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

Friday, November 22, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 132: Catching up to Grace

Bishop’s next 1963 letter was dated “Rio again – January 7th,” only a few days after the previous long missive. She reported that she “did get a letter from you in Petrópolis.” Since she hadn’t yet managed to mail the 3 January letter, she decided to “add a note, and send this to Florida.” She had wondered if Grace was going there, but didn’t know for sure and had “addressed [the previous letter] to G.V.” So, this addition was by way of yet another postscript. Grace had sent a photo of herself with the letter and Bishop was “delighted to have the picture.” Scribbled in the margin in Bishop’s almost indecipherable scrawl was the comment: “You don’t look a [speck?] older than in 1957—honestly.” With clear sincerity, Bishop wrote: “I’ll cherish it.” She added that she would reciprocate next time she wrote, “a couple of snapshots of me taken recently,” which she observed were “less bad than usual!” 
(Perhaps it was this photo of Grace Bulmer Bowers,
circa 1963. AUA)
Then she remarked how glad she was that her aunt “can get away from the cold – although at the moment I wouldn’t mind a bit.” She reported that “it has been, probably, about 98 in Rio today – and is going higher.” With this kind of heat (and undoubtedly lots of humidity, too), Bishop declared enthusiastic thanks for “our AIR CONDITONERS.” She noted that she just “stayed in and worked.”

Bishop then reported in real time that “Lota just called to say she was on her way home (7;30).” The semicolon was likely on the same key as the colon (as it is still on most keyboards). Lota indicated that she was “so hot & tired” that Bishop didn’t need to “cook anything.” This request didn’t mean they would have nothing to eat, but rather, as Bishop noted, that they would “settle for mangada – that is lots of mangos,” which she noted were “wonderful now.” 
(Mangos and mangada)
Bishop explained further that what they did with this fruit was beat it “up in the Waring Mixer with ice & lemon juice and sugar.” The result was “a sort of soupy sherbet and is delicious.” She also said that the “figs are wonderful now, too – huge – and I made some ‘Greek’ jam with them.” Bishop was clearly still doing lots of food preparation, even if not cooking a meal that particular night.

Then Bishop provided her aunt with a list of other fresh produce, to which they had access: grapes, pineapples, and the last of our strawberries.” These were brought with them from Samambaia, as well as: “leeks, the last artichokes, string beans, baby carrots, and onions – by the yard.” She noted that “they hang them in strings – the dried stalks woven together.” This cornucopia of fruits and vegetables was “enough of all to give away,” too.

Lota had a “tenant farmer” who planted, tended and harvested this produce, and though Bishop noted that he “is cheating us like crazy,” they still “do get a lot of fresh vegetables!” I wonder if this fellow as still “Manuelzinho.” Bishop also had access to a long list of herbs: “parsley, basil, oregano, thyme, mint, and dill,” which she noted were “all flourishing at the moment.” Additionally, she had “rosemary all the time,” and noted an item that was rare for Grace, at least fresh: “we have a laurel tree so we always have fresh bay leaves at hand.”

Bishop’s additional letter was nearly finished. Two more short paragraphs were left. The next post will turn to them, two quite different subjects.

Click here to see Post 131.

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