My six year old’s first grade class is preparing for their musical medley of The Sound of Music so we listen to Julie Andrews in the car, sing do re mi in the bath, and try to master the tongue twister of the lonely goatherd over dinner. The refrain, though, that keeps going through my mind is “Let’s start at the very beginning… a very good place to start.” But of course I keep thinking “When you read” [insert Proust] “you begin with”. . . “metempsychosis.”
At least that’s where I’ve been stuck, or struck, rather. Because if I can finally put down my red pen and get past Pendergrast’s introduction this is my first pause… my first Proustian digression and I haven’t even read halfway down the first page. I love how spitzspeak confesses: “I can be intimidated by Proust and embrace Proust at the same time. I can allow Proust to invade me, and I can read my life through the lens of Proust at the same time.” Because when I got there I remembered my graduate seminar on Ulysses and spending 90 minutes on Bloom’s mis-remembering “metempsychosis. Which, of course, reminded me of an afternoon in Dublin rather un-romantically marchimg in circles with cryptic instructions from the anti-frommers travel guide on how to get to the spot where Molly Bloom said yes yes and had the seedcake kiss. . . perhaps one of the most romantic moments in twentieth century literature :
the sun shines for you he said the day we were lying among the rhododendrons on Howth head in the grey tweed suit and his straw hat the day I got him to propose to me yes first I gave him the bit of seedcake out of my mouth and it was leapyear like now yes 16 years ago my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a woman’s body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes and I wouldn’t answer first only looked out over the sea and the sky I was thinking of so many things he didn’t know of . . . and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
Of course in the ellipses are Molly’s digressions–memories of former lovers and her girlhood–because one thing is never one thing. And of course the walk through the brambles and the bushes with my lover was anything but romantic. Are you sure we’re supposed to walk up this hill with the red flower that’s been trampled? Or do we go past that tree with the lopped off limb and turn right?. So when we finally dropped our picnic blanket and wearily agreed this must be the spot and I read from my (now feeling rather heavy) copy of Ulysses sure that this rather dilapitated view of Dublin couldn’t possibly be it I kissed m. anyway for enduring the academic treasure hunt. (Which of course leads now to a new hunt as I look through old boxes for my Dublin scrapbook–photographic evidence that we were there, proof I could post and in the absence of my dog-eared novel a google search for “molly bloom seedcake” which leads me here to another writer’s post) And of course I realize that that spot doesn’t really exist, not off the page anyhow, as a place on the map, as a verifiable truth, but is so incredibly powerful because the memory of that moment keeps Molly and Bloom connected and (to borrow Woolf’s language from Mrs. Dalloway) connects them as through a thread to the rest of Dublin and its history through time and space in the powerful nexus of remembrance. The way by Swann’s will indeed be the long way around. . .