Lifestyle | Travel

Travel Writing: Pula, a Footnote in Joyce’s life

16/10/2018

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On 8 October 1904, 22-year-old James Joyce eloped from Ireland to mainland Europe with his girlfriend Nora Barnacle, his later wife. Joyce’s father, his brother Stanislaus and his aunt Josephine all turned out to see him off for his journey to the continent. Joyce’s father was unaware of Nora’s existence aboard ship, although his brother, sister and aunt were privy to the deception.

Joyce had always wanted to leave Ireland. Earlier, he’d responded to an advertisement for teaching posts in Europe through an agency based at Market Rasen, run by Evelyn Gilford who assured him a post had been reserved for him at the Berlitz School in Zurich.

Gilford asked Joyce to forward two guineas to cover the fee. A telegram followed, telling Joyce to go to Zurich to undertake his post at the language school. Joyce’s immediate concern was to raise the money for the fare, the cheapest being £7.10. He desperately sought loans from family, friends and acquaintances. His father provided £7, Lady Gregory £5. Others gave smaller contributions, wished him well, or simply declined.

The couple set off for Zurich where Joyce expected to fill a vacancy at the Berlitz School. They travelled to London and then on to Paris, where they found themselves penniless. Again, Joyce went cap in hand to obtain funds. Rivière, a friend of Lady Gregory gave him sixty francs and the couple managed to reach Zurich, but bad news followed with Herr Malacrida, director of the school, informing Joyce that no vacancy existed. He advised Joyce to travel to Trieste in the hope of getting a position at the Berlitz School there, but again, there was no vacancy. Finally, Joyce obtained a teaching appointment in Pola, now Pula in Croatia, where a new language school was opening. The couple finally arrived in this Adriatic town on Sunday, 30 October 1904.

Vintage postcard, Amphitheatre, Pula

Vintage postcard, Amphitheatre, Pula

Pula’s a seafront city on the tip of Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula and is known for its protected harbour, beach-lined coast with redolent Roman remains. It’s where central Europe and the Mediterranean collide and where cultures and identities have merged over time. Once a Roman Colony with its imposing amphitheatre, Pula thrived until the collapse of the Roman Western Empire. In the following centuries, the city endured different masters: from the Romans to the Ostrogoths, the Venetians, Hapsburgs, Italians, as well as the Allied Forces in World War II – time and again with the same serial story of occupation, destruction and rebuilding.

Today, red open-top buses circle the town, while a steady flow of tourists meanders down streets past the imperial Roman Temple of Augustus with its fine portico supported by four Corinthian columns into a forum still alive with what Joyce described as a ‘Babylon of languages’. It’s a town dominated still by the sea and the tidal influences of different people who have swept through its winding streets, triumphal arches and alleyways. Pula harbour and the shipyard are still prominent in the distance, a reminder of this former naval town.

When the Joyce’ s arrived, Pula served as the main harbour for the Austro-Hungarian navy. It was crowded with steel-grey dreadnoughts and the streets thronged with naval uniforms. A new school had just been opened there with the intention of attracting navy officers and sailors as students. Almidano Artifoni, who ran the Berlitz School in Trieste, had placed an advert in Il Giornaletto di Pola on 31 October 1904, announcing the arrival of the new English teacher. James A Joyce, Bachelor of Arts, was to be available any day from 9 am to 12 pm. For this he was paid £2 for a sixteen-hour week – not a bad return when you consider it equivalent to a Headteacher’s pay at the time.

The apartment building where Joyce taught.

The apartment building where Joyce taught.

In Pula, Joyce put on weight, grew a moustache, rented a piano and wore his hair en brosse. He and his lover found a tiny second-floor flat at 2 Via Giulia, a furnished room and kitchen directly opposite the school. The Berlitz School no longer exists today, but the building still does. It’s a yellow apartment building, several stories high, which has become the Boutique Hostel Joyce overlooking Portrata Square. The ground floor once housed the language school.

