula.
Triumphal Arch of the Sergii:
Temple of Augustus:
Joyce taught English to Austro-Hungarian officers from Pula’s naval base. The language school was in a yellow building just a hop, skip, and a jump away from where his statue now sits at the café. Joyce was only in Pula for a short time, from October 1904 to March 1905. He was never particularly happy during this time. He made friends with many of his students and talked to them frequently about his writing, which he considered his real work.
Even though Pula may not have been his favorite place, Joyce did a lot of writing there. He spent time revising Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and worked on perfecting his stream-of-consciousness technique. This writing technique can be described as a way of thinking out loud, perhaps involving a jumble of thoughts or emotions passing through a character’s mind. It’s sort of like having a conversation with yourself.
Here is an example of stream-of-consciousness from Joyce’s Ulysses, a novel which is considered a literary masterpiece:
Coffined thoughts around me, in mummycases, embalmed in spice of words. Thoth, god of libraries, a birdgod, moonycrowned. And I heard the voice of that Egyptian highpriest. In painted chambers loaded with tilebooks. They are still. Once quick in the brains of men. Still: but an itch of death is in them, to tell me in my ear a maudlin tale, urge me to wreak their will.
After Joyce left Pula, he went on to write Ulysses, Dubliners (a collection of short stories), and Finnegan’s Wake. James Joyce is considered to be one of the most revered writers of the 20th century.
In the yellow building that used to be the language school, there is a plaque that says: “In 1904-05 James Joyce, the famous Irish author, taught English in the building.” I wonder if he sat in a cafe near this spot—perhaps looking out at the Arch of the Sergii—and imagined all that he would someday accomplish? Maybe this summer, when I visit Pula again, I’ll finally get a chance to have that coffee and ask him!
Important Note: My mom took all the photos of James Joyce in this post. Yes, she got to have some hang out time. I'm so jealous!