May 13, 2009

James Joyce in Zurich

Joyce lived in Zurich with Nora and their children at the beginning of World War I.  The Joyce's found an apartment on the top floor of the building in the first picture.  They entered through the back door (second picture).  The building is on Seefeldstrasse, a lovely neighborhood (third picture) on the eastern side of the lake and about three blocks from the water.  It's so familiar to me because my daughter lives across the street and we can easily see the building from her top floor terrace.
The Joyce's stayed in Zurich for several years but they had numerous residences.  They became unhappy with the apartment shown because the space was split in two and other people who were renting adjacent space had to enter through their living room.  This did not please Nora, or Joyce for that matter as they felt rather invaded.  Later, they moved further down toward the center of town but also along Seefeldstrasse.  I also pass this other apartment regularly on the tram.  That apartment also did not please, and yet another, and they eventually moved to Universitatastrasse where the bulk of ULYSSES was written.  The journey around Zurich's apartments may have been influenced by the journey of ULYSSES, who knows! 

Zurich's weather is unpredictable and difficult.  The Joyce children were always sick with colds and flu.  Nora became unhappy with Zurich and blamed the children's illnesses on the weather. They moved on to Paris.  Nevertheless, Zurich is an important stopping place for Joyce because it was here, in the apartment across the street that Joyce began work on ULYSSES.  

ULYSSES remains for me the high point of my reading/study career.  I feel there is no other novel that can compare in English, Irish, or American literature just as we can't find anyone to quite reach the stature of Shakespeare.  I've studied the novel three times with three different teachers and am beginning to feel that I'd like to take it on again at some point.  The journey through the book was transforming, and, at this time as I'm also studying Robert Motherwell, I'd like to see how it might give some depth to painting.  Motherwell did an unforgettable painting series of Joyce's ULYSSES.  You can find it in his COMPLETE COLLECTION OF PRINTS.

Joyce died in Zurich.  The Joyce's fled to Switzerland once again after the outbreak of WWII.  Also, Joyce was suffering from ulcers that eventually perforated and they were able to find medical help in Switzerland.  He underwent surgery but died on January 13, 1941.  He is buried in Fluntern Cemetery next to Elias Canetti, a nobel prize winner in literature, and Jewish, like Leopold Bloom.  I have photos of Joyce's grave back home.  I didn't go to the cemetery on this visit.  There's a wonderful sculpture of him beside the gravesite.

So many famous writers, thinkers, painters, poets have made their home in Zurich for some period of time in their lives.  Zurich tends not to celebrate anyone in particular so you don't see placards on buildings around the city marking where famous people have stayed.  Everything is a bit more underplayed and reserved.  You can find a James Joyce Foundation here if you want to visit with various artifacts of his life.  You can find the cafes he frequented if you investigate the biography.  Mostly it's just great to be here and to feel the atmosphere where he wrote while he remembered the atmosphere of Dublin from which he lived in exile.