"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Monday, August 20, 2018

Film-maker Steven Allardi at the EB House

On Sunday, 19 August, American film-maker Steven Allardi visited the Elizabeth Bishop House to do get some film footage. Steven is a video producer with Poetry In America, a series of online courses about poetry, as well as a program of the same name for PBS. Steven was in touch last week to say that these courses cover many of Bishop’s poems, but they will be highlighting “At the Fishhouses” in the near future. Steven has his own Nova Scotia connection, having a summer place in the province.

Elizabeth Bishop House steward Laurie Gunn welcomed Steven who spent several hours at the house. We’ll be asking Steven to keep us informed about this project. Here are a couple of photos Laurie took of Steven in action.
(In the dining room.)
 (In the kitchen.)

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 74: Another perspective

As frustrated as Bishop was with the elusiveness of her cousin, she still could not let go of trying to connect with Elizabeth and Ray Naudin. After opening her 29 October 1960 letter to Grace with a response to her other cousin Ellie’s struggle with cancer, Bishop turned yet again to an update of the ongoing saga with the Naudins. She had told Grace that finally a date had been set for their visit to the house at Samambaia, but her acknowledgement of the maple syrup and other gifts hinted at the no-show she was about to explain.

This long awaited visit was to have happened “yesterday.” Bishop had arranged for “Mary Morse’s architect, a good friend of ours, a very nice chap named Ricardo,”* to drive the Naudins up, which helped also with the transportation of the gifts, “convenient” for them. After the tell-tale ellipsis, Bishop wrote, “Well, it seemed they had colds, or E had had a cold and the children had colds, so she didn’t want to bring them or leave them.” Once again the visit was “postponed … until next Saturday.”

Grace herself had heard from Elizabeth Naudin, either directly or via Mary, because immediately after this announcement Bishop declared (you can hear the exasperated tone): “I am glad you say she is having a wonderful time here — and I gather she is”; but Bishop was clearly put out by the delays and excuses. Who wouldn’t be?

Bishop knew about her cousin’s luck “with servants” and the “wonderful big apartment right overlooking the ocean, etc.” They had had enough communication for “E” to tell her cousin that “she never went near the kitchen, just let the cook put it on the table!” Bishop hazarded the guess that her cousin “has never lived in such luxury.” Even in the midst of the “fearfull [sic]” heat in Rio and the dire water shortage, the Naudins seemed unscathed, “she has been lucky about that, too, I think — they never were without water.” Unlike Lota’s lawyer who “had to come up to their summer place here with his twelve children, not a drop of water, in a heat of 100% in Rio.” All Bishop could think about in this was “all the dirty clothes piling up and up” with that many kids, some of them “tiny.”

In the midst of this account, to give Grace some context for her mystification, you can here the unspoken thought: If she’s having such a good time of it, why can’t she make the effort to visit me?”
(Bishop at Casa Mariana -- not the right time,
but it conveys the idea of waiting.)
As if to shake off this train of thought, Bishop returned to Ricardo, who had arrived solo “with the syrup and the currents and chocolate” (a complete list of the gifts). In contrast to others, this friend is “awfully nice, sociable.” He told them he felt obliged to pay a visit to the Naudins “when he went to pick the things up.” Bishop reported that Ricardo “liked Ray very much” and offered the observation that Ray “is awfully likable.” Then a critique, which Bishop gingerly added: “but after hemming and hawing a bit he said he found E ‘cold’ — which is just my own impression, too — (Don’t repeat this to Mary!)”

Bishop quickly added that “after you talk to her for an hour or so, she does warm up a little — but it is hard going.” Bishop had wondered in previous letters if her cousin was “shy,” but now that someone disinterested had met her and noticed the marked reserve, Bishop (who was herself quite shy and reserved) ventured, “she just doesn’t seem a bit  interested in other people, and not very much in things — outside her own immediate affairs.” Being an almost obsessively curious person, this seeming lack of interest puzzled Bishop.

To see some images of Elizabeth Naudin and her family, click these links:

Finally, Ricardo’s assessment provided Bishop with some relief because she “had thought perhaps it was all my fault.” That someone “so friendly and easy” would feel similarly helped Bishop let go of her obsession to connect: “I’m not going to worry about it — and God knows I’ve tried!” adding in her scrawl, “to be friendly.” Ah, family.

