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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Great travel writing v imperial arrogance and hegemony

Sybille Bedford concludes her Mexican journey - A Visit to Don Otavio (1953) - in high style w/ an account of a journey by car from the inland lakeside town San Pueblo to the Pacific Coast. No need to worry about spoilers, as obviously SB survived the trip, but it was the most reckless, dangerous, in fact idiotic excursion anyone's every embarked upon. She went w/ to British/American men; they'd been warned by the obnoxious Englishman, Mr. Middleton, about the myriad dangers of the trip - flooded arroyos, no gas or services, danger from heat and dehydration and hunger, danger from mosquito-borne illnesses, fragility of the car, and so forth - and he tells them about a thousand things they should do to prepare for the journey. The owner of the car, in reaction against the meddlesome Middleton's unsought advice, takes almost no precautions whatsoever - and they encounter all of the difficulties and more: being stuck in sand, blasting through deep water only to soak and stall the engine, a flat tire w/ no suitable spare, and so on. In fact, they never make it to the coast, as they wisely (first smart decision) decide to turn back when an arroyo crossing is too treacherous even for this crew. This aborted journey, and the suffering that ensues (SB gets seriously ill) is almost the metaphoric conclusion to this travelogue, in effect a warning against imposing one's own values on a foreign landscape. SB's spirit of adventure and eagerness to immerse herself in a foreign culture is the essence of good traveling and travel writing; but her participation in a stupid stunt jaunt that no native would ever attempt in a vehicle unsuited to this landscape is the essence of imperial arrogance and hegemony - as she intuits, in retrospect.

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