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

Friday, May 31, 2019

EBSNS AGM and 25th Anniversary celebration on 22 June 2019

All are welcome to attend the EBSNS Annual General Meeting and 25th Anniversary celebration in Great Village, N.S., on 22 June 2019. We've got some wonderful guests to share in our festivities and there will be great food and refreshments, too. The EB House will be open for viewing. Looking forward to seeing you there! (click on the poster to enlarge)

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Story and Song for the EBSNS

On 26 May 2019, Halifax storyteller Claire Miller presented her “Swan song” gathering with a group of musical friends, in her gracious south-end home. After years of offering highly successful, well-attended storytelling salons, Claire has decided to turn her creative energies to other activities.
 (The performers performing. Photo by Janet Maybee.)
The free-will offering that Claire requested at this event was designated for the EBSNS, a most generous gesture.
 (Photo by Janet Maybee.)
EBSNS Board member Janet Maybee attended and reported that the event was “marvellous.” She noted that “35 devoted listeners” were present and “Claire made a point at the beginning to tell them why they should contribute to preserving the Bishop legacy.” This lively gathering garnered $380 for the society. Thank you so much Claire, and all your wonderful guests. The EBSNS is deeply grateful for such generosity.
(L. to r.: The performers: Margo Carruthers, Claire Miller,
Clary Croft, Heather-Anne Pentz, Vanessa Lindsay-Botton.
Photo by Shannon Chisholm.)

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 111: A bit of gossip, finally

Bishop was slowly getting to the “gossip” she wanted to share with Grace in her 3 January 1962 letter. She was almost at the end of the fourth page of this densely typed letter and the penultimate paragraph of that page, which focused on the holiday just past: Christmas. But before that description, she had to express her sympathy to her aunt: “I am so sorry to hear about the ribs, are they getting better?” Grace must have injured herself as the letters that had recently come to hand must have reported. Then, without a pause, Bishop wondered, “where you did spend Christmas finally?” Grace would have had several options.

Then came the account of Elizabeth and Lota’s holiday, which was not their usual visit to “Cabo Frio, that beach place we like.” The friends who lived there “had other visitors,” and, after all, they had just returned from their slog in NYC. So, they “just went home for three days and ate roast pork,” meaning they went to the house at Samambaia, the Brazilian place that was “home” for Bishop.

To mark the festive season, Bishop told her aunt that they had “set up a toy village just for our own amusement.” The child in the household, Monica, was “much too young to enjoy it.” This decorating happened because “Lota bought a lot of little figures, etc in N Y — lovely.” They arranged this village “on the hall chest of drawers,” putting “green stuff in the back.” When I first read this account, I was surprised, as Lota seems to be the last person one would think of liking such Christmas kitsch, let alone collecting a whole scene of it.

To augment this activity and the “roast pork,” Bishop reported that she “made a batch of something called Dutch Christmas cookies,” a recipe she found in “LIFE magazine,” one perhaps Grace had also seen, the issue “with Xmas recipes in it.” In the margin Bishop scribbled a further description of these cookies, “Butter Slices.” She noted that they were “marvellous, I must say!” because they were “full of poppy-seeds and filberts (or do you call them Hazel Nuts). “On Christmas Eve,” she reported, “we had a traditional Brazilian dish — French Toast!” This delicacy was served with “your maple syrup. I still have almost a quart.” Bishop surely made that most welcome gift from her aunt last a long time.
(The cover of the 8 December 1961 LIFE magazine cover.
It is probably the issue to which Bishop refers as there is
a section on holiday recipes.)
Finally, Bishop reached the point where she revealed, “I wanted to gossip about Mary and her family … horrid of me!” But if we can’t talk about family, who can we talk about? Her first statement was that “They all seem so RICH to me!” She wondered how they got that way. Mary had spoken about “going to Europe!” That reminded Bishop about her “fellowship,” which  had “to be used for travel,” and told Grace she would go to “Peru and Bolivia” and “another trip to N Y,” echoing what she had been saying for some time: “this time I’ll really get to N S.” To that end, she asked Grace to suggest “the pleasantest place to visit?” And “(while I think of it),” Bishop asked her aunt to “give me Aunt Mabel’s address.” Declaring with a bit of exasperation, “I do hope you get all this now!”