What follows this update is further response to those gifts, which clearly did as much to mitigate Bishop’s bewilderment as Ricardo’s assessment of the situation. That will comprise the next post.


*Note: I did a little searching on the internet but could not find out who Ricardo is. I found a contemporary Brazilian architect named Ricardo Canton, but not the historical one. If anyone can tell me who he is, I’d be most grateful.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Tickets Now Available

Tickets are now available for the Wunderdog Theatre production of Sarah Ruhl's play Dear Elizabeth, which is being performed during the Vancouver Fringe Festival, September 6-16, 2018.  Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Upcoming events in Great Village: Suzie LeBlanc and Elizabeth Bodien

Two exciting events will be taking place in Great Village on 16 and 17 August. First, EBSNS Honorary Patron Suzie LeBlanc will be performing at St. James Church on Thursday evening, 16 August, at 7:30 p.m., part of the Musique Royale summer concert series. Tickets available online or at the door. 
 (Suzie LeBlanc and Elinor Frey)
Then on Friday afternoon, 17 August, at 2:00 p.m., also at St. James Church, American writer Elizabeth Bodien (who will be in residence at the Elizabeth Bishop House) will give a reading from her most recent collection. Free admission.
All are welcome to come and enjoy exciting performances by these exceptional artists. Happy Summer!

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 73: Mixed up life

Bishop’s next letter to her aunt was written on 29 October 1960. If it has a theme, perhaps “mixed up life” might best suit. She reported to Grace that when she went to post her last letter (18 October), “I found one from you there — and scribbled so on the back of mine.” That letter told Bishop that Grace was once again on the move. Bishop mailed her own previous letter “to G.V. and I hope you got it — you had probably just left.” It was still a time when mail was routinely forwarded, so Bishop trusted that someone at the farm in the village would do so.

Before Bishop could respond to the one she’d received on 18 October, she got another letter from her aunt: “your letter of 22nd — day before yesterday — it came in four days this time — from Weymouth.” Grace was not travelling for pleasure, but to see Eleanor Boomer Snow, Arthur and Mabel’s eldest daughter, who was seriously ill, dying of cancer. It was this news that Grace conveyed in the second letter.
“I am very sorry to hear about poor  Ellie — how awful.” Clearly, Grace had indicated how dire the situation was: “hopeless.” Sadly, the details are lost, but they were such to prompt Bishop to respond, “she is so small and weak to have kept going all this time with all that dreadful involvement.”
Bishop was also concerned about Grace: “I am afraid you are having a pretty grim time of it.” She was glad to hear that Hazel (Ellie’s sister) “can be with her” and earnestly asked her aunt to “let me know how things turn out.”

In between receiving the second letter (“day before yesterday,” that is 27 October) and writing her own on the 29th, they had finally received all the packages the Naudins had brought, the gifts from Grace — though they had not received them directly from the Naudins. Bishop explained the continuing saga of her cousin’s elusiveness later in this letter, but the convergence of Grace’s epistle with its sad news and the receipt of the gifts, especially the maple syrup, triggered an intense response, which Bishop recounted to Grace.

After reminding Grace to let her know “your next address,” she paused “…” and then wrote: “I dreamed about Ellie off and on last night.” The news and the maple syrup prompted Bishop to then declare: “Life is so mixed up — good and bad, comic and tragic.”

She suspected that “the reason why I dreamed was because I ate so many pancakes with MAPLE SYRUP on them rather late last night.” Then another ellipsis and a gush: “It is divine.” For Bishop this gift brought a rush of memory and nostalgia. For Lota, who also delighted in this gift, it was, as Bishop quoted her, a “taste of those northern woods.”

The vivid memory Bishop chose to recount was from the winter of 1917: “I remember the time I was little (about six), and in bed with bronchitis, and Pa put the dishpan filled with snow on the bed  and poured boiled maple syrup over it to make taffy.” Another ellipsis. You can sense Bishop actively remembering and savouring. She acknowledged the “awful lot of trouble” her aunt had to get the syrup to them, but assured her that they thoroughly “enjoy[ed] these simple but rare pleasures!”