A marble plaque on the wall next to the entry says in Croat and English, ‘In 1904-05 James Joyce, the famous Irish author, taught English in this building’. The prominent Triumphal Arch of Sergii, also known as the ‘Golden Gate’ is almost side by side with the building, a sight Joyce must have seen every day.

Adjacent to the former school today’s a wonderful tribute to Joyce himself in the form of the Café Ulike (Ulysses in Croatian). A seated bronze statue of Joyce by the Croatian Sculpture Mate Čvrljak sits relaxed at a table, stick in hand and head bent back as if contemplating the passing throngs as they enter and exit through the ancient Triumphant arch in their own moving narrative of the day. He’s portrayed not as a young man in his twenties but as middle-aged.

james-joyce-pula

Joyce statue, Café Ulike

Joyce’s days were often routine with the couple getting out of bed at 9am. Next, Nora made chocolate. At midday they had lunch with soup, meat, potatoes or something else. At 4 o’clock the couple drank another chocolate and had dinner cooked by Nora for 8 o’clock. The day would end with a visit to the Café Miramar on the seafront where they read the Figaro of Paris and returned at midnight. When it turned cold they spent more time at the Café Miramar, because their apartment was so cold. In letters to his brother and to his aunt Joyce describes Pula as a ‘naval Siberia’, and bemoans its hundred races, thousands of languages, warships and numerous faded uniforms everywhere. Nora was pregnant and relations between the couple weren’t always smooth.

Vintage postcard, Café Miramar, Pula

Vintage postcard, Café Miramar, Pula

Later in life Nora complained to her sister about Joyce, saying he drank too much and wasted far too much money. She was still proud of him but felt his writing was obscure and lacking in clarity.  Joyce meanwhile often appeared late for lessons, sometimes inebriated. Often, he stared out of the window, resenting the intrusion teaching had on his ‘real work’. In January the couple moved into a bigger and warmer apartment on the Via Medolino, where they lived with Alessandro Francini Bruni, director of the Pola Berlitz School.

Pula didn’t fire Joyce’s imagination. In a letter to his aunt he said, ‘I am trying to move to Italy as soon as possible… Pola is a back-of-the-God speed place.’ Joyce may not have needed Pula for inspiration, though, as he’d work in progress and other tasks to complete. A large trunk contained the manuscript of an unfinished novel, a treatise on aesthetics, his epiphanies, his Dublin stories, copies of poems, and a collection of notebooks. All these, as well as poignant memories and mental images, could be drawn upon.

During this time in Pula, Joyce tried to get his book of poems Chamber Music published. He continued writing in a notebook, making notes on aesthetics, which were later used in The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Work also continued in redrafting a short Dubliners story, which eventual title became known as ‘Clay’. Time was spent finishing chapter twelve and writing another six chapters of his novel Stephen Hero – a posthumously published autobiographical novel, part of which was lost, but whose ideas were again used in composing A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man.

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My mind drifts and I wonder if I should order ‘Biska’ (a homemade grape brandy with mistletoe and three types of grasses) in Caffé Ulike, or maybe a coffee grappa, or even a hot chocolate, but I’m surprised to find they sell bottled Guinness, which comes, of course, in a Joyce glass. They also mix a Joyce cocktail (Jameson Martini, Martini Bianco and pear liqueur) or a Nora (Baileys, Bacardi and cream) if I’m interested. I pick the safer midday option of coffee and cake while examining several display cabinets, containing memorabilia of the writer’s time spent in Pula. Like Joyce, time will pass and I’ll move on like all the others through the old Roman Arch of Sergii.

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Readers could turn to Pritchard’s James Joyce to discover more about this famous author. This is a very accessible book with a helpful chronology, giving interesting details of his life. The James Joyce Centre or the Tower & Museum, Sandycove Dublin, Ireland, are both worth a visit.

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