Monday 22 August 2022

Joyce's Dublin, Dante's Ravenna

8.30am, 16 June (Bloomsday), looking across to the Forty Foot at the Martello Tower, Sandycove, Dublin (both described in the first chapter of Ulysses), Howth headland beyond; 7.30pm, 7 July, in the Zona Dantesca, Ravenna, looking towards the tomb, not long before the evening performance of Paradiso (by which time thunder and lightning had already begun).

Two cities with the feel of friendly towns, where the citizens still identify with the heroes who graced their special places - Joyce in his early years, Dante a welcome refugee towards the end of his life. I want to yoke them together because they've been my happy places in recent months - and since then Pärnu and Edinburgh, two other great loves, but neither has quite so strong an identification with a single figure.

I've also written extensively for The Arts Desk about the big lead-up to a Bloomsday marking the 100th anniversary of Ulysses in Dublin, including the unforgettable experience of Barry McGovern's marathon week-long reading - official photo here by Ste Murray for the Abbey Theatre - 

and the long-postponed culmination of the Ravenna Festival/Teatro dell'Albe Dante project with Paradiso (which should have happened, of course, for the Dante celebrations in 2020, but anyway, here, at last was the final ascent). 

While Ulysses week officially began with the first of magisterial readings exactly a week before the day - duly celebrated here - the Bloomsday experience happened to follow directly on the heels of my 60th birthday, and because I'm too lazy to prepare a totally new set of photos, I'm going to include some from the selection I sent to the friends who took the trouble to celebrate with me in Dublin. Apart from those already in the city, the first to arrive was Sophie, from Amsterdam, and I knew she'd love the Swenys experience; having endured the grimmest of shows, purportedly about Hans Christian Andersen, at the Gate (lovely theatre, bad first acquaintance), we wandered back through Trinity College grounds and noted that the drinking had already begun after the evening reading of Finnegans Wake. P J is always welcoming, and of course was not only able to tell Sophie where the King and Queen of Sweden had sat, but also sang her a song in Gaelic - you can see how much she liked it.

Too many folk most of you won't know in the selection I sent out of following events - including birthday lunch in the splendid outdoors of MOLI, the Museum of Literature on the south side of St Stephen's Green included - but here's one of our local, Fitzwilliam Square, and another of Sophie getting the tables ready there for drinks.

and one of the birthday supper at the fabulous Kerala Kitchen just over the canal. Normally I shrink from having 'Happy Birthday' sung to me, but as I got that in various versions and languages - Spanish, Swedish, Latvian and Gaelic - I loved it this time. This captures the very jolly essence of that part of the meal (fortunately folk on the next table had all left so we had the upstairs room to ourselves). Our unofficial guest of honour was a rather well-known Irish composer whose company I always treasure.

The revels didn't continue beyond midnight because some of us had to rise at 7 to get to Sandycove for the start of Bloomsday rituals - the reading of 'Telemachus' always begins at 8am either on top of the Martello Tower or in front of it. It was a fair June morning to help along Artis, Kristaps, Sophie and myself.

The first group of the day was already on the top of the Martello Tower, where we'd been among only a handful of visitors back in April.

The reading had just begun when we reached the base.

Plans to swim from the Forty Foot were derailed by a large group of American students queueing up for the plunge, so we swam around the corner, looking towards Dun Laoghaire. I promise you I'd already been in when I took this photo of my young Latvian friends.

Walking back to the station, breakfasts were in full swing at various venues, starting with Fitzgerald's.

Oddly the blinds were down over the Ulysses roundels, one for each chapter, but at least I'd snapped them back in April. The first five will do for now.

Tickled to see schoolkids Edwardianised-up for the day. 16 June was Joyce's choice for the events of Ulysses because that was the date when he walked out with Nora Barnacle and she gave him a handjob (they were frank about their sex life). So it should really be called 'National Handjob Day'.