It was not the first time Grace had begifted this northern delicacy, but Bishop declared “this time we are going to keep it all for ourselves, selfishly.” She reported that “last time we treated various friends,” but their reluctance this time was because they felt their largesse was not “properly appreciated.” This time, it was just for “Lota and I and our friend Mary Morse (who’s with us until her new house is ready to move into).”

Bishop declared that this time they were “going to eat it all” and reported that their first go came after “a very light dinner on purpose — just onion soup, first, followed by a huge batch of pancakes and syrup.” Not surprisingly, after such a long wait and anticipation, Bishop overdid it and ended up with “nightmares” about Ellie.

After this detailed introduction, Bishop turned from cousin Ellie and maple syrup back to cousin Elizabeth. That saga will be updated in the next post.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Sunday, July 29, 2018


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Treats in Great Village! From our Friends at Saint James Church --

Starting today  (Wednesday, July 25, 2018) coffee, tea, and freshly baked treats will be on offer in the sanctuary of St. James Church of Great Village! Stop by and learn about the history of Great Village while enjoying some great food!

Monday, July 16, 2018

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 72: Family matters continue

This long delayed post will conclude Bishop’s letter of 18 October 1960. After the rather lengthy, perhaps slightly obsessive analysis of her cousin’s strange, stand-offish behaviour, a dense paragraph that filled nearly one half of the page on which is was typed, Bishop suddenly stopped. This interruption was signalled in the text by an empty line set off from the previous dense paragraph and then the sentence:

“Stop — to take a large stinging [this word scribbled by hand above the type] out of my brassiere —”
(Perhaps this Paraponera clavata, one of the nastiest stinging ants
in Brazil, is the kind Bishop mentions.
Click the link to see all kinds of Brazilian ants!)
Bishop was nothing if not literal and immediate, and this delightful interjection (not, I suppose, delightful for her!) would have given Grace a chuckle and brought her niece’s daily life really close. Bishop did not offer any report of being stung, so the removal was done before any injury.

One might think this interjection would shift Bishop’s focus and she would turn to other things, but family matters continued to dominate — though she did acknowledge that she “must stop wondering and go down and see what there is for Marietta’s (the sister’s) lunch.” If cousin Elizabeth was “baffling,” Lota’s sister was her own sort of trial. Thought “2 years younger than Lota, with two sons and two baby grandchildren,” Marietta was “a nervous wreck.” Whatever the cause of this condition, Bishop told Grace that “we always get so tired when she comes to visit!”

This somehow prompted Bishop to remember to say, “I hope you are keeping well and taking your medicine” and inquiring about her aunt’s leg. Which in turn made her report that she had once again “had a letter from Aunt Florence from another nursing home,”  writing about her “circulation troubles.” Florence gave no reason for the move so Bishop was “waiting to hear from the cousins about what really happened and how she is.” In the end, all Bishop could say about this difficult, cranky, elderly relative was “poor thing.”

Winding down this epistle, Bishop once again urged Grace to write and wistfully concluded: “I wish it weren’t so far away and expensive for you to visit me — I don’t think you’d stall like my cousin, would you?”

She signed off with her usual “much love,” but before she sealed the missive in its envelope, she added a postscript “after lunch” to update the cousin issue. She reported that she “finally got Ray at his office — bright & cheerful as ever.” She confirmed they had moved and had no telephone, “but HE could call, after all.” Bishop and Lota were still waiting to get the maple syrup the Naudins had transported, which Ray mentioned, “Aha!” wrote Bishop, “I’ll send you a check next time.” Surely Grace didn’t want any reimbursement. Bishop also reported that they had “made another date, for the 29th” for their visit, “maybe he’ll be able to get a company car.” Bishop had reached her limit though: “I’ve been inviting them & telephoning them for 5 months,” she scribbled in her almost indecipherable hand at the bottom of the page. She swore it was “the last time I’m going to try.” She quite rightly noted: “don’t they know the young are supposed to make the effort to see the OLD?”

