The James Joyce Ramble: When a writer runs

1461597399117Fresh off my January 5k race in Key West, haunt of the great American writer Ernest Hemingway, I began searching for another race that was connected with a great writer. It didn’t take me long to discover this past weekend’s 33rd James Joyce Ramble 10k in Dedham, Massachusetts.  The Ramble has often been associated with promotion of human rights and a free press.   This year, the race focused on the plight of the five Hong Kong booksellers who suddenly disappeared from their homes only to remerge as “guests of the People’s Republic of China.”  Now, I had two reasons to run.20160424_084114

I was well aware of the strong connection between the two writers during Hemingway’s early Paris years but ten kilometers (6.25 miles) this early in the racing season was a question mark.   But when I saw that the race features along its route two-dozen or so orators dressed in period costume reading aloud from Joyce’s works, I was hooked.

When Hemingway arrived in Paris in December, 1921, the incomparable Irish writer Joyce was already established as one of the great writers of his time.

According to Hemingway biographer Michael Reynolds, when the young American was recuperating from his war wounds in 1919, he had not even heard of Joyce, let alone read him. Even by 1921, “He was ignorant of the new writers: Lawrence, Joyce, Ford and company.” Hemingway’s reading was steeped in 19th century British literature and decidedly unmodern.[i] But that year, America’s premier writer Sherwood Anderson pointed the young Hem to Joyce’s volume of short stories, The Dubliners, “an excellent model” for an honest handling of sexual awakening.[ii]

Anderson had just returned from Paris where Joyce had visited him to discuss Anderson’s volume of short stories, Winesburg, Ohio. Joyce told Anderson about his new book Ulysses which was published in Paris because it would not be published elsewhere. Anderson told Hemingway that Ulysses might be “the most important book that will be published in this generation,” and that if Hemingway truly wanted to become a great writer, he must go to Paris.[iii]

When Hemingway arrived in Paris in 1921, he made a beeline to Sylvia Beach’s iconic bookstore, Shakespeare & Company, with its liberal lending for a fee library. According to the store’s checkout cards, during his first eighteen months in Paris, Hemingway voraciously read the moderns, including all of Joyce: The Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Pomes Penyeach, Chamber Music and Ulysses, “learning the difference between slick fiction and master craftsmanship.”[iv]

Soon the master and the apprentice met and a close friendship developed.  According to the New York Times‘ Hemingway obituary, July 3, 1961: Mr. Joyce and Mr. Hemingway did a certain amount of drinking together. The author of “Ulysses” was a thin, wispy and unmuscled man with defective eyesight. When they were making the rounds of the cafes and Mr. Joyce became embroiled with a brawler, as he frequently did, he would slip behind his hefty companion and cry, “Deal with him, Hemingway. Deal with him.”

How then could I pass this race up? Well, I couldn’t. The drive up to Dedham, which is just outside Boston, was three hours so I arrived the afternoon before, looked over the race route, which was more daunting than the “commodious vicus of recirculation”  that it appeared on paper, fueled up on a quart of fried rice and a sports drink, and had a good night’s sleep. My goal for the Ramble, which is run over some grueling hilly sections of the town was simple: Don’t finish DFL! For those unfamiliar with racing terminology, the “D” in DFL stands for “Dead” and the “L” stands for “Last”.  Nuff said.

Even though it was sunny, it was still chilly and I warmed up at the finish line on the street just outside the historic Endicott estate and then walked the two blocks to the starting line.

Warming up at the finish line.

Warming up at the finish line.

As I waited in the midst of the maddening crowd for the starter’s gong to sound, I imagined I was flanked by the near-sighted Joyce and the lumbering Hemingway, still limping from his war wounds.

I easily took the first mile, stopping afterwards to try and snap a photo of a woman in a long white dress and bonnet who was reading aloud from a soapbox. More’s the Irish pity. My smartphone camera was useless in the glare of the strong sun and I cursed myself for wasting twenty, maybe thirty seconds on a futile effort.

In the midst of mile two, there were a pair of young women, in black dresses and bonnets, reading Joyce together in tandem. I did not stop and try and snap a photo, I knew it would be for naught. Besides, I was really into the race now and the next few miles had some strenuous (at least for me) hills. During miles three and four, I crossed the Charles River and into the wooded, hilly grounds of the Noble & Greenough School, still feeling strong. I passed more readers: a young man in a straw boater and bow tie and wired-rim spectacles, a young women in a flowing white dress, and another man wearing Joyce’s signature fedora hat. What they were reading, I did not know, I was concentrating on the hills ahead, trying to keep my pace.

Joyce's signature fedora hat

Joyce’s signature fedora hat

Recrossing the Charles River, I was moving as slow as the River Liffey. And now before me was the scrotumtightening sixth mile. Up ahead loomed the Norfolk County Courthouse, venue of the infamous Sacco-Vanzetti trial, and as I passed it, I thought of the travesty of justice that had occurred almost 100 years ago inside those walls.

Mile 6: The Norfolk County Courthouse, venue of the notorious 1921 Sacco-Vanzetti Trial.

Mile 6: The Norfolk County Courthouse, venue of the notorious 1921 Sacco-Vanzetti Trial.

In 1920, two Italian immigrants, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, who were anarchists, were arrested while demonstrating over the death of another anarchist who had “fallen” to his death from an 14th-floor window while in New York City police custody. Were Sacco and Vanzetti charged with disturbing the peace or unlawful assembly or trespass? No. They were charged first with “dangerous radical activities” and then with a payroll robbery and murder of a guard that had occurred several weeks earlier.

Despite alibis and a confession by someone else, the men were convicted the next year by a clearly biased jury and judge. “Did you see what I did to those anarchist bastards?” boasted presiding judge Webster Thayer after sentencing the two men to death. After six years on death row, losing appeals after appeal, and despite world-wide demonstrations against their execution, the men were finally put to death in the electric chair.

London, England Demonstration against the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti.

London, England Demonstration against the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti.

As I passed that hall of injustice, I gave it a well-deserved Brooklyn salute and picked up my pace.   I knew there would be a downhill section a quarter-mile ahead and after that I would “Hit the wall” and that it would be all uphill to the finish but I also knew I could do it.  By the time I reached the Fairbanks House at the end of Mile 6, I had hit the wall–again and again.  I wished I had Mr. James’s stout stick to lean on and thought of Finnegan’s Wake: “I am passing out.  O bitter ending!”  But Rule No. 1 of running, just like writing, is never quit.  So once again I picked up my pace, determined to finish strong.

At the end of Mile 6: The Fairbanks House. Built in 1636, it is the oldest surviving framehouse in America.

At the end of Mile 6: The Fairbanks House. Built in 1636, it is the oldest surviving framehouse in America.

Crossing the finish line, I was tired but not spent and had achieved my goal.   There were at least a dozen runners behind me.  I was not the dreaded DFL, the mark of “an outcast from life’s feast,” as Joyce wrote of another.   I skipped the traditional post-race pint of ale, having taken the pledge for the day at the starting line.   I knew the alcohol would interfere with my recovery but more importantly, because of the strict enforcement of the drinking while driving laws in Massachusetts and Connecticut.  It would be a three-hour drive back home and I did not want to be pulled over by the staties for any reason with beer on my breath.   Anyway, the race was enough of a high for me.1461517321980

[i] Young Hemingway, Michael Reynolds, W.W. Norton, NY, 1986, P. 49, 194.

[ii] Ibid, P. 225.

[iii] Ibid, P. 253.

[iv] Hemingway: The Paris Years, Reynolds, Norton, 1989, pp 6, 13.

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