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

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 39: How was Cabo Frio anyway?

No big gap this time. Bishop’s next letter to her aunt is dated 6 January 1959, written almost immediately after she and Lota returned from Cabo Frio. Above the typed date, Bishop had written in “Wednesday A.M.” so that her aunt would know how quickly Bishop was responding. This letter was triggered by a gift Elizabethreceived from Grace and her cousin Phyllis. Bishop and Lota had arrived back in Samambaia “Monday morning” and had gone “to the P.O. first thing” to “collect our Christmas mail that had piled up,” as a result of their two week vacation
Bishop surmised that this gift had “probably even arrived in time for Christmas, if we’d been here.” The reason for this confidence was that “the customs seem to have been completely reorganized,” as Bishop had hoped at the end of 1958. She reported to Grace that “we got lots of packages and didn’t have to pay anything,” and even more astonishing, “some of them had come very fast.” One package arrived in “three weeks or so, from N.Y.”

The gift was “a nice book.” Alas and of course (since Grace knew what it was), Bishop does not offer any more detail, only a response: “I haven’t had time to read much of it yet, but I did look up a lot of the places I know in the index to see what he had to say about them.” Not only was Bishop “delighted to have it,” she also assured her aunt that “it will be a great help to me in my work.” The particular work Bishop refers to can be surmised by the next sentence: “Lota is rather disgusted with me, the way I keep writing away about N.S., after all these years!” Well, it is unlikely we will ever know what this book was, but one can surmise it had something to do with the geography of Nova Scotia.

Bishop had “an awful feeling” that her “complaining about the customs” had triggered this gift, because she remembered writing at some point that she couldn’t get “anything but books” through the mails, “I’m afraid you thought I was hinting.”

Returning to the customs situation, Bishop remarked that “it had got so bad” that they had “given up even ordering books” because things got stuck in a no-man’s land in Rio, sometimes for months. And the duty charged had become exorbitant. A friend had sent her “a little box of tea” and she had to pay “100% duty,” which made the “¼ pound” cost “$4.00.” A dollar bought a lot more then than it does today, so this doubling of the price was a lot to swallow (no pun intended).

Few letters Bishop sent to Grace ignored something all Maritimers think about obsessively: the weather. Bishop reported that they were getting “rains, rains, rains up here.” In the seven years she’d been in Brazil, she had “never seen such rains.” As expected, the result was serious flooding, even in Samambaia. The rains started as they set off for their Christmas holiday and were still falling upon their return. Bishop reported that the usually “good-sized brook” running through the property was “now raging.” While they were away, a “girl was actually drowned in our stream — down below us, trying to cross over.” The swimming hole that Lota had constructed was washed out, so it had to be done “over again, and heaven knows when we can afford to.”

Returning to their holiday at Cabo Frio, Bishop told Grace that the weather had been quite the opposite, indeed “perfect, hot, clear … wonderful.” They had gone fishing “a couple of times” and astonishingly, Bishop reported she “caught two enormous dolphins”! I wonder if she let them go, as she did “The Fish.” Since there are many species of dolphins, it is hard to say what kind it was, and at a time when they were not protected.

In addition to fishing, they swam a lot and “slept an awful lot,” concluding, “we were both very tired without realizing it.” They had also eaten a lot, their hosts stuffing them “with fish and shrimp — now we are both dieting!”

They were now settling in to their routine again and “as soon as the weather clears a bit,” Bishop wrote, “we are due to have the three oldest ‘grandchildren’ for a month’s visit.” Bishop was looking forward to it because “they are getting adorable, all of them.” After the oldest were encamped for a few weeks, their mother would arrive with the baby, now nearly one. Knowing Grace would be interested in these little people, Bishop noted, “I am determined to get some photographs for you.”

Wanting not to delay her “thank you for the book,” Bishop closed her letter reiterating how “extremely pleased” she was to have received it, and extending her hope that her aunt was “well and not over-doing — how’s the LIMB?” What that refers to, I can’t say. An injury?

Knowing that Grace had been with her youngest son, Rod, Bishop sent the letter there and urged her aunt to “write me all the news about Mary, Elizabeth, John, the baby, etc. (if you saw E and the baby),” referring to Aunt Mary’s oldest child, Elizabeth Ross Naudin, who was now a new mother herself. This short but busy letter ended, as usual, “With much love.”

Next post will be a quick glimpse of spring in 1959.

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