Bishop’s next letter was typed on 29 October, the day of the proposed visit. The cousin saga continued and will be the subject of the next post.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Elizabeth Bishop Society of NS participates in Truro's Pride Parade

The weather cooperated and the turn out was great, and a fun time was had by all who participated in Truro, N.S., third annual Pride Parade, including members of the Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia. Here are a couple of images taken by Mickey Rigby, which show just how colourful the celebration was. Thanks to April Sharpe, summer student and tour guide in Great Village, for pitching the idea to participate and helping to bring it about. Thanks to all the EBSNS supporters for getting involved.
(EBSNS President Patti Sharpe on the far right. EBSNS board member Laura Sharpe (and summer student at the Bass River Museum) to her left. Great signs!!
Here is the whole EBSNS contingent looking colourful, indeed. That is the instigator April on the far left. Patti reported: "The parade was a big success, well attended.  It was a lot of fun to be part of it all and everyone was in the best of spirits with lots of music and dancing." Bravo.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

EB turns up in interesting places

A few of us over the years have paid attention to Bishop’s appearance in unusual places: films, young adult novels, television shows and so on. Her words have appeared as epigraphs in fiction and non-fiction books. Her poems have been read on the big screen. (All of these appearances are outside the major treatments of her by composers, visual artists, documentary film makers, fellow poets, and the literary critical industry around her.)

Indeed, John has been locating and posting some of these interesting and strange places where Bishop or her art have found a unique place.

I think a whole study could be done about the way Bishop’s art has infiltrated other art and even mainstream cultural expression. I suppose it is so for many other poets, such as Dickinson and Frost; but for those of us who love Bishop’s work, it is fun to come across her in places where one isn’t looking for her.

Recently, my sister read Brad Kessler’s 2006 novel Birds in Fall: A Novel, which uses the tragedy of the 1998 Swiss Air crash off the coast of Nova Scotia as a foundation for a fictional story about the families who lost loved ones in that terrible disaster. She excitedly showed me a spot near the end of the book which includes a passing but clearly knowledgeable reference not to Bishop’s art but to her life.

The reference is near the bottom of the page.

Brad Kessler, a very interesting fellow, who clearly spent time in NS before (perhaps even during) the writing of this novel. His novel came to us via Heather Killen, who owns a wonderful used bookstore in Berwick, N.S., called Shelf Life. I had not heard about it before – when I am done with it, I will pass it on to Laurie Gunn to put in the EB House – it only seems appropriate.

Friday, July 6, 2018

EB House Tours -- Summer, 2018

April Sharpe is working for the St. James Church of Gt. Village Preservation Society for the summer as a historical interpreter both at Elizabeth Bishop House and the Saint James Church. She will be doing tours of the Elizabeth Bishop House on Saturdays at 2pm with the exception of July 14th. She will also be offering tours of EB's Great Village on Thursdays at 2 pm.

Parking is available at the church. April can be found upstairs in the church most days with the exception of Mondays and Tuesdays. Thank you, April, for your dedication to Elizabeth Bishop's legacy!

Monday, July 2, 2018

An Afternoon with Cory Lavender at Elizabeth Bishop House

BBC Radio 3 Programmes about Elizabeth Bishop

Here are some links to BBC Radio 3 programmes about Elizabeth Bishop and her works --

[1] Elizabeth Bishop's 'Large Bad Picture' -- Episode 2 of Five Poems I wish I had Written, with poet, editor and teacher Don Paterson.

[2] The Loves of Elizabeth Bishop -- Episode 4 of The Love that Wrote its Name, with novelist Neel Mukherjee.

[3] Colm Toibin on Elizabeth Bishop, Mammoth Cloning, Fareed Zakaria.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 71: More cousin talk

Bishop turned next, from the account of Lota’s sister, house and the new beehive oven, to her own family in the 18 October 1960 letter, specifically to her cousin Elizabeth Naudin, who was then living in Brazil with her husband Ray and their young daughters. Bishop had been making overtures to Elizabeth for some time, but finding the reception “rather baffl[ing].” She had to confess to Grace that she didn’t “know quite what to think of her behaviour.” Bishop couldn’t decide of her cousin was “cold,” “indifferent,” “or maybe shy, or what.” She reported to her aunt that she’d “been to see her four times” and “taken presents.” During the most recent visit “she seemed really friendly at last and even said she’d like to have me ‘visit’ her for a ‘few days’, which I thought was nice and homey of her.”

The saying is, actions speak louder than words, and in spite of this warmer reception, the Naudins sort of vanished, again. Earlier on they had “left the hotel without leaving any address or number.” Bishop had to resort to contacting “Ray at his office (a hell of a job) and track her down.” After the most recent, friendlier visit, she told Grace, her cousin had “done the same thing again — they’ve moved.” Bishop’s frustration was evident when she wrote, “although I know which building (unless they didn’t take that apartment),” she still couldn’t really locate her without the apartment or a phone number.