Took the DART train back to Pearse Street and joined some of the Swenys brigade in Kennedy's Bar. Devilled kidney as in Episode 3 an obligatory part of 'Bloom's breakfast'.

After that, I had to forego the rest of the daytime revels to get my Zoom Sibelius class ready. By the evening good intentions to head out to Blackrock for a Joyce play had folded, and we had a quiet evening back at Fitzwilliam Street. But before the birthday visitors departed, there was time for another excursion the next day; I wanted Kristaps and Artis to join me in a cliff walk along Hoath, which I still pinch myself to believe is only half an hour by DART train from the city centre. 

It wasn't by any meas as sunny a day as when J and I first did the circuit back in April, but the guillemots were still clustered on some of the rocks. These shots are actually from that earlier time, on the Bray cliff walk at the other end of Dublin bay, but the essence remains the same.

Mentioning Bray, cheerful kiss-me-quick resort with a fabulous headland to make it beautiful, allows me to slip in an April shot of one of the many houses where Joyce lived as a child, in a rather pretty west-facing terrace at the other end of the bay.

K & A got chatting to a Joyce enthusiast who'd been working her way through Ulysses AND Finnegans Wake in an online reading group. Her equally friendly daughter was studying medicine at Edinburgh University, so we had lots to talk about. And they kindly took this shot.

On Saturday our friend Katharina was still in town to attend the Dalkey Book Fair, so we took an excursion to Kilruddery, the other side of Bray, where I got an appropriately bookish shot of our MacLehose Press heroine. 

The 17th century bulk of the house seems to have been somewhat awkwardly restored in 1820s Tudor Revival style, with some less than felicitous later makeovers, but it's hard not to like the Victorian Orangery, clearly much in demand for weddings (which meant we could peek around inside).

The sweep of the gardens is the thing, though, and the locally-sourced produce in the pavilion cafe was first rate.

Finally, a family coda with the D'Arcys. Young Oscar for some reason insisted on the ice bucket challenge (hasn't that gone away yet?) and the parents gave in. Just pleased with this shot because it catches the exact moment, and sister Thea's leaping around for joy is fun too.

Can't thank David and Gwendolen enough for this. I'm easy to buy presents for when you know what I like...

My next visit to Ireland seemed to initiate a heatwave, and glorious sunny days in beautiful Kilkenny, festival experience of which I've partially written about here on The Arts Desk, but more should be forthcoming.

Ravenna didn't seem to be groaning under the heat during the blissful three days I spent at the Festival; long-sufferers told me there was air at last. What did jeopardise the Paradiso experience - see the feature on The Arts Desk for more background -  was a storm scheduled for the evening I was due to see it. The night before, my delightful festival friend Anna and I encountered the Dante and Virgil/Beatrice of the proceedings, the wondrous Marco Martinelli and Ermanna Montanari with trombonist Raffaelle Marsicano leading the procession past the ruins of Theodoric's palace next to Sant'Apollinare Nuovo.

We were then on our way to see one of two other events which turned out to be equally wondrous in their own ways, The Garden with another legend, Claron McFadden, visualised and directed by Luigi De Angelis of Ravenna's other major theatre company, Fanny & Alexander; they support Teatro delle Albe's work, and vice versa. F&A's base is in a superbly converted building which looks like a church but was actually constructed in 1887 as a sulphur warehouse, the Artificiere Almagià.

The restoration was included in the city’s impressive redevelopment of the industrial area around the harbour and along the Canale Candiano.

Just behind the Almagià is the Darsena Pop Up, where in 2019 J and I had an inspiring cookery lesson from Rosella Mengozzi (later I met the environmentally-concerned young Italians of Tunisian origin she was feeding for the week before they set out on further European travels). It was good to stroll around it at sunset with Anna.

This time the lesson was in Rosella's home, I actually intend to make tagliatelle agli spinaci with pesto sauce, because when she heard of this, one of my students said she had a spare pasta-making machine she's going to give me, 

Probably I won't hazard the piadine Rosella made with various fillings

but I was very happy to consume them along with Anna and her boss Fabio, who turned up very conveniently at lunchtime.

