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

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 66: Hot weather and iced tea

Bishop wrote her next letter to Aunt Grace on 23 September 1960, about a month and a half after the August missive. The serious news of this letter gets going in the third paragraph, but before getting to it, Bishop worked through where she was in her back and forth with her aunt, and updated Grace on the usual things. This post will deal with these routine matters, at the beginning of the letter and will save her fascinating description of a trip she and Lota took for the next post.

Though not visible in the photocopy of this letter, Bishop once again apologized for “this awful paper.” Making do was a modus operandi that she had carried with her from the very place this letter was going, Great Village (the envelope once again has “Box 21” on it, so Grace was back at the farm). Better stationary had to wait until her “next trip” to Rio, where she could “lay in a supply.” Poor writing paper was accompanied by a dramatic shift in the weather, “It has suddenly grown HOT here … much too early,” Bishop noted, “so I hope it won’t last.” This sudden heat had sent them to “our little pool,” which they had just “cleaned up.” After their swim, Bishop reported, they “then drank iced matté [sic]” (she had to add the accent by hand).
She wondered if her aunt knew about this “South American tea — they drink an awful lot of it, particularly in Argentina.” Assuming that Grace would not be familiar with it, Bishop noted, in her inimitable way, “it doesn’t taste exactly like tea — a bit more like hay, I think — but one gets quite fond of it.”
Bishop wrote this letter at the house at Samambaia. The recent back and forth between there and Rio meant, Bishop confessed, that she couldn’t “seem to find your last letter here perhaps I left it in Rio.” Added to this toing and froing, Bishop and Lota had recently gone “away for a few days trip” (more about it in the next post), followed by more time in Rio. The travelling wasn’t finished, “I’ll have to go back once more next week.” The reason for this return was dental work, “I have to have a tooth pulled — I’ve been stalling for ages.” Indeed, it appeared Bishop was doing more than stalling, but seriously avoiding this necessity.

The final update concerned Elizabeth Naudin. Bishop reported that she had not managed to see her the last time they were in Rio, “I was too rushed.” But she was “going to call her up today.” They had connected before the little trip and Bishop could report that her cousin “seemed much happier, in the apartment — even if it’s only temporary.” Clearly, the Naudins were still rather unsettled and continued to resist acting on the repeated invitation from Bishop to visit Samambaia. “They haven’t been up here yet,” Bishop noted, that underline adding a bit of force to that tiny word. Bishop lists reasons: 1. “waiting until they get moved”; 2. “or have a car”; 3. “or have someone to leave the children with,” even though Bishop had “invited the children, too!” Her bafflement and, perhaps, frustration barely concealed. Their household was usually host to all manner of “infant guests,” who “play in the brook all day.

Bishop did say with some relief that “Suzanne was much more friendly, very talkative — I think she’s quite bright; and the little one is very funny.” Perhaps it really was that they had been seriously disrupted and required time to find their bearings. Bishop added that “Suzanne already has a little Brazilian boy to play with and is speaking a few words of Portuguese.”

South America would be an adjustment for any Canadian, used to a very different climate, and Bishop ended this round of updates with an observation that could have explained further the Naudins’ hesitancy to plunge into too much socializing: “I think poor E is going to hate this heat.”

Bishop and Lota often escaped the heat with travel and the next post will be her account of the “few days trip.”

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