Sunday, February 16, 2014

POETS | Elizabeth Bishop in Ouro Preto

Time Traveler in front of Eliz Bishop's
Ouro Preto home on her 103rd birthday,
 February 8, 2014. Photo by ATMarlin.
OURO PRETO, Brazil, February 8, 2014–At the beginning of every year recently I seem to find myself following the trail of Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979):
546 Mariana Road, leading from
 Ouro Preto. One of Bishop's homes in
1960-70. This photo, and any others not
 attributed, by JTMarlin.
My first stop was the house at Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais, Brazil. Ouro Preto (literally, "Black Gold") is the old capital of Minas Gerais. It is at the center of the Estrada Real (Royal Road), which stretches like an inverted Y from Paraty and Rio on the Brazilian coast up to Diamantina in the former mining area north of Rio.

This Ouro Preto house is in a beautiful location. However, it is not being kept up and does not have the status either of a public monument or a well-cared-for private property.

It is owned by Linda Nemer, who is described by her friend Affonso Romano de Sant'Anna as a “lovely woman”.

However, she is nearly 83 and unfortunately not in good health. She is herself concerned about her ability to care for the house and ensure its future.

Plaque in Portuguese on Bishop's home
 in Ouro Preto. Photo by JTMarlin.
Nemer has welcomed visitors to Casa Mariana, where Bishop lived in the 1960s. For example, in 2008, a Vassar College tour of Bishop homes in Brazil led by Professor Barbara Page visited the house.

Nemer asked the Ford Foundation about taking over Casa Mariana but nothing seems to have come of this request. Nemer met Bishop in 1969, through her brother, the painter José Alberto Nemer.  José Alberto introduced the two of them and asked his sister to help Bishop, who was passing through an alcohol-related crisis.

For the next ten years, until Bishop's death in 1979, the Nemer family helped take care of Bishop. José Alberto was also an artistic adviser to Zuleika Borges Torrealba, who later purchased Bishop's home in Petropolis (and has kept it up beautifully, as I will show in a later post).

Looking up the road to Bishop's
Ouro Preto home. 
Affonso Romano de Sant'Anna in 2011 posted some comments in Portuguese on Elizabeth Bishop's Centenary that I have translated using Google Translate. He wrote about Elizabeth Bishop in his book Seduction of the Word. In the 1980s, after Bishop's death, he says there was a poets’ soirée in Ouro Preto, in which Lloyd Schwartz read poems of Elizabeth in English and Affonso Romano read translations. Paulo Henriques Britto, who translated Bishop's poems into Portuguese, was Romano's student at PUC, the Jesuit University in Rio. Romano says:
I met Elizabeth in Rio in the 70s–she was going to give a course in creative writing at Harvard, and called me at the Hotel Gloria (or was it New World?). She gave me several books of American authors she had read and wanted to pass on to me.
Carmen Lucia Oliveira wrote ​​a book about Elizabeth Bishop's Brazil years with Lota de Macedo Soares. Her book was translated by Neil Besner, a Canadian who grew up in Brazil.

View of Bishop's home from the road.
A new Portuguese movie has been produced with English subtitles about Bishop's relationship, between 1951 and 1967, with de Macedo Soares, a Brazilian architect. She took her own life in 1967 and Bishop returned to the United States, where she died in 1979. The movie gives full credit to Oliveira's book. Marta Goes's play does not provide this credit, but in Amy Irving’s translation of Marta's play at Vassar, she includes a proper credit to Oliveira.

To find the Bishop house on the Mariana Road, one exits one side of the Museum of the Inconfidencia in the main square of Ouro Preto. It's a short walk and an even shorter drive.

Hotel Solar das Lajes.
The Bishop house is close to the Hotel Solar (i.e., Villa) das Lajes. Both the hotel and the house have spectacular views of the valley below.

One place in Ouro Preto where Bishop used to hang out with de Macedo Soares is Pouso do Chico Rei, which used to be run by Bishop's friend Lilli Correia de Araujo, a widowed Danish innkeeper, who died six years ago.

The pousada is now being run by Lilli's grandson. Room #8, where Bishop stayed when her house was being renovated, is called the Elizabeth Bishop room. Visitors to the pousada who have posted on TripAdvisor praise its historical associations but some have concerns about maintenance.

Common room of Pouso do Chico Rei. Alice Tepper
Marlin and Caroline Tepper-Marlin are checking it out.
One way we can honor the memory of America's great poets is to mark properly and preserve the homes where they did their work. Like her home in Key West, Bishop's home in Ouro Preto is not a site whose condition conveys great respect for its former resident. It has a marker in Portuguese. The pousada also has a marker, but it makes no reference to Elizabeth Bishop.

The Bishop house is closed. The pousada is open to the public, but it is a matter of luck for a visitor to find someone there to show one around.

In front of pousada. Photo
 by Alice Tepper Marlin.
Once inside, there are some Bishop memorabilia under glass inside, but as mentioned some who have stayed there say that it is not being kept up adequately since the death of the innkeeper who ran it.

Most important, the future of both Bishop's house and the pousada are uncertain.

Is there an institution that could be a clearinghouse for those who are interested in the future of Elizabeth Bishop's residences? The Poetry Foundation?

View of the Ouro Preto valley from Mariana Road.
Update, 2017: Excellent review of new biography of Bishop in The New Yorker.