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

Monday, September 3, 2018

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 77: Coming and going

The year 1960 was winding down. Bishop’s last letter to Grace was dated “December 6th,” just over a month after the last one. She had clearly not heard from her aunt. Scribbled across the top of the page was the query: “Did you get my letter? — the one with the check? — mailed Oct. 30th.”

After “Dear Aunt Grace,” she launched right in with a slightly bemused, exasperated “I keep losing track of you…” The last letter Bishop had from Grace had held the news “about Ellie’s being sick, and in the hospital.” Bishop had not known where to send her October reply because Grace’s plans had been “rather unsettled.”

Bishop speculated that “something [from Grace] must have got lost since then.” This letter was prompted by a desire to know “how things are and where you are.” To ensure Grace got this letter, Bishop decided to send it “C/O Phyllis, since surely she’ll know [your]” whereabouts. Besides, “the mails in her part of the world are more reliable.” Wherever Grace was just then, Bishop hoped she was “all right.”

After this slightly concerned preliminary, Bishop reported that she and Lota had just gone to Cabo Frio again “and will be going back over Christmas, I think.”* Being away before their traditional holiday time was because of Lota, who, as Bishop observed, “is just getting so fed up with her problems here.” The list of issues was significant: “a big real-estate development”**; “two law-suits”; and problems with her “adopted son behaving like a perfect demon.” In addition, Lota was suffering from “horrible neuralgia in the back of the neck.” This condition was so debilitating that Bishop sometimes had “to pull her out of bed in the mornings.” Bishop laid the cause of this condition on “all just worry.” The trouble with her son meant “we haven’t even seen the children for months and that just breaks her heart.” In the midst of all these cares and concerns, Bishop felt Lota “just has to get away for a while.”

Cabo Frio was a balm for their troubled hearts and minds, but the getting away was to continue, even after the holiday. Bishop reported that on “January 2nd, — we are going to stay with a friend in Ouro Preto [sic] again.” This friend was Lilli Correia de Araújo. Bishop and Lota had first visited Ouro Prêto in 1953 and had gone back a number of times in the interim. Bishop had mentioned this place to Grace before but reminded her aunt that it was “a little colonial town in the interior, a long day’s drive from here.” Indeed, it was in the state of Minas Gerais, 300 miles from Rio.
(View of Ouro Prêto, 1999. Photo by Sandra Barry.)
Since she and Lota would be “coming and going” a lot, and since Bishop was unsure where Grace would be during the holiday, she decided “to send this small Christmas gift now,” hoping it would “‘come in handy’ wherever you are.”

This short, somewhat hurried letter wound down with a few updates about matters from the 30 October letter. These will comprise the next post.

* Note: As it turned out, Bishop and Lota did not return to Cabo Frio that Christmas, but stayed in Rio (Millier 317)

** Note: It is uncertain what this development was. During this year’s Christmas holiday, Carlos Lacerda, a close friend of Lota and the new governor of the state of Guanabara, visited them and asked Lota to head up “the development of a large piece of fill on Guanabara Bay,” what became Parque do Flamengo. (Millier 317) Perhaps they had wind of this request earlier in the month and Lota was trying to decide if she would take it on. Or, the real-estate could have been the selling and developing of the land she owned at Samambaia, something mentioned in previous letters and something on-going for some time.

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