Mr Bloom with his stick gently vexed the thick sand at his foot. Write a message for her. Might remain. What?
Some flatfoot tramp on it in the morning. Useless. Washed away. Tide comes here. Saw a pool near her foot. Bend, see my face there, dark mirror, breathe on it, stirs. All these rocks with lines and scars and letters. O, those transparent! Besides they don’t know. What is the meaning of that other world. I called you naughty boy because I do not like.
No room. Let it go.
Mr Bloom effaced the letters with his slow boot. Hopeless thing sand. Nothing grows in it. All fades. No fear of big vessels coming up here. Except Guinness’s barges. Round the Kish in eighty days. Done half by design.
He flung his wooden pen away. The stick fell in silted sand, stuck. Now if you were trying to do that for a week on end you couldn’t. Chance. We’ll never meet again. But it was lovely. Goodbye, dear. Thanks. Made me feel so young.
James Joyce. Ulysses (Page 312)
The quote is from the Nausikaa episode of Ulysses where Leopold Bloom is on the seashore behind the church, Mary star of the sea in Sandymount. Bloom is observing Gerty McDowell who is on the seashore with her friends Edy Boardman, Cissy Caffrey, her young twin brothers and baby Boardman.
Bloom is fixated on Gerty MacDowell and towards the end of the episode he draws a message in the sand. Whilst we cannot be certain what the intended message was, many believe that the word after I. AM. A., is cuckold, Bloom having been cuckolded by Blazes Boylan that afternoon at 16:00 in 7 Eccles Street. The last word of the episode is cuckoo, repeated several times.
The area behind the church, formerly the foreshore, is now reclaimed land, used as a public park and as playing fields for the Clann Na Gael Fontenoy GAA club.
You can look and compare the historic and contemporary mapping on the Ordnance Survey of Ireland Website. You can select areas of the city and apply different layers of contemporary and historic data. I like to compare the contemporary maps with the Historic 25″ Map from 1888-1913, contemporaneous with the period of time when Joyce lived in and wrote about, Dublin. You can look at the mapping on this link: http://map.geohive.ie/mapviewer.html
The overlayed image below shows the general area where I ran with the original coastline prominent on the lower left and the new reclaimed area to the right.
A detailed extract at the back of St. Mary’s Star of The Sea Church shows the dark line of the original sea wall more clearly.
I decided that just as Bloom’s words were washed away by the sand and were fleeting in nature, I would run a route that would track words as a form of GPS Art, only existing in computer code.
This post, although short in distance, was complex in planning. My original idea was to run the word Joyce on the open space on Sandymount Strand. I experimented with various forms of typeface but they all involved a lot of complex turns. I wasn’t sure how I would manage these and know where to change direction, without laying out a lot of cones and extensive preparation work. Then I thought I would run a freeform script but worried I would get dizzy and disorientated. You can see some of the plans in my notebook image below.
At a later date I thought about running the text that Bloom actually writes in the sand. I.AM.A. I quickly realised that this was much easier to run. The A and the M are essentially similar, the hard part being how to run the horizontal lines of the letter A. You can see in the image below how much simpler the running pattern would be. I decided to run on the playing pitches of Clann Na Gael and use the floodlights as visual markers. Even though this is conceptually easy…it took several runs to get the hang of it and to get the GPS map to work correctly so that it looked like written text in the various mapping apps such as Runkeeper and Google Earth both used at the top of this blogpost. The key learning was that I would have to run a large pattern and not double back at all, except where I had to in order to make the horizontal lines of the letter A.
I decided to start the run from the Saint Mary’s Star of the Sea Church, onto the reclaimed land at Clann Na Gael to make my virtual text and then out of the park and onto Dromard Terrace. Joyce spent the night of 16th June 1904, the day on which Ulysses is set, in the house at 22 Dromard Terrace owned by his friends James and Gretta Cousins. Once there I looped back to the church along Sandymount Road.
This extract from Apple Maps shows an overview of the area of route with the dropped pin indicating the centre of the the text run.
Joyce, J. (1998) Ulysses. Edited by Hans Walter Gabler, Wolfhard Steppe, and Claus Melchior. Afterward by Michael Gordon edn. New York, United States: Vintage Books.
In deciding to do the run I was inspired by the artist Jeremy Wood who has done a number of GPS Art projects. You can see his work here.