Bishop persevered by the old route of trying to get hold of Ray, which she said she’d been doing “for three days.” After this statement an ellipsis “…” Silence, it seems.
(Elizabeth Naudin sent me photos of the George Hutchinson
paintings she inherited from her mother Mary Bulmer Ross.
This painting is entitled "Ferry Boat Inn, Walton, 1931.")
Bishop also reported that she had already “called her to talk to her a dozen times, probably,” but Elizabeth had “never telephoned once.” That is, she said she had called “the Rio apartment,” which was more or less the same thing, as Bishop noted to Grace, “where I never am!”

With exasperation, Bishop asked Grace, “Do you suppose she is shy — she doesn’t seem so, exactly — or what is it?” Grace likely had no better idea what the issue was, either, at that distance, so Bishop’s question was probably rhetorical. She wanted to keep giving her cousin the benefit of the doubt.

Bishop again confirmed that she and Lota had invited them to visit the house at Samambaia, “over and over again.” Extending the invitation to the children. But the visit had not yet happened. Bishop wondered aloud that at first she “thought maybe they thought that bus trip too hard — 1½ hours.” But she discovered that wasn’t the issue as she learned “they have gone by bus to visit his sister — a much longer trip.”
 (Another George Hutchinson painting owned
by Elizabeth Naudin: "Windmill," 1917.)
Pondering all these circumstances and permutations, Bishop typed out (you can perhaps feel the extra pressure on the keys): “Maybe it is very simple — she just doesn’t like me! — or I seem like an old lady to her, or something.” Having reached that vague conclusion, Bishop declared that she “honestly” couldn’t “see what more I can do. She acts as if the telephone didn’t exist.” But the conclusion didn’t end the matter. Bishop continued, “How does she think I’m going to find her, in a city the size of Rio?” Grace knew well enough from Bishop’s letters that her niece “almost never” went to the city, “particularly now that it is summer.” Shifting for the briefest moment out of this slightly obsessive natter, Bishop observed, in parentheses: “(There is a water-shortage and I hope for the children’s sake she isn’t in a part of town without water …).”

That broader observation instantly reverted to more fretting about what to do: “I’d love to have her come up here.” She extolled to her aunt the appeal of the house under the mountain: “the children could play in the brook etc.” Finally, Bishop conceded that she could not read the behaviour, “I can’t tell whether they really don’t want to or what it is — and now this vanishing again …”

Bishop had tried calling “at their old apartment” and was told “they’d left.” “‘Do you know their new number or address?’ [she had asked] ‘No, Senhora.’ And [the maid] hung up.”

Bishop repeated the word that started off the whole disquisition, “Well, I’m baffled, that’s all.” Because it was family, she said, “I’ll try once more.” Again, the benefit of the doubt kicked in as Bishop said with some incredulity, “She doesn’t seem to understand that I don’t live in Rio.” Visits there were always brief and focused on tasks, chores, errands: “the bank,” “my teeth,” “etc.” The hurry and brevity of Rio meant that “it is much more agreeable to see people up here and I’d like to show her around a bit, too. But no luck.” And Lota, ever the doting grandmother, “would like to see the children.”

I had read and transcribed Bishop’s letters to Grace by the time I met Elizabeth and Ray Naudin in the late 1990s. I knew the degree of frustration Bishop felt in her efforts to connect with this cousin and her family. Being a polite Nova Scotian, I never asked Elizabeth about her time in Brazil when she met her ‘just starting to be famous’ cousin for the first time. I will confess, however, I was dead curious. In the afterlife of Bishop, Elizabeth and Ray Naudin were not at all reluctant to declare their connection to their lauded relative. Perhaps they had forgotten about the fraught dynamics of their Brazilian sojourn. And likely Bishop never expressed her frustrations too loudly, if at all. One puts up with a lot where family is concerned.
 (A third Hutchinson painting owned by Elizabeth Naudin:
"Thames Ditton Church," 1932. These and other paintings were inherited
by Elizabeth and Ray's oldest daughter Suzanne.)
Bishop was an orphan in the strictest sense of that word with the early loss of her parents; but the extended family on both sides remained a constant through her entire life, even when she was in distant Brazil, even when the dynamics were fraught. The story of this connection continued as the letters unfolded, more effort, more bafflement. If Bishop had not cared about family, she could easily have gone silent. While the art might be the enduring manifestation of the artist, we all can identify with the “untidy activity” of daily life and family connections: “awful but cheerful”!

