A Visit to Don OtavioA Mexican Journey
by Sybille Bedford, introduction by Bruce Chatwin
In the mid-1940s, Sybille Bedford set off from Grand Central Station for Mexico, accompanied by her friend E., a hamper of food and drink (Virginia ham, cherries, watercress, a flute of bread, Portuguese rosé), books, a writing board, and paper. Her resulting travelogue captures the violent beauty of the country she visited.
Bedford doesn’t so much describe Mexico as take the reader there—in second-class motor buses over thousands of miles, through arid noons and frigid nights, successions of comida corrida, botched excursions to the coast, conversations recorded verbatim, hilarious observations, and fascinating digressions into murky histories. At the heart of the book is the Don Otavio of the title, the travelers’ gracious host, his garrulous family and friends, and his Edenic hacienda at Lake Chapala. Published in 1953, A Visit to Don Otavio was an immediate success, “a travel book written by a novelist,” as Bedford described it, establishing her reputation as a nonpareil writer.
Bedford treats many aspects of Mexican culture and daily life with humor and grace: the slow passing of time, religious and civil fiestas…siestas and gunfights, bejeweled women an their sinful secrets, the music…and political gossip.
—Enrique Krauze, The New York Review of Books
Bedford is a beloved writer, and this travel memoir, originally published in 1953, brings all the same brilliance…Her impromptu trip is narrated in such amazing detail that you’ll delay the end, hoping the adventure will go on and on.
—Claire Luchette, Travel + Leisure
Before I am ready to call it quits, I would like to reread every book I ever deeply enjoyed, beginning with Jane Austen and Isaac Babel and Sybille Bedford’s A Visit to Don Otavio.
A powerful response to landscape and to people. Mrs. Bedford has the art of putting one bodily in the country with all senses awake, and one emerges with her from the Mexican experience bruised, shocked, but elated and with one’s brain turned on.
—V. S. Pritchett, New Statesman
One of the great works of travel literature.
—Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic
Here is Bedford in all her glory: the adventurer, the Bohemian, the reporter, the philosopher, the aesthete. Far from rendering the text chaotic, it thrives on these contrasting dimensions, engaging the reader on multiple levels and conveying the full range of Bedford’s many talents. Above all, what comes across is her sense of jouissance and fascination with the world.
—Hans Rollan, PopMatters
An amusing yet highly serious interpretation of Mexico.
—Shusha Guppy, The Paris Review
A rare gem, poised, vivacious and with a delicate and finely-tuned sense of humor.
—Barbara Kastelein, Inside Mexico
Everyone, whether or not he plans to visit Mexico, should read A Visit to Don Otavio.
—The New Yorker
Of all the women writers of this century, Sybille Bedford is, to my mind, the finest.
—Julia Neuberger, Evening Standard
[Bedford] is capable of exercising a fine sort of detachment while telling an intensely personal story.
—Virginia Lee Warren, The New York Times