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

Friday, February 8, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 99: Aunt Mary’s Visit, Part III -- and Happy Birthday Elizabeth

If EB were living today, she would be 108. HAPPY BIRTHDAY Elizabeth. Folks in Key West are having a birthday celebration in her honour today. Our Key West correspondent has promised an account of the festivities, so stay tuned! For now, the next installment of Letters to Aunt Grace.

The next couple of paragraphs of Bishop’s 10 October 1961 letter shifts focus to the arrival of “the other Mary,” that is, their friend Mary Morse and her adopted daughter Monica. They had been in the US for several months and their return coincided with the visit by Aunt Mary and cousins John and Joanne. After sending them back with the Naudins, after a successful family visit, Bishop reported to Grace that “Lota and I got up as 4 [a.m.] Sunday.” This early rise was because they too had to get to Rio in time to meet Mary Morse’s “7 A M” flight, “Same flight as AUNT M [the week before] — the jets” from the US all arrived at the same time.

This run to Rio included “our cook and ‘butler’ …. Maria & Alberto.” They “had never seen the ocean, never seen a city — never seen an airplane except away up in the air.” Bishop reported what was to be expected, “you can imagine the excitement — hysteria almost.”

As it turned out, “we had to wait over an hour at the airport” (some things are timeless and universal). Not surprisingly, “Maria had to go to the bathroom.” This was when the trouble started: “poor Alberto, innocent lamb, went in with her.” Bishop reported that “before we could get there a policeman was shouting at him ‘Lack of respect! Indecency!’ etc etc.” Even as they explained that Alberto “couldn’t read” signs such as “Ladies & Gents,” it made no difference. Bishop’s conclusion, “they are such stupid brutes, policemen — the world over, I suppose.”

After that upset, Mary Morse arrived and they all returned to the “tiny apartment” in Rio, prompting Bishop to report, “It has been rather hectic [with] Lota, me, Mary (the friend Mary, that is — all these Marys and Elizabeths are confusing) Monica,” and “the couple.” Bishop noted that Monica “is walking now, like a drunken sailor.” And Maria and Alberto “are so excited by everything,” clearly putting the run in with the law behind them. Bishop confessed, “we send them out to see the sights, just to get them out of the way.” Their excursions were a mixed blessing, Bishop noting that they “then get scared for fear they’ll get lost, run over, etc.” Alberto appears to have been more adventurous because he “bought himself a pair of bright yellow bathing trunks and has just taken his first ocean swim.” Maria preferred to watch this “from our terrace — sure he’s gong to drown, in waves up to his knees.” Bishop perhaps would have enjoyed their discoveries more if things had been a bit less chaotic.

After this digression, she returned to family reports, noting that Elizabeth Naudin’s little daughters, “Suzanne & Diane behaved very well Saturday.” She noted that Diane was “a little better than Suzanne,” and judged that Diane’s “disposition” was “sweet … anyway.” She confirmed that their parents “are very good with them” (being so keen about child-rearing, Bishop had much to say about parenting!).

She felt the Naudins and the Rosses, one and all, didn’t “care much for our house! (Although they’re all very polite about it!)” Bishop concluded this dislike was because “it’s too modern for them, I’m afraid.” Lota’s architecturally prize-winning house was, Bishop thought, “not much like a cozy house in Montreal!” Bishop presumed that for them  “it probably seems like a barn … big and bare.” But her defense of it was the climate: “one wants space, cool floors, and no upholstery.”
(John Ross, jr. and Mary Bulmer Ross at her home
in Montreal, circa late 1960s. AUA.)
Even so, John Ross Jr. “said he’d like to come to live in Brazil.” So some aspects of the place appealed. And Bishop reiterated that she “showed Mary absolutely everything in the house … except the china-closet.” She hoped that Mary would be able to return at least once more before she departed, so that her niece could “fill in everything she missed!” Mary was clearly curious about “everything.” And it appeared to Bishop that they were all “have a pretty good time, and Ray is taking time off and they’re going up to Teresopolis,” where his family lived. This place was “higher in the mountains.”

Even if Mary could not return to Petrópolis, Bishop said she would “see her whenever I can get a chance,” and she was planning “to take them to lunch at one of the nice outdoors [sic] place I like.” Whatever else was possible had to be fit in between work, “I just wish I weren’t so DAMNED busy on this book.” Having visitors did not stop the “political events — that keep right on happening.” One consequence of the volatile political situation was it meant Bishop had “to re-write” parts of the book “two times, at least.” You can hear the sigh when she wrote, “I feel as if I were going made.” And wound down this dense paragraph with, “at least we did have a couple of days.”

This long letter was starting to wind down. The next post will conclude with another call from Bishop for Grace and Phyllis to read Dr. Spock!

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