Friday, June 13, 2014

City Of Literature As Long As You Pay For It

Every year on the 16th of June, the tourists descend on Dublin for the sole purpose of walking in the footsteps of a fictional character.

That tourists will do this every year, and drop a lot of money in the process, should be an item of great excitement in government circles where the acquisition of more money is a never-ending quest. Yes, by all means, bring in tourists with their willingness to spend whatever on hotels, food and souvenirs. But to provide them with places to hand over the cash? Even charity has its limits when there is the potential to squeeze more blood out of some volunteering turnips.

Lemon soap from Sweny a la Leopold Bloom
This year, the fans of James Joyce's Ulysses will make their way through the same circuit that the author described for his character Leopold Bloom. Some will dress in costume. Many will pop in to Sweny's for a cake of lemon soap, just like Leopold Bloom, before moving on to the next stop of the literary tour.

Sweny's Pharmacy is now a museum dedicated to the novel and staffed by volunteers who spend many hours wrapping cakes of soap in the requisite paper. The facade is lovingly maintained in all its Edwardian glory, to provide a little entertainment for the visitor who is looking for a full Bloom experience. It isn't just fans of Dan Brown who use a novel to create a tour itinerary, you know.

As a museum, the facility has received funding from UNESCO via Dublin City Council because the city is considered a city of literature and the United Nations has been supportive of promoting important sites. This year, however, Sweny's Pharmacy will not be receiving the funds. Dublin City Council, of course, still wants their taxes. And a little more, if you please.

Not only is Sweny's not getting the UNESCO funding, but they have been hit with an increase in rates because the Dublin City Council has determined that the parcel is more valuable than previously thought. It's considered a commercial property, not some sort of charitable museum sort of thing, and so the museum must meet expenses that soap cannot fund.

Someone in the City Council is clearly not a fan of James Joyce, Ulysses, or the hordes of giddy tourists in their Edwardian dress who clog the streets of Dublin every 16 June. The museum appealed the new rate but was told they were not eligible to be classified as a museum, because all they do is sit there and sell soap to tourists one day a year and then hold a fundraising dinner during the Christmas season to keep the doors open so they can sell soap on 16 June. Clearly a going concern, and not a museum as defined by whatever bureaucratic-speak is on the official book of definitions.

So if you are a fan of Joyce and plan to do the Bloomsday tour, this may be the last time that you can buy your bar of lemon soap at 11:00 am like Leopold Bloom. Volunteers will be out on Bloomsday, hoping to receive enough donations from Bloomsday participants to keep Sweny's open until another round of appeals can be heard by the Council, and if you want to see Sweny's next year, you might consider making a donation.

Or you might wander over to the Dublin City Council chambers after you've completed the Bloomsday festivities, and ask them why they so despise Joyce or cash-wielding tourists who could buy a bar of lemon soap just about anyplace if it was only about the soap. Why isn't the Council doing all it can to preserve Sweny's, instead of callously raising the rate without considering the cost to literary tourism?

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