The next post will conclude a letter focused on familial bonds.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Another successful EBSNS AGM

Yesterday, an enthusiastic group of EB fans gathered in Great Village for the EBSNS AGM 2018. If you are interested in the business side of things, you can check out the EBSNS website events page by clicking here. This post will offer some of images of the lively gathering.
(Photo by Susan Kerslake)
This image shows some of those gathered looking at the new "Echoes of EB" and "Elizabeth Bishop's Beginning's" exhibits. The new art display includes paintings and photographs by: Taiya Barss, Emma FitzGerald, Kathleen Flanagan, Mary Lou Payzant, Richard Rudicki and Susan Tooke. Here is Emma beside her contribution (to her left):
(Photo by Sandra Barry.)
Our guest speaker was Halifax poet and soon to be retired Saint Mary's University professor Brian Bartlett.

(Photo by Susan Kerslake)
After Brian's lively reading from his recently published Ripples Over Branches, the assembled walked to the Elizabeth Bishop House where a brief ceremony took place to mark the designation of the house as a Municipal Heritage property.
(Photo by Susan Kerslake)
The ceremony was presided over by Laurie Gunn (right) and the unveiling done by Colchester County mayor Christine Blair (left). It is exciting to have the house now part of the county's heritage program.
After the ceremony, everyone walked to the Legion for the usual delicious sandwiches and sweets provided by the Fire Brigade Auxiliary.
(Photo by Susan Kerslake)
(Photo by Sandra Barry)
Thank you to all the volunteers who helped make this AGM happen and to all those members and friends who attended. Perhaps the person who came from furthest away was Kay Bierwiler (left), who lives in Massachusetts and was visiting Great Village for the first time. Sandra Barry on the right.
(Photo by Susan Kerslake)
(Photo by Susan Kerslake)
Thank you to the St. James Church of Great Village Preservation Society and Laurie Gunn for their stewardship and care-taking of the Elizabeth Bishop House.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia AGM -- A Reminder

On Saturday, 23 June 2018, the EBSNS will hold its Annual General Meeting in Great Village. We are excited that besides the business and program outlined on the poster below, a significant and exciting addition to the day's events will be a brief ceremony to mark the designation of the Elizabeth Bishop House a Municipal Heritage Property. The EB House received a provincial heritage designation in the mid-1990s, but this new designation reinforces the importance of Bishop and her childhood home to the village, the county and the province. We hope you can join us on Saturday for the festivities.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

EB House Featured on CTV

Here us a link to a CTV News segment from June 10, 2018 about the Elizabeth Bishop House, featuring Laurie Gunn and Brian Bartlett: https://atlantic.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=1415235 [Please note that the video clip may be preceded by a thirty-second commercial. To restore sound, move the cursor to the bottom of the video frame -- the controls will appear, and you can click on the little loudspeaker icon to adjust the sound to your liking.]

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 70: Lota’s house and family

The next subject of Bishop’s letter of 18 October 1960 was a packed paragraph about Lota’s Samambaia house, with a few observations about Lota’s family, in this case, her sister.

Bishop began this paragraph by reminding Grace about their recent trip to “Paratí,” adding they had also recently returned from a second trip: “then we went away for a week again to Cabo Frio, where we go Christmases.” Bishop had regaled her aunt about these holidays on a number of occasions, a place where they could “stay in a friend’s beach house.” The reason for this trip, so outside of their usual routine, was because “Lota was very much in need of a rest, having such troubles with her family, her lawsuit, etc.” Bishop didn’t elaborate, except to say that “Lota’s sister” was “now here, (arguing!).” The tensions with this sibling came in for more comment at the end of this long letter, but other matters dominated this paragraph.

