The Madame in Rue Gît-le-Couer

The Madame in Rue Gît-le-Couer.

Today, I’m looking for evidence of the Ulysses character, Kevin Egan, who is, in real-life, Joseph Theobald Carey, a friend of James Joyce. I am in rue Gît-le-Couer in the 6tharrondissement.

There is no grainy sand in rue Gît-le-Couer. No razorshells, no squeaking pebbles, no unwholesome sandflats. This is not the beach. 

Stephen Dedalus, in Ulysses, is walking along Sandymount strand. The beach. In his monologue, he takes in the scenery, all that he sees and smells and hears and feels. But he is distracted, thinking about the time he met Kevin Egan in Paris. 

Kevin Egan is exiled in Paris. His real persona is Joseph Theobald Carey (1846-1907), a revolutionary, a pro-Irish-independence fighter, seeking Ireland’s independence from Great Britain. In Paris, Carey is a typesetter, composing print for a newspaper. It’s not a clean job, at the typesetting machine for the New York Herald.

His wife left him and his son Patrice is a soldier in the French army—‘mon fils, soldier of France.’ 

‘Noon slumbers. Kevin Egan rolls gunpowder cigarettes through fingers smeared with printer’s ink, sipping his green fairy ….’

Joseph Carey is a drinker. His green fairy is absinthe. He lives at rue de la Goutte-d’Or in the Montmartre area. When James Joyce moved to Paris in 1902, they often met for a meal and a drink or two.

‘About us gobblers fork spiced beans down their gullets … Il est irlandais. Hollandais? Non fromage. Deux irlandais, nous, Irlande, vous savez ah, oui!’ He reminisces about the waitress who thought Carey wanted cheese hollandaise, as he tries to explain to her that they were two Irishmen, from Ireland. Irlandaise, not Hollandais.

‘In gay Paree he hides, Egan of Paris, unsought by any save by me. Making his day’s stations, the dingy printingcase, his three taverns, the Montmartre lair … Loveless, landless, wifeless. She is quite nicey comfy without her outcast man, madame in rue Gît-le-Couer, canary and two buck lodgers. Peachy cheeks, a zebra skirt, frisky as a young thing’s. Spurned and undespairing.’ – James Joyce’s, Ulysses(1922), Chapter 3, Proteus.

I am in rue Gît-le-Couer. It is an ancient side street, off rue Saint-André-des-Arts. It starts at rue Saint-André-des-Arts and finishes at Quai des Grands Augustins, straight into the river Seine. The street has changed its name multiple time, and once called rue des Noix—Walnut Street. 

At the entrance of rue Gît-le-Couer is Corcoran’s Irish Pub on the corner of the rue Saint-André-des-Arts with Le Café Latin opposite. In prior Coronavirus pandemic times, high tables and stools would welcome outside diners and drinkers. There are no tables and chairs now, and the pub is shuttered. 

On the same side of the street as the Irish Pub is the four-star Hotel Villa D’Estrées and the Hotel du Vieux Paris—Hotel Old Paris. On the same side as Le Café Latin is the Hotel Residence des Arts at number 14. 

The three hotels retain features from the 17thcentury, but the street itself dates back to 1200. Further down is the narrowest of residences at only five metres, a former home of the Bishop of Paris. It’s cold and dark, yet it’s spring, but it is sheltered from the wind. The darkness of the street ends with the bright view of the Seine, like the light of an incoming train.

Sandwiched between Le Café Latin and the Hotel Residence des Arts is the boutique Saint-André-des-Arts Cinema with its arched entrance. 

The French have a love for small independent cinemas. Many have only 30-50 seats. I wonder what social distancing will be like for these cinemas when the restrictions are lifted. Will people want to go again? I usually attend in off-peak times, such as the first session of the day, when less than ten people, mainly retired couples, accompany me. I like the art-house cinemas here on the Left Bank that screen the classics, the off-beat, and the cult or independent films with short runs. 

Now, the street seems as seamy as old Joseph Casey, an unlikely friend of James Joyce on the surface—much older, more distant and anti-social, a criminal, lying low, living in the darkness. Yet, as Joyce says, through the thoughts of Stephen Dedalus, ‘To yoke me as his yokefellow, our crimes our common cause.’ Stephen Dedalus is wistful at the loss of Kevin Egan. James Joyce is wistful at the loss of Joseph Casey. Older than Joyce by thirty-six years, Casey died in 1907 at the age of 61. A reasonable life. 

I don’t linger in the street. There is nothing open. The quiet, less travelled street is even quieter than usual. It is dead. I walk where James Joyce would have walked—to the light of the river. 

Published by MaNi

Martina Nicolls is an Australian author and international human rights-based consultant in education, healing and wellbeing, peace and stabilisation, and foreign aid audits and evaluations. She has written eight books and continues writing articles and thoughts through her various websites. She loves photography, reading, and nature. She currently lives in Paris, France.

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