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

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 127: Medals, Money, Markets

After her lengthy account of the disastrous end to Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Hardwick’s visit, Bishop turned to other matters in her 22 September 1962 letter. The next news to report concerned Lota. Bishop noted that she and Lota were finally “going up to the country this weekend” (the last word was crossed out and scribbled above it was “afternoon”). They had not been there for “a month.” Bishop wanted to “stay longer” than just the weekend, “but Lota has to work and I think I have to be here with her.” The work on the park was “going awfully well,” so much so that “last week she was given a medal.”* This honour was something of a big deal, something Bishop “knew about beforehand.” Her task was to ensure Lota got “off to work well-dressed that day.” She boasted in a scribbled line in the margin, “she didn’t suspect anything.” In bestowing this medal, Bishop noted “there were photographers … speeches.” Further celebration was “a cocktail party for all her work-group, in the big shed in the park where they work.” This shed had “two rooms, like a barn, full of draughting boards.” Bishop reported that this event gathered “thirty or more people.” Once again, Bishop was responsible for the fare: “I made all the food and drinks.” She “acted as barman.” She had taken along “our maid, and another friend brought a maid,” someone Bishop unkindly described as “useless but decorative”). The work-group’s janitor, “a Negro man,” also helped and Bishop “taught him now to shake cocktails, etc!” She declared this event “quite successful — at least the last people didn’t leave till almost ten.” Afterwards, “we had to carry everything back and forth.” Bishop and Lota finally “fell into bed about midnight and ate the last of the hor d’oeuvres [sic] in bed, for dinner!”

A break in this account so that Bishop could declare, “Next week I must take up my normal life somehow or other.” She had to go to the dentist and visit “Elizabeth [Naudin] and her baby.” She noted that Patricia was now “over four months old.”

The next subjects Bishop tackled were politics and the economy. She had been writing about “coups” and other unrest and noted that likely Grace had “seen in the papers” that “Brazil has been through crises after crises lately.” On that front at least, “things seem pretty calm at the moment.” The bigger issue was that “the country is bankrupt.” Bishop was hoping that the calm atmosphere would continue as there were “elections October 7th.” She noted that “there was supposed to be a big general strike last week,” but it appears it didn’t happen. She observed that they got prepared anyway, laying “in supplies.” Though in those days, this effort wasn’t exceptional, as Bishop observed that as a rule “I always keep stocked up with coffee, sugar, biscuits in tins, flour, etc.,” because “one never knows when” such staples might “vanish from the markets completely.” Bishop also confessed that she kept “some $$$ hidden away all the time — in case of any real emergency.”

She quickly added, to reassure her aunt, that they were “all right, of course.” She noted that it was really “the poor people who are suffering.” She described them as “incredibly patient,” wondering “why there isn’t a revolution every month, really.” She concluded this account with an observation that rings true nearly sixty years later: “And all the politicians except one or two are knaves and fools.” Her go-to description kicked in: “Poor Brazil!”
(Macumba worshippers gather in Rio, 1962.)
But, as bad as things were in that beleaguered country, she felt that “things look even worse elsewhere.” Take, for example, the “U S A [which] may be awfully rich — but their problems are worse, really, then [sic] any here.”

This letter was beginning to wind down, but there was still some news to report, which will comprise the next post.


*Note: I don’t know exactly what medal. Carmen Oliveira reports it in her book, but only notes that “it wasn’t the recognition this woman wanted.” Lota wanted “Carlos [Lacerda, Governor of Guanabara] to take a bigger interest in the Aterro [the park]. (p. 73)

No comments:

Post a Comment