Then back to Mary and her family. Bishop noted that she “didn’t really have much chance to talk to Joanne.” Bishop got the impression that this young woman was “the athletic type” and saw that “she really loves animals.” The former would not have mattered much to Bishop, but the latter inclination gave them something in common. Bishop then mentioned “the little monkey” about which “she was crazy to take back.” If she had “known sooner,” she noted, “I could have arranged it, probably,” meaning she could have got all the papers in place. In any case, it didn’t happen, but the monkey had found a home, which Bishop had reported earlier in the letter.

Clearly, though, Bishop was fondest of Mary’s son John: “I love his looks and that nice grin.” This brief account was the warmest of all her observations about these young people.

When they had been given the opportunity to talk without the Naudins present, Bishop reported that “we all agreed that Ray shouldn’t complain about Brazil the way he does all the time.” Bishop had made this observation before to Grace, so would have been pleased that his in-laws could see the issue themselves. Bishop found this habit “very annoying.” She realized that he was “undoubtedly a clever young man at his business, but I don’t think he has a very nice character.” To her he was “kind of mean,” though quickly she said, “not to E or the children — he’s a good father.” Still, she found him “petty, and always grumbling.” He behaved like “he knows more than he does,” and made “tactless remarks.” Bishop assured her aunt that she “never attempt[ed] to argue with him about anything,” partly because “he knows it all — or so he thinks.”

Then a real piece of gossip: “I got the feeling that Mary wished E had married someone else — although she never said so.” Mary was nothing if not “very polite and discreet.” But, as Bishop suggested, nothing else by way of confessions could be expected because “after all we hadn’t seen each other for thirty years!” (Perhaps the last time Bishop had seen Mary was in 1930 when she and Maude and George went to Montreal to visit the Rosses because Elizabeth Bulmer was there, recently widowed and unwell.)

All this said, Bishop declared that “it was fun having her — she seemed to be interested in everything and enjoys things and that’s what makes a good guest.” Wistfully, however, Bishop noted that “all the time I wished it were you, I’m afraid.” Which made her turn to that next prospective visit to N.S. and them “meet[ing] in Halifax and spend[ing] a few days there” in a hotel.

Suddenly, after over four pages of letter, Bishop declared, “Now I must rush.” She had to “call up LIFE here to cable N Y and ask them where the hell are the proofs they promised for ten days ago.” That dreadful job was still plaguing her. She confessed to her aunt that she thought “they are double-crossing me and the thing is going to appear without any corrections — any last ones, I mean.” Again she wrote, “I spent five weeks doing nothing but fight with them in N Y over their idiotic changes — Not one of them had ever seen Brazil,” Yet these “17 people” believed they “all knew more than I did, — and I’ve lived here ten years and they hired me, after all!” Her final declaration: “They’re mad.”

The well-known story about this book, when it finally was published, is that she made those “last” corrections in green ink in those copies she received and dispersed.

This rambling letter concluded with an extra measure: “Much much love” and an admonition for Grace to “please take care of yourself and forgive me for not getting there.” It seems that it was Bishop who had to forgive herself. She pleaded that she “wasn’t really in my right mind that N Y stretch.” Concluding finally with the fact that she “couldn’t remember anything or see anything, just that damned little book.”

Bishop didn’t wait quite so long to write again to Grace. Her next letter is just over two weeks later and will commence with the next post.

Addendum: 23 May 2019. Leave it to John Barnstead,who found the precise recipe EB mentions in that issue of LIFE.
And a photo of the cookies, which are on the bottom tier of the plate on the right.
John tells me he is going to make the cookies and send me some in the mail!! When I get them, I'll take a photo and post it!!!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 110: Gifts

Bishop began the ”just for you” part of her 3 January 1962 letter to Grace with a declaration, “Oh dear, I am dying to have a good gossip with you.” Even though she had finally received letters from both aunts, she still wondered if Grace had got “my check safely?” that is, her Christmas gift. And she admonished her aunt, “Please spend every penny on  yourself.” Then, without even a pause, she shifted to, “I do hope that Miriam [Phyllis’s daughter] may turn out to be all right.” Grace had clearly updated Bishop on this new member of the family, now about six months old, which prompted Bishop to respond, “what you say sounds quite hopeful.” Phyllis had also been in touch and Bishop asked her aunt to let her cousin know the “card” came “last week — and I’ll write her soon.” Having been so busy in December meant that Bishop “didn’t send out any cards” because she “didn’t have time.” She paused and clarified, “no I did send two,” which she “stole” from “my friend Loren’s supply” (she and Lota stayed in Loren MacIver’s apartment in New York). One of those cards went “to [Aunt] Mary and one to Aunt Florence.”

