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

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 145: A Canadian visitor

The next section of Bishop’s 10 June 1963 letter to her aunt is a long, dense single paragraph, the letter really getting underway with subjects. Before launching on a story, Bishop began with two questions: “How are you and where are you?” She had once again lost track of the elderly traveller, so opted to “send this [letter] to G V – or C/O Phyllis might be better.” Invoking her cousin was on purpose, it seems, because it prompted a third question: “How is Miriam?” (who would have turned two on 4 June). Miriam was clearly on her mind because she then told Grace about a recent encounter, “last week,” with someone who offered some unexpected information that made Bishop think of Miriam. This person was “a visiting Canadian girl who is a great [horse] rider.” Sadly, she does not provide a name for this interesting person who lived “near Paris!” and was “raising horses and teaching riding.” During their “conversations” this young woman “just happened to tell me a long story about how she taught a little girl – 8 yrs old – just like Miriam, apparently – to ride.” She explained that this activity did “wonders” for the child. Lest Grace think she was offering unsolicited advice, she quickly added, “…I’m not suggesting you put the baby on horseback!” Bishop had just found it “interesting to learn that apparently any kind of physical training, sports, etc – helps a lot.” She added that the child’s doctor “had congratulated” the young woman on “the little girl’s vast improvement in coordination, etc.” Bishop assured Grace that the young woman’s story was spontaneous, that she had not mentioned Miriam at all. 

Bishop further explained that this young woman “has been living in Europe a long time.” She was “visiting friends here who brought her to dinner.” The visit of  this Canadian coincided with a culinary treat Bishop had regularly made thanks to “an American friend … who can use the U S Post Exchange (where government, U.S., people buy everything.” This friend had gifted Bishop with “a large hunk of corned beef and some frozen blueberries.” So, the meal Bishop made for their guess was “corned beef and cabbage, and then blueberry fungy (however you spell it).” [Ed. Note: Bishop had spelled it correctly. This traditional N.S. dessert is also called blueberry grunt.] 

She elaborated on the dessert, noting she made “it in the oven with sour cream biscuits.” She noted that she made this treat whenever “this American happens to give me blueberries – which she does once a month or so.” Well, “the Canadian girl couldn’t tell what the dessert was until she took a bite.” Her response: “My God – its’ been twelve years since I tasted a blueberry!” Even though frozen blueberries couldn’t “compare with the good old wild ones, naturally,” the dessert was “not bad” and the “dinner was a great success.” 

Perhaps the visitor and the blueberries were the cause of what Bishop then observed: “I am going through another wave of nostalgia for the NORTH.” Even Lota was in on the pining, asking Bishop “to write about the price of a little old houses we know of in Connecticut.” Bishop knew such thoughts were “just the wildest day-dreaming – but I’d STILL like to own something in or around G V, I think.” Getting there was the question, of course, “but one never knows, these days.” 

Lota was deep in her job creating the park in Rio, but that would end one day and Bishop speculated that they “might leave Brasil for a good long stretch – I don’t know.” Just in case, Bishop asked her aunt to “keep your eyes opened.” She even pondered her grandparents’ house: “Are Norman (is it Norman?) & Hazel [Bowers] still living in the old house? I mean our – your – old house?” She wondered if they might “ever want to sell it?” Quickly, Bishop asked Grace not to “mention me, for heaven’s sake – both sides of my family seem to think I’m a millionaire, I suspect!” Part of the reason for that suspicion was because she lived in “a big house – but it’s somebody else’s!” She was sure her relatives were “all richer than I am.” 

Typed vertically in the left margin of the letter, Bishop asked if there were “oil furnaces in N.S. now?” She assumed there must be and added, “I don’t think I could cope with an old-fashioned furnace.” 

The letter was now winding down. She had tucked in some money apologizing for its belatedness, “I had the idea of sending you this to get a new hat for the wedding – and then I just lost track of the time.” The newspaper clipping that Mary had enclosed in her letter to Bishop, a description of the wedding, noted “that Mary had a hat of blue tulle.” This prompted Bishop to say that “maybe you’d still like a hat – if this [amount] will buy a hat any more! Half a hat, perhaps.” With a final request: “Please write soon,” Bishop closed with her usual “much love.” 

