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Castles in Spain - Don Quixote

July 2020

The masterpiece of Don Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote, has become more of a romantic legend than the romantic legend that was first regaled in this 2-part novel. Part 1 was published in 1605, Part II in 1615. The titles, in Spanish, are:

Part 1: El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha, or The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha;

Part 2: Segunda parte del ingenioso caballero don Quijote de la Mancha, or Second Part of the Ingenious Knight Don Quixote of La Mancha.

Obviously, the titles themselves forewarn the reader that magnificent events and dream-like visions await him. Cervantes himself conceived of this work as a parody of the romances of chivalry that are, today, more vital than ever, along with the freedom to dream — of romances, of chivalry, of freedom itself.

Simply put, the plot of this obra maestra is as follows:

The knight Quixote is getting on in years; he is not quite the swashbuckler of his youth. And so, as he reads the literary ballad, or chanson sentimentale of olden days, his mind sets out upon the quest for adventure.

Don Quixote does not ride alone. His trusty old horse, Rocinante, is his faithful companion and equine twin, a soul-mate of the stable. He is also accompanied by Sancho Panza, a fellow dreamer, but a man of a bit more pragmatism. Let us say that the eyes of Sancho are not as clouded as those of Quixote.

Their journey is one that transcends this written work of literature that became a smash hit in 1612, receiving the immediate initial translation into English. The prototype of the novel of Western civilisation is owed to Miguel de Cervantes, along with those thousands of years of dreaming for freedom, for love, for the liberty to tilt at windmills.

Amigo Sancho offers the reader comic relief, intermixed with saucy wit and the type of broad humour that gave rise to the term, sanchismo. His ironic Spanish proverbs are probably more appreciated by Spaniards than by readers beyond those castles in Spain, but the earthy literary spark that brings a belly laugh can be appreciated in any tongue. Sancho Panza is a Shakespearean character with the flavors of Spain, and a vulgar ingenuity that is most palatable!

The French title for this chef d’œuvre is Don Quichotte; and the term for “building castles in the air” is bâtir des châteaux en Espagne. The basic idea, and the passion behind it, are the same, regardless of the language:

A man follows his own star to the glorious vision that he, and he alone, created — perhaps out of thin air, but most definitely out of the freedom to dream, to stumble, to fall, to pick himself up, and dream again; to wander and to err because of his search for the Dream, and to become found again, because of his desire to keep that Dream alive, and to, one day, possess the Dream.

Cervantes inhabited both characters of his literary creation, the crazy fool and the sane squire. This 2-part novel is considered the first "modern" novel, a classic archetype for all novels that would follow. I find the categorization somewhat insulting, since the work of Cervantes is timeless. He was a man of his time, before his time, and living out a destiny from an earlier time, those days of "antaño", of "d’antan", of yesterday.

To live well and wisely, is to live in the moment. Freedom is the most necessary element to pursue such a life. Miguel de Cervantes understood profoundly, even more profoundly than did his literary characters, the precious price of freedom, for he had been a captive slave.

A soldier in the Spanish military, fighting the Turks in the Mediterranean, Cervantes was captured by Barbary pirates and brought to Algiers in 1575. There, he was held prisoner for the next five years. His freedom was bought through ransom. His subsequent liberation from the forced labour of a slave marked the beginning of his artistic fervor that produced many works across several genres: dramatic works, sonnets, and entremeses, or short farces.

That Cervantes is best known for Don Quixote is a tribute, a statement, and the realization of his love of the dream, and the liberty to seek that dream. Don Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, in the character of Don Quixote, instructs his compañero in words that I, among millions, treasure, and fight to protect and to preserve, on this day, and every day:

“Freedom, Sancho, is one of the most precious gifts that heaven has bestowed upon men; no treasures that the earth holds buried or the sea conceals can compare with it; for freedom, as for honour, life may and should be ventured; and, on the other hand, captivity is the greatest evil that can fall to the lot of man.”


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