August 30th, 2004

Small World

In the garden this morning Elena introduced me to her new guest, Michael Hughes, a native of Dublin. He’s a civil servant, formerly an English teacher in France. Also a semi-professional singer, slightly above barritone, with a fondness for opera. He’s here on Ischia for a week, after revisiting Rome. He’d been there many times, but had never gotten around to the Sistine Chapel. It turned out to be as stunning as he expected. I asked if he saw the architectural model of St. Peter’s that Michaelangelo constructed. No, he replied, he didn’t, owing to the large crowd.

Afterward he went to the Contarelli Chapel of San Luigi dei Francesi, the French Church in Rome, where several Caravaggios are on display, including one of his favorites, “The Calling of St. Matthew.” Michael bought a beautiful print of the painting, and unrolled it to show me.

“Is it as clear and bright as it is in that reproduction?” I asked. “Absolutely,” he replied. “Maybe even more bright. After all, the thing hangs in a dark corner, has done so for a long time.”

We had a long conversation about James Joyce, Ulysses, Wake, Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist, the definitive Ellmann biography, Stewart Gilbert’s brilliant analysis of the Ulysses scheme, Joyce’s father and mother, the Martello tower, and the most recent Bloomsday celebration in Dublin—the 100th anniversary of June 16, 1904, when Joyce first met his life-long love, Nora Barnacle.

How did Michael come to visit Ischia? He replied he was persuaded to come after hearing a friend named Warwick rave about it. “Warwick?” I said. “The English journalist?” Michael nodded. “Yes. Do you know him?”

As it happens I met Warwick and his companions earlier this summer, and they came up the mountain to my villa, bringing with them bags full of cheese, bread, fruit, a strawberry cream cake, and bottled water. We had a great feast.