Saturday, September 10, 2022

the last book I ever read (We Don't Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland, excerpt four)

from We Don't Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland by Fintan O'Toole:

At some time in my childhood, Asher Benson, one of the repositories of the memories of Dublin’s Jewish community, went into the Bleeding Horse pub on Camden Street for a quiet drink. He was confronted by a man called Sniffer Cohen, ‘a barrow-pushing petty dealer in manufacturer’s offcuts, so named for his quivering proboscis’. Four pints later, Sniffer became maudlin. ‘If only Leopold Bloom was here’, he snuffled. ‘There was a man who knew how to down a pint!’ Bloom is the central character of James Joyce’s Ulysses and not exactly real. But Cohen told Benson that, in 1942, he had been summoned urgently to a fourth-floor attic room of a tenement in Bishop Street and enjoined to bring a jug of porter.

There, lying on a rusted rickety iron bed was his childhood friend, Leopold Bloom, who, ‘since the publication of Ulysses in 1922, had sensibly chosen to keep a low profile’. His thin shoulders were draped in a faded prayer shawl with ‘Property of Greenville Hall synagogue’ written on it. He had a grease-stained skull cap embroidered with the word ‘Jerusalem’ on his wizened head and a tattered Hebrew prayer book upside down on his lap. ‘I’m dying’, he announced, ‘and this is the last jug I’ll ever down.’

‘Promise me’, he entreated Cohen, ‘to bury me in the Jewish cemetery in Dolphin’s Barn.’ Bloom then took the jug of porter, blew off the froth, drank the contents in one uninterrupted swallow and expired, cursing James Joyce and saying he would ‘settle with Jimmy in Hell’.

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