Serendipitously, as I was strolling back - having turned down the offer of a lift (!) - I heard the strains of Mozart's 'Ave verum corpus' issuing from the Church of San Romualdo. Turned out it was a rehearsal for Muti's 'Paths of Friendship' concerts which I wouldn't be around to hear (as in a previous year, it was a collaboration with Ukrainians - in this case the chorus of the Ukrainian National Opera - but couldn't be held in Kyiv, so they were going to Lourdes. Anyway this seemed like a fine space, and specially converted for concerts - I long to hear one there. 

A little further along the street where San Romualdo is to be found stands the Libreria Classense, I'd been to a concert in one of the cloisters there, but 'Virtual Dance for Real People' in the Hall of Mosaics was one of the most extraordinary things I've ever seen. Read about it on TAD, but look at the beautiful people here - my virtual experience in the second stage of the performance took so long to get working that when I came out of it, I found only members of the company left behind. So of course I asked to snap them, and here they are - the two dancers, Philippe Kratz and Grace Lyell,

plus the charming Stefania Catellani and others - apart from Stefani on the left and the dancers, I can only identify the inspired choreographer Fernando Melo to the other side of Philippe and Grace. The Roman mosaic unearthed near Sant'Apollinare in Classe and moved to the library in the early 20th century has a peacock at the centre.

Time to revisit favourite locations in Ravenna was limited, but just over from Dante's tomb through a zone of loudly stridulating crickets

is Dante's San Francesco, with the always peaceful square in front of it I crossed numerous times on the way from my lodgings (one of the inspiring mentors on the Warburg Institute Dante course, Alessandro Scafi, chose the quotations carved into the stone in front of the church).

Homage had to be made to what I reckon has to be the most beautiful small building in the world, the so-called Mausoleum of Galla Placidia

with its vaults more pertinent than ever given Paradiso's views upwards towards an infinite heaven and stars (though these may be flowers; it hardly matters. I've been here before in photogallery terms, of course, but every time it inspires me even more).

The heavens were not auspicious as we gathered at Dante's tomb on the scheduled evening for the Martinelli/Montanari-led experience. Thunder rumbled, the sky was black in the opposite direction, and our guides told us that they'd read the first Canto, progress through the streets and take a (literal) rain check at the cloister of what is now the City Art Museum (MAR), behind which, in the public gardens, the greater part of the dramatization was due to take place. 

As we walked along Via di Roma, listening to the singing from balconies along the way, the rain began to fall. 

There was still light to the south, while forked lightning brought the thunder with increasing regularity. Sorry I couldn't catch that, but at least Santa Maria in Porto wasn't shrouded in darkness behind sheets of rain, as it soon would be.

Waiting time in the cloisters wasn't wasted, as Edoardo Tresoldi's Sacral was still installed around the central well, a happy hangover from the Dante anniversary celebrations.

After half an hour, all hope was abandoned and I went off for a pizza with some members of the company and folk who were to become new friends - dare I say it more inspiring than most of the usual colleagues I get to hang out with at festivals. Fortunately we were all still around the next day to experience the last performance of Paradiso on a perfect day. Before it - and I'm so pleased I sacrificed my last chance to have another look at Sant'Apollinare Nuovo - we gathered with Paola Ricci, new to the Teatro delle Albe administration and managing the Research Centre on Vocality and Sound in the Palazzo Malagola over the road from the theatre. Here are my NBFs, Belgian sitar player Joachum Lacrosse, his partner Virginie Krotoszyner who had come to see TdA's street theatre work, their adorable baby Maya, a happy soul, and Professor Ron Jenkins - more on him anon - upstairs in the main studio room, following Paola.

The semi-dilipidated Palazzo has been enriched with extraordinary wall drawings by Stefano Ricci.

