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

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.)

Thursday, June 7, 2018

A little souvenir

This image just in from Ingrid Jejina, who visited Great Village and attended the Elizabeth Bishop Arts Festival in August 2015. Thanks Ingrid.
Happy writing one and all!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Elizabeth Bishop's Beginnings exhibit

On 2 June 2018, members of the board of the EBSNS gathered at St. James Church in Great Village to install this year's "Elizabeth Bishop's Beginnings" exhibit and "Echoes of Elizabeth Bishop" gallery exhibit, which will officially open at the AGM on Saturday 23 June. Here are a few photos of what this year's exhibit looks like (we will share photos of the art gallery works at a later date):
(An overview. Photo by Sandra Barry.)
(Some details. Photo by Sandra Barry.)
(Laurie Gunn's lovely "Sandpiper" hooked rug. Photo by Sandra Barry.)

Below is a reminder of the details of the AGM, which will take place in the church at 1:30 p.m., Saturday, 23 June. All are welcome.