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

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.

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