Tuesday is Bloomsday, celebrated all over the world, the 111th anniversary of June 16, 1904, the single day (and night) when James Joyce’s “Ulysses” takes place.
It is my favorite book -- life through the sad and knowing eyes of a wandering middle-aged Jew, Leopold Bloom, who carries a pack of troubles around Dublin. People still care; The New York Times' book review carried two thoughtful essays on "Ulysses" last Sunday.
I read the book every five years or so. Picked it up the other night and came upon a group of men arguing about “Hamlet” and whether it really matters if we know who Shakespeare was. I cannot remember ever reading it.
I learned to love this book – and “learned” is the vital word – in the spring of 1962, when I decided to take one graduate course, the novel, at Hofstra, just to keep my brain alive.
Our first child was born during that semester, and so were the Mets, but “Ulysses” is clearly the third leg of that memorable trinity of experience.
The professor, William D. Hull, spent three weeks on “Ulysses,” imitating the voices of Bloom and his wife Molly and young tormented Stephen Dedalus and all the Dubliners. To this day, I love the Irish accent whenever I hear it. I always thought Dr. Hull was Irish or English but I just looked him up – and he was born in South Carolina.
Dr. Hull escorted us to the pubs and coves and hospitals and shops of a bustling city, letting us in on the puns and archaic language – agenbite of inwit, Kentish Middle English for “backbite of remorse,” as Dr. Hull translated it. (My friend Bob Waters at Newsday claimed to have named his dog ch. Agenbite of Inwit.)
After three weeks roaming Dublin with Leopold Bloom and Dr. Hull, I had written in ink in the margins of many pages, something I have never done since. I never took another course, as a blessed family life and career took over, but those weeks with Dr. Hull have stayed with me.
I have celebrated Bloomsday only once, taking our son David to Symphony Space in 1982 to hear Colleen Dewhurst, that vital earth mother whom I once interviewed, read Molly Bloom’s soliloquy. They are celebrating it again on Tuesday, alas without Dewhurst.
When my wife and I finally got to Dublin in 1993, we wandered to some of the sites in “Ulysses” and I took out my grandmother’s birth certificate, good enough for my Irish citizenship. That seemed the least I could do, to honor Joyce and Bloom and Dr. Hull, who passed in 1984. I hope other people treasure a course the way I do this one.
Even in this techno-world, when things hop around, Bloomsday is best experienced from a book with thick bold print, including letters that would be on my family coat of arms, if I had one -- KMRIA. Happy Bloomsday.
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.