Thursday, June 19, 2014

POETS | Eliz Bishop in Petropolis (Place, Movie)

Petrópolis is named for the Emperor
of Brazil, Dom Pedro I, who proclaimed 
 Brazil independent from Portugal in 
September 1822, with little pushback.

The film Reaching for the Moon was shown in a U.S. theater (in California) for the first time a few months ago, in December 2013.

It is about American poet Elizabeth Bishop and Brazilian architect Carlota (Lota) de Macedo Soares, and their 16-year relationship, from 1951 to 1967.

Most of the time they lived in Petrópolis, north of Rio. They also spent much time together, as noted in an earlier post, at the Pouso do Chico Rei in Ouro Preto, farther north in Minas Gerais, on the Estrada Real (Royal Highway), created during Brazil's Gold Rush.

The bookcase at Petrópolis home, packed
with books by Bishop et al. Note
books by Carmen Oliveira and Robert
Lowell. All photos by JT Marlin, 2014.
Here are some facts about the movie, abbreviated from a post on it in Portuguese by a friend of the family behind the movie:
  • The movie's opening and closing shots are in New York. Bishop and Robert Lowell (a shy man who was attached to Quincy House at Harvard; I talked with him at some length while I was an undergraduate) sit on a bench facing a Central Park discussing her poem, and book, “One Art”.
  • The movie's title refers to the tall lampposts Lota designed for the Parque do Flamengo. The moon lights up the opening stanzas of Bishop’s Rio de Janeiro poem “Going to the Bakery.”
    A sample of the lush vegetation and
    water flow outside the writing studio.
  • Bruno Barreto made the movie based on a 1995 bestselling- in-Brazil book, Carmen L. Oliveira’s Flores raras e banalíssimas: A história de Lota de Macedo Soares e Elizabeth Bishop, translated into English by Neil K. Besner (Rutgers, 2001).
  • Barreto’s mother, Lucy Barreto, is one of the producers - she bought the rights to the book,  having long been a fan of Bishop’s poetry and having met the couple at a lunch in Fazenda Samambaia, in Petrópolis.
    This is a view of Bishop's desk, where
    she wrote iPetrópolis.
  • Bruno Barreto was at first not interested in a movie, but changed his mind when he saw an opportunity to make a film that would have a more general message, about loss.
  • The actress Miranda Otto portrays a shy but sensual Bishop, Glória Pires plays Lota as seductive. Bishop washes her hair while Lota soaks in the perfect white bathtub in the mountains at Petrópolis.
Another view of the jungle-like
exterior of the writing studio.

Magdalena Edwards, in a review of the movie, says she tried to get inside Samambaia and couldn't. I can understand this. The main highway north to Minas Gerais is excellent for traveling. But leaving this highway to go up into the hills on steep winding roads can be bewildering.

Also, the owner of the estate used to be away often, winning prizes at dog shows. (There is a pet shop in New York City called Petrópolis that I suspect got its name from the network of kennels on the Samambaia property.)

It was a total coincidence that allowed my wife Alice and me to spend several hours at Samambaia, which unlike the other residences of Elizabeth Bishop is immaculately maintained. It was a privilege that we won't forget.