Paola then took us across the road to Teatro delle Albe's home, originally founded as a church and monastery by the sister of that very same Francesca whose lament Dante imagines so heartrendingly in Inferno. The church was redesigned in the 18th century and became the Teatro Rasi in 1919, named after the late 19th century Ravenna playwright and historian. 

Most of the frescoes have been rehoused in the National Museum but there are still traces on some of the arches. And how splendid is the east end which you can see behind the stage. Here Maya makes her first appearance on stage,

while the others look on from the auditorium, splendidly revamped in 2020.

The foyer spaces are equally handsome

and a few traces remain of the site-specific Inferno - how I wish I'd seen it, and that the promised 2020 triptych could have happened - which took place mostly around and under the theatre.

 xx and I were lucky enough to squeeze in a performance of a not exactly successful but intetesting chamber opera in glorious San Vitale before Paradiso began again. And this time it could not have been a more beautiful evening as we processed.

Various local choirs sang at the entrance to the MAR cloisters each night. We heard a superb amateur choir on the abortive evening, and this time a Nigerian Baptist group from a church just outside the city centre sang and danced us onwards while some of their children played nearby. The moon was up, too, as you can just see in the third photo below.

The drama in front of the beautiful Loggetta Lombardesca, an architectural glory of Ravenna I'd not seen before, required cameras to be stilled - there are some good professional shots on the Arts Desk piece - but here are some of the citizen performers waiting beneath the trees as we entered.

And from my recumbent place watching the stars come out as Ermanna read the final Canto so beautifully (the last word, as in the previous Cantiche, is 'stelle') I sat up to hear Marco deliver a fine last-night speech thanking all the Ravenati involved.

We also got to enjoy the company feast. I loved talking to Alessandro Renda, who played one of the 'living statues', Justinian, and who has instigated many educational projects of his own. Here he is on the right in conversation with Ron. To the left is a Milwaukee director who was there with his wife in some sort of collaborative role with Teatro delle Albe - I wish I'd had more time to talk to them

Our Professor is an admirable soul. He was arrested on an anti-apartheid march in South Africa during the bad old days. Imprisoned with 50 black protesters, he saw how they sang and danced during their captivity. When he was told he alone could be released, he chose to stay and ended up defending his friends in court (they were all acquitted). This was an epiphany. He now teaches Dante and other literature to prisoners in the States, and says they're much his best students; the transformations for them and their families is incredible. He's writing a book on Dante and prisons, and had seen many quotations from the Divina Commedia on the walls in Palermo's infamous Ucciardone. As a playwright and director, he used to come to Europe more often than he does now; he laments the passing of Peter Brook, and said that the Teatro delle Albe was one of the few companies whose work he'd always seek out (like me, he had been amazed by the 2019 Purgatorio). 

And here are my other NBFs at the gathering - Paola, Joachum and Virginie (Maya was happily asleep).

We've been in touch - I'm hoping we'll meet again - Paola I'll almost certainly see back in Ravenna, mash'allah, next year, whatever the company decides to do. Marco suggested the next project will be an enlargement of the superb disquisition he gave towards the end of Paradiso, on Bernini and Borromini. The language was so clear that I understood nearly all of it - and Ron suggested I read one of the books I'd been allowed to take away from our tour of the theatre. 

Thus it was I came to read Marco's Nel Nome di Dante, published so far in Italian only. I've done it, and without a dictionary, though there were a few key words I meant to check. But what a wonderful book it is, as good an introduction to Dante and what he means for us today as any I know. I finished it in my next annual happy place, Parnu - didn't actually read it on the beach, too much sun after swim and no shade, but as it was in my bag thought it tied in well with the painted ladybirds.

There will be other ramifications from this amazing visit, I'm sure of it. The next morning, I took Paola's recommendation to have coffee at Serafima, opposite the Teatro Dante, and as I sat there Muslim Africans in their finest boubous appeared on their way to mosque for Tabaski - a ceremony I will remember from my time in Djenne. Not a bad way to say farewell to this welcoming, open city.