She returned to the subject of Phyllis about whom she felt “sorry … so much work” with Miriam. In contrast, Bishop wrote, “this poor little illegitimate baby our friend Mary [Morse] adopted — Monica — is so bright.” In Bishop’s mind, the whole thing “just isn’t fair.” She continued describing Monica as “so gay … always grinning and laughing.” She noted how much she had “missed her … while I was in N.Y. — I never remember missing a baby before!” She wished Grace “could see her — you’d love her.” Monica was “about 14 months and can sing (a little).” She was getting active and mobile, able “almost [to] climb out of her play-pen.” Bishop described her acrobatics, hanging “over the top” of the bars, and feared that “in a few days she’ll fall out and break her nose.”

This doted on child still “isn’t very pretty — big mouth, big teeth — and her ears stick out — but she has lots of curls.” The latter feature was “a pleasant surprise to everyone because … as a baby” her hair “was straight as a string.” Clearly, Monica was a delight in Bishop’s life at this time.

Another shift back to the vagaries of communicating had Bishop declare, “I am so sorry about my presents” — meaning gifts Grace had tried to send to her niece. Just what happened is unclear, but somehow they were returned. In any case, Bishop quickly said, “I’d love to have the table linen” (perhaps some of her mother’s. Grace had sent Bishop some of her mother’s embroidery one other time.) Bishop asked her aunt to “please keep it for me.” And suggested that Grace “Just send me the book, sometime.” She noted that “Books do come safely” and advised her aunt to “Leave an end a little open so they can see it’s a book,” and to improve the odds of delivery to “write BOOK — LIVRO — on it, good and big.” Doing so meant it would come “book rate — slow, but cheap.” Whatever the book was, Bishop assured Grace, “I’d love to have it.”

Then she made a request: “if ever you happen to see a cook-book of Nova Scotia recipes — if there is such a thing — I’d like to have one — and I’ll pay for it, of course.”*

Going back to the table linen, Bishop noted there was “an old lady near us in the country who earns a little money by doing some embroidery.” She could “get her to finish the set” because she does quite nice work.” Unfinished table linen does sound like it could have been something of her mother’s work, never finished. “In the Village” refers to Gertrude’s beautiful embroidery, some of which was incomplete, still in the embroidery hoop.

Grace had also offered a “pitcher and basin and soap dish,” which Bishop remembered “very well — save them, too!” Mailing such items was not possible, but Bishop once again said, “I really think we may be getting back next year.” If that happened, they would “have another five or six weeks” and if she was “not earning money,” she could “stay even longer,” at least so she thought. She trailed off this part of the letter wistfully, “I’ll really get to see you —”

This “just for you” part continues on for quite a bit longer. The next post will finally get to the core of the “gossip.”

*Note: The most famous Nova Scotia cookbook was Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens by Marie Nightingale, but it wasn’t published until 1970. It went through dozens of printings. Bishop surely would have loved it.
The Nova Scotia Archives has a wonderful site containingdigitized versions of over a dozen old N.S. cookbooks and also digitized images of hundreds of hand-written recipes found in various collections. Bishop for sure would have loved this site.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 109: Rio in 1962

Bishop began winding down the joint part of her 3 January 1962 letter to Aunts Grace and Mary with a brief account about the state of things in Brazil. She first noted that “Lota is hard at work again,” on the big park project, though Bishop also observed that “nothing much happened while she was away.” Then “Poor Brazil” comes into the equation. Bishop described it as “in awful shape.” The best way she felt she could convey the situation to her aunts was a rather indelicate joke, revealing that as fastidious as Mary was and as respectable as Grace was, Bishop felt that both women wouldn’t mind a bit of off-colour, though she presents it in as discreet a way as possible.