The week away had been pleasant, even if it “was a little too soon in the season, and windy.” They had gone “swimming every day and had an awfully nice time.” But “the minute we got back people started arriving” and not just siblings, but “friends of friends, from São Paulo” and then “a bus load of German architects.” The reason for this group was Lota’s house: “it is a famous piece of ‘modern’ architecture, you know.” What Bishop did not tell her aunt, but which she told Robert Lowell in a letter written at the same time was: “Their bus driver mutinied at our mountain road and Lota made trip after trip — but a good many of them came up on foot, straight up, for about a mile, and arrived panting and red and bowing and heel-clicking and hand-kissing — fascinating long hair-dos — about 3 female architects among them — I lost track in the hubbub. Some were very nice.” (Words in Air, 344)
(Lota's house at Samambaia.)
When I read this account in the letter to Lowell, it immediately took me back to September 1999, when I and a busload of Bishop fans reached the foot of that same mountain in a tourist bus. Our bus driver “mutinied” too, refusing to take the vehicle any further. Our host, Zulieka Borges Torrebla, drove the few who couldn’t walk up that steep incline, but the rest of us walked, just as these architects had done 39 years before.
(Bishop scholars beginning the walk to the house
under the mountain, September 1999. Photo by Sandra Barry.)
Word had clearly got out because not only were the Germans arriving, but also “another bus load, American architects this time, coming this week.” One wonders if they performed the same ritual of shuttling and hoofing.
(Poet Jeffrey Harrison (left) and Bishop scholar Gary Fountain (right)
part way up the road to the house under the mountain,
September 1999. Photo by Sandra Barry.)
A guest of a different sort was also expected: “tomorrow an unknown young American poet” was due to arrive for lunch, “and I think his poetry is so bad that I’m rather dreading that!” Bishop discreetly does not offer his name. Nor did she yield it in the letter to Lowell. What she does tell Lowell is that this “young man who sent me the bad poetry” had “called up to say he couldn’t come.” (Words in Air, 344) Undoubtedly, they did connect, as he was a “Fulbright, teaching at the University,” so he would be around for awhile. Brett Millier does not identify him in her account of October 1960. His pending visit had triggered in Bishop a kind of existential weariness in the face of “so much adequate poetry all sounding just alike and so boring …. And no one really feeling anything much.” (Words in Air, 344)

Part of the reason why they were beset by company was because “‘Summer’ is beginning and there are always too many people coming and going.” But competing with all this activity, and offering some solace, was the fact that “the flower garden has never looked better.” The list of flowers was impressive: freesias (“absolutely beautiful … all colors of the rainbow”; lilies; agapanthus blooming “all up the hillside, about three feet tall, white or blue.” Bishop could always find relief in the natural world around her.

Along with the flowers, the vegetable garden was producing: “for the first time in my life I am sick of artichokes” because they had “been eating [them] every night for dinner.”

Finally, the last report in this dense paragraph declared that the beehive oven they had been constructing was finished: “it is very picturesque and in a day or two I’ll try it — and probably burn the break black the first time.” The fellow who had done the actual construction produced “some of his wife’s bread” because “when Lota showed him mine he said ‘Too much yeast!’” Bread making clearly has a competitive element., even though Bishop was confident enough in her newfound bread-making skill to dismiss this critique: “because it isn’t the size or kind of bread they use.” To each his or her own.

Winding down this particular track, Bishop observed that if they stayed home over Christmas (having had their Cabo Frio trip early), “I think we’ll try roasting a suckling pig” in the oven. Ever the pragmatist and economist, she noted however that  “food, particularly meat, is getting so expensive here now maybe we can’t afford such luxuries.”

Bishop then turned back to her own family, not an ancestor, but her cousin Elizabeth, who was still very much nearby. This subject for the next post.

Friday, June 8, 2018

A few more photographs

Laurie Gunn recently sent these images of the exhibits set up this year by the EBSNS in St. James Church in Great Village, N.S. Come to our AGM on Saturday, 23 June 2018, starting at 1:30 p.m., in the church and see the displays for yourself. The EBSNS is excited to announce that after the AGM a brief ceremony will be held at the Elizabeth Bishop House, by the Preservation Society and the Municipality of Colchester County, when the house will receive a Municipal Heritage designation. Let us hope for some sunshine and warmth for that day!

(Elizabeth Bishop's maternal family.)

(Echoes of Elizabeth Bishop art gallery exhibit, above and below.)