Graduating from university, Lucy Neville faces a dilemma: find a job or disappear to Latin America, the exotic land of her childhood dreams?
She arrives in Mexico City with little money and only basic Spanish. Her to-do list is simple enough: get a job, find a place to live, then master the language.
Lucy promptly finds work as an English teacher and scores a room in a sunny apartment. Her new flatmate, the well-connected Octavio, is unnervingly attractive.
So begins a comic tsunami of challenges as Lucy negotiates Mexico City's stratified worlds, meeting everyone from street-hawkers to crazy gringos, academics and socialites. She marvels at how cheerfully they cope in a town held together by corruption, where kidnapping is a constant threat and decapitations by narcotics gangs are a staple of the daily news.
As Lucy struggles with her Spanish verbs, the two men she accidentally falls in love with discover each other's existence. In the midst of the turmoil that follows, her extrovert family arrive for a visit.
Oh Mexico! is a classic travel memoir lit up by great warmth, wit and wisdom. With a curious mind and a knowing eye, Lucy's account of life in the riotous third-world metropolis that is Mexico City is utterly irresistible.
Review: Oh Mexico is an extremely informative, funny and enjoyable travel memoir of Lucy Neville who travels to Mexico finds a job as an English teacher and attempts to understand the Spanish ways and language. Oh Mexico takes you on a journey where you meet interesting characters and learn about the fascinating South America ways. I highly recommended Oh Mexico; but take this as a warning, you will honestly want to pack your suitcase and head off travelling on completion of this book.
Lucy Neville is the eldest daughter of Richard Neville and Julie Clarke. She was born in 1983 and grew up in the Blue Mountains. After completing school she worked as a volunteer on an indigenous reserve in Costa Rica. Returning to Australia she did an Arts Degree in Politics and Latin American Studies before travelling to Spain to study teaching English as a foreign language. From there she continued to Mexico City where she spent several years teaching English, exploring, and performing in a minor role in one of Mexico's biggest soap opera Tequila Loving.
Allen and Unwin
Author: Lucy Neville
Question: What originally inspired you to go to Latin America?
Lucy Neville: It was always Latin America that had most appealed to my sense of the exotic. Perhaps because it was geographically the furthest away, and it was the one continent where my hippy traveller parents never got to. My first contact with Latin America was through its literature -magical realism. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez was the first novel I really felt passionate about- so perhaps on some level I was expecting to find a less rigid reality over there.
Question: What did you enjoy most about Mexico?
Lucy Neville: The intensity of the street life, colour and smells and smoke, and the general chaos of public spaces. The streets in Mexico are market places, performance spaces and restaurants all at the same time. Coming from such a well organised society like Australia, where you can't even sing on the street without a licence, to be amongst this kind of disorder is enlivening.
Question: How did you go picking up the language, Spanish?
Lucy Neville: That was the hardest aspect of settling into life in Mexico City. Learning a language is a constant battle -especially for slightly neurotic people like myself. You really have to swallow your pride and become toddler again, and just be comfortable with the fact that you're this constant source of amusement for everyone. The frustration of not being able to express myself, and never quite understanding what was going on, was at times unbearable for me. But the highs of getting it right (although less frequent in my case) do make it all worth it in the end.
Question: Did you know when you began your journey that you would write a book about your experiences?
Lucy Neville: No, I had no idea. It wasn't until I was just about to return to Australia that I started taking notes. A friend of mine gave me the suggestion, which I had thought was a rather big call at the time. But then I realised that the whole time I'd been in the country, I'd been desperately trying to understand how this society worked that was so different from my own- and because of my job, teaching English , I had been lucky enough to get to know lots of different types of people and learn all about their lives. So, in the end, I did feel I wanted to share with other people what I got out of this experience.
Question: Have you changed the way you live at home because of your Mexican experience?
Lucy Neville: In general, people in Mexico are more community oriented. For this reason it's a more inclusive society; older people have more fun and have a strong role in society, and social events are usually intergenerational. People are less focused on themselves and place a huge amount of value on simply being together. I came to feel that this is a healthier way of living - so I would like to think that this mentality has rubbed off on me in some way.
Question: Would you recommend Mexico as a travel destination? If so where would you suggest tourists go and don't go?
Lucy Neville: Yes, absolutely. Not surprisingly, I feel very passionately about Mexico City, but it's not exactly ideal for a relaxing get-away. Mexico is a huge country with hundreds of travel possibilities depending on if you're seeking adventure, beach chill-out time or something more cultural. If you're into just sitting in atmospheric cafes in ancient plazas and absorbing the energy of the street-life, Oaxaca City is unparalleled.
Question: Do you have a Mexican recipe you can share with us?
Lucy Neville: Barbacoa is popular Mexican recipe made by wrapping mutton in Maguey leaves and leaving it to cook underground for about 20 hours. After much experimentation, Ricardo has adapted this recipe to suit Australian lamb and above ground ovens.
Ricardo's Australian adapted Barbacoa
2kg of lamb spare ribs, or shoulder
6 oz chick peas (raw)
6 oz rice
2-3 tablespoons chilli flakes
3 pinches salt
1 onion finely chopped
1 bunch of coriander finally chopped
Pre-made tortillas/ masa (maize flour)
1. Preheat the oven to 120 degrees.
2. Add 2 litres of water, chilli flakes, salt and chickpeas to a saucepan.
3. Wrap lamb tightly in alfoil. Make holes on the bottom and place it in a steamer which fits inside the saucepan. If you do not have a big enough steamer, use a colander and a large pot. In this case place the colander in the pot and seal with alfoil.
4. Bake in the oven for 8 to 10 hours. The lower the temperature, and the longer you leave it in the oven, the more tender it will come out.
5. 20 minutes before taking it out of the oven, add the rice and more water if necessary.
6. Serve the broth in a bowl and add 1 or 2 ribs per serve. Garnish with onion, coriander, and lime and accompany it with tortillas.
You can buy pre-made tortillas and just heat them up on a pan.
To make tortillas
2 cups water
2 cups masa
Put masa (maize flour) in a large bowl. Gradually add warm water and mix for about 4 minutes. Mould dough into balls and press between two chopping boards to flatten. Cook the tortillas for 1 minute on each side on very high heat.
Note: There is no mention of removing fat at any stage
Interview by Brooke Hunter