Bishop began this “favourite joke at present …. a very Portuguese joke,” in a classic way: “two men talking to each other about the situation, very gloomy.” Finally, one of them “says to the other — ‘Well, times are so bad — we’re all going to end up eating sh-t.’” Of course, the punch line is: “The other replies, ‘Yes — and there isn’t even enough sh-t to go around.’”

{Check out this link to a wonderful b&w, 8 minute film about Rio in 1962. I was fascinated by the whole thing. This profile of Rio hardly make it looks “awful,” but rather shows quite a glamorous city. Watch to the end, and you will see why I’ve chosen the more recent images below. Great to get a sense of the atmosphere there in that year.}
 (Iconic Rio in 1999. Photo by Sandra Barry.)
After having been in Samambaia for Christmas, Bishop told her aunts that they can gone “to Rio — Jan 2nd — and I got 2 letter from Aunt Grace.” This explains how Bishop learned that Grace had feared she had been on the airplane that crashed late the previous year. One of these letters was “dated Dec 10th and one on the 17th.” That she was only now getting them proved “how slow the mails still are.” However, she defended her adopted country by noting, “I really think that’s YOUR ‘rush’ not Brasil’s fault for once.” She had also received one from Aunt Mary “dated the 27th,” which was a more “normal time” coming.

One of Grace’s letters revealed something Bishop did not know: “I didn’t think you had a telephone, Aunt Grace, in G V.” So she had missed not only a trip to Nova Scotia, but an easier chance to talk to her aunt, on the phone. All this made her wistful again about not following through on the one thing she really wanted to do: “I am so terribly sorry not to have got there [Nova Scotia].”  Wishing she had had “a little more time,” and second guessing herself, she continued that if she “hadn’t gone to see Mr Blum,” she “bet he could have fixed it up with the income tax people afterwards!” But in the moment, in the context of the book work, Bishop did not have time to think out the all possibilities.

The final short paragraph of this joint part of her letter ended with a few final updates. After asking her aunts to “please give my love to everyone,” she noted that she was “going to call on Elizabeth [Naudin] this afternoon, I think.” Then she reported that she had been sick for “three days … last week” with “bronchitis, coughing my head off.” But she was planning to go out anyway, even though it was “fearfully hot.” In the midst of all the domestic troubles and struggles, she finished her joint letter on a positive note, telling Mary particularly that “at least I earned enough money to paint this apartment … we’re going to start right away.” Mary would know first hand how much the painting was needed. Her “much love to you both and Happy New Year” was typed vertically on the thin left margin because the next page was for only Grace. As she “add[ed] a bit more just for” Grace, she noted that her favourite aunt would now understand “why I am sending you the carbon — it is clearer than the 1st copy.” Before getting to the real reason for the separate Grace-only part, Bishop explained that the carbon was clearer than the original letter because “I need a new ribbon.” It is apparent even in the photocopy that the addition is more faded in the photocopy of the carbon, clearly revealing the ribbon issue.

Further more, Bishop reiterated that she “must hurry out to pay the gas and light bills before the office closes down.” This office was “away on the other side of the city.” It was a “special office, because no one paid” the bills while they “were away, and now they are threatening to cut off the service.” One of the practical issues was that they could  not use “checks,” which would have made “life so much easier.” Checks were used “for some things, but just between friends, apparently — not for bills or utilities.”

Ultimately, Bishop’s reason for the separate section was to “gossip about Mary and her family.” But before she got to that subject, she got side-tracked with more reiterations and catching up with things Grace had written. These diversions will comprise the next post.
(To prove I was actually in Rio in September 1999,
here is me standing beneath that breath-taking statue with
N.S. poet Brian Barlett, left, and Bishop scholar Gary Fountain, centre.)

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

New book about Elizabeth Bishop

Bishop scholar and editor Jonathan Ellis has sent word of a new book of essays about EB published by Edinburgh University Press, which he has edited: Reading Elizabeth Bishop. Congratulations Jonathan!

Suzie LeBlanc singing Bishop songs

We are excited to share the news that renowned soprano Suzie LeBlanc (EBSNS Honorary Patron) will perform some of the EB poem settings she commissioned in 2011 for the Bishop centenary, and two new settings by Alberta composer Stephen Smith, along with other repertoire, at a concert on 4 May in Vancouver with the Elektra Women’s Choir.