About a month and a half passed before Bishop wrote again to Grace, on 3 August 1963. The next post will take up its epistle. 

Click here to see Post 144.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 144: Back to 1963

The last “Letter to Aunt Grace” that I posted was on 7 April 2020. Months have passed but I was diverted by “Two Arts,” the EBSNS virtual exhibit, our first such exhibit, necessitated because of the pandemic. The exhibit is officially over, but you can still see Natallia Pavaliayeva’s wonderful Bishop inspired drawings by clicking the link in the menu on the right. There are still images for sale, if you are interested, and information about how to purchase can be found on the “Two Arts” page. 

I am glad to be able to turn once again to Bishop’s letters to her aunt. The last post in this series was for the letter dated 16 May 1963. In that letter, Bishop mentions that she had met the writer James Baldwin. Interestingly, recently, a friend sent me a link to an essay by Magdalena Zaborowska, a Baldwin scholar, about his home in the south of France. It resonated with me in many ways because of my own involvement with the Elizabeth Bishop house. I highly recommend this fascinating essay.

 I am hoping to post more regularly again, aiming perhaps for once a week, with a new account of what Bishop wrote to her favourite relative. 


Bishop’s next letter to her aunt is dated 19 June 1963, written in Rio, not quite a month after the previous missive. She begins right off the top reporting to Grace that she had recently heard (“Saturday”) from Aunt Mary, after not hearing “from any of this side of my family for so long.” Mary wrote to report on a family wedding: her daughter Joanne to Frank Eartly. Bishop noted that the report came “with newspaper clipping.” 

Grace had, of course, attended the ceremony and Bishop wrote that Mary “said you were looking awfully well and seemed awfully well.” Bishop was “glad to hear that.” The eighty-four-year-old Grace did a lot of “jaunts” (Bishop’s term, she also referred to Grace’s travels as “gallivanting”), which often “worried” her niece. But Grace was intrepid. 

Mary “had received” a letter Bishop has “mailed at the same time as one to you – in care of her,” probably the 16 May letter; but Mary didn’t indicate if she “had already forwarded it or if it had got lost.” Bishop noted that if Grace hadn’t received this letter, “it wasn’t much of a loss” because she had been “very cranky, as I remember, and gossipy.” 

At that point in the narrative, something went wrong with Bishop’s typewriter (“— 33 Oh dear—” some sort of mysterious code and exclamation). She must have sorted it out and continued, declaring that she was using a “little typewriter,” not her “larger old one,” which was “being repaired.” She wasn’t “used to this one,” but she had “suddenly realized” that the usual one was “covered with RUST,” a result of “the Rio climate.” And concluded that she too was “probably covered with rust, or mildew.”

(EB in Brazil ca. 1960s. Alas, I have no idea
who sent me this photo.)

A pause and a new brief paragraph to let Grace know that Mary had written both “before & after Elizabeth [Naudin, Mary’s oldest daughter] arrived.” Mary had told Bishop that her cousin’s new “baby had no more asthma, I gather,” news that the asthmatic Bishop declared was “good.” 

This letter was just getting underway. The next post offers Bishop’s account of a Canadian visitor.

 Click here to see Post 143

Saturday, October 3, 2020

New website for Suzie LeBlanc

"Suzie LeBlanc is a world-renowned interdisciplinary artist. Curious, nuanced and passionate, she sings and conducts to discover and share the beauty and emotional charge of music. Known for her interpretation of baroque, classical, contemporary, and Acadian works, she is acclaimed for her eclectic and original projects."

These sentences begin the “About” on the new website of EBSNS Honorary Patron SuzieLeBlanc. Her connection with Elizabeth Bishop remains strong and active and it is lovely to see all her exciting projects presented. The EBSNS will be keeping track of her creative endeavours, now and in the future, and will share those connected to Bishop when they happen. In these strange, challenging and difficult times, we are “in need of music” and poetry all the more. We thank Suzie and all her colleagues for continuing to bring us joy, solace and inspiration.