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

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 98: Aunt Mary’s Visit, Part II

I left off Bishop’s account of Aunt Mary’s visit, in her letter of 10 October, at the point where she and Lota drove Mary to Samambaia in their “tiny car.” Bishop then described the scene they saw when they arrived. Because of the “terrible drought here — not a drop of rain in four months,” the landscape was feeling the affects. One consequence of this aridity was “bush-fires,” so “all around the house … everything is black.” To Bishop, “it looked like HELL!” But she was used to the lush green and vibrant colours. Mary, other hand, “seemed to like the scenery all right, anyway.”

Mary also liked the cats, who were starved for attention. Bishop’s own “Tobias took a great fancy to her, and ate breakfast in bed with her,” though Bishop observed in what was likely a wry tone that Tobias couldn’t “compare to Pouchie!” Mary’s own cat.

Having arrived in the mountains, Bishop reported that both Mary and Lota (who was working hard on the park) “took long naps (I think she [Mary] was really awfully tired,” not surprising after the long trip and the intensity of the reunion. After this refresher, Bishop noted that they then “stayed up till after mid-night gossiping.” I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall for that conversation. A lot of catching up to do.

“The next day we took her to Petrópolis and back.” I remember the grandeur of some of the buildings in this mountain city, where the Portuguese emperors lived and ruled their empire for a long time. Mary would have been impressed by the palace, cathedral, opera house and massive museum, among many other imperial buildings.
(Palácio Rio Negro, the President's summer home.
One of the many ornate buildings in the city.)
After this outing, “then all the rest of the cousins arrived for lunch.” Before the meal, they went for “a swim in a friend’s pool.” The drought had made the water level in their brook “so low that for the first time in all these years our little swimming-hole is too low to swim in.” Afterwards they all sat down to “a big Brazilian style lunch.”

This visit would have been really important to Bishop and she reported to Grace, “I think it was all pretty successful.” She found her youngest aunt to be “a good guest — she is interested in absolutely everything and remembers the names of the flowers and trees, etc.” They had had plenty of guests who “pay no attention at all to anything in the country,” but, after all, Mary was a born country girl, even if she’d transplanted to the big city of Montreal after her marriage. As pleased as Bishop was to have this engagement from her aunt, she added a brief addendum at this point, signalled by an asterisk: *But I wished it had been my favorite aunt,” meaning, of course, Grace.

That said, Bishop still “wanted to keep her over to go back with us Sunday P M or Monday morning,” when they usually made their way back to Rio. The obstacle to that plan was “a cable saying that our friend Mary [Morse] (with the adopted baby Monica)” would arrive Sunday morning. This anticipated return was one of the reasons Bishop “wanted everyone that Saturday,” or there would have been “just too many people to handle!”

As a result, “Mary (our Mary) went back” with the Naudins Saturday afternoon. Though “a short visit,” Bishop concluded that it was “very nice.”

You can sense not only the relief in her report but also her pleasure that she could host her relatives so graciously, offer them a memorable visit, even if the drought had turned the landscape into a kind of wasteland.

The next part of the letter veers away for awhile from familial matters and towards their own concerns. The next post will take up these other concerns.

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