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

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Why Sybille Bedford says so littel about herself in A Visit to Don Otavio

Continue to read w/ pleasure Sybille Bedford's A Visit to Don Otavio, a terrific travelogue about her journey through Mexico in 1953 - and not sure how much Mexico may have changed (in one respect it's much more dangerous, with the drug trade and militant criminal elements, in others, travel there is much easier - with better air transport, more info from numerous guidebooks, better hotels in the larger cities at least). She does a great job blending tales of travelers' woes - in particular, the train journey to Mazatlan is a great chapter, w/ the train arriving a mere 17 hours late (in one amusing sequence as she inquires about leave Mazatlan she's told the net day's train is sold out and so is next week's; what can she do? She's told: Take yesterday's train. It should be here soon.), with the hotel a place of squalor and infestation, and so forth - balanced against some scenes of absolute beauty. Similarly, she maintains a puzzled amazement at the Mexican culture, the indifference to punctuality, the swarm of red tape, etc. - but balanced against a love and respect for the spirit of the people, the openness and hospitality and generosity - at least most of the time (she also witnessed an inebriated passenger literally tossed from a moving bus and left scraped and bloody in the highway, and nobody particularly caring). One curious aspect of this chronology: She tells us virtually nothing about herself or her life: where is she from? how is she supporting herself on this journey? who is she? Some of this of course we can learn from Wikipedia and other sources, but it's striking how little she reveals - making this book, I think, even greater as we can more easily identify w/ her travels in that her personality doesn't mediate between the subject and the object (us). Because she says so little about herself, the journey is ours.

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