Thursday 16 January 2014

The Man from La Mancha

Today is the anniversary of the publication of the 1st edition of the 1st volume of El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha by Miguel Cervantes. Commonly called Don Quixote in English about equally pronounced as Donkey Hoti and Don Quicks-OatThis book is held in the same sort of esteem as the complete works of Shakespeare has in the English speaking world.  It is not everybody's cup of tea: it is long, the language is said to be archaic, the story line is not particularly subtle, and one of the stars is a bedraggled old nag called Rocinante. Many of my readers will be able to recall the name of Don Quixote's side-kick - and no I don't mean the horse! You can see on the left the Principals as famously rendered by Pablo Picasso. It was made into a rollicking musical called The Man From La Mancha starring Peter O'Toole as the dithery old fantasist and Sophia Loren who throughout the film seems as if she is just about to burst out of her bodice.  Needless to say, the film being made in 1972 for general release, she doesn't.  I've never read it, even in translation, so I can't give you any kind of synopsis let alone a value judgement - except to say that we derive our phrase tilting at windmills from one adventure in the story and that in the end [whoop whoop spoiler alert] he dies.

Hidalgo is an interesting word being a contraction of hijo de algo or son-of-somthing.  The use of the term was strictly regulated in and down from the Spanish Court in the Golden Age of that country.  You were still hidalgo even if your estate was mortgaged and your father had drunk, wenched and gambled himself into an early grave.  If you were hidalgo you could heave yourself up to your full height and insist on 'your rights': you were still better than your rich, diligent and and successful neighbours.  Don Quixote is at least partly an exposure of this delusion and its consequences.  Controlling and enshrining class divisions has been considered important by those at the top since ever there was civilised society.  One way in which this was enforced was in sumptuary laws which regulated who could wear what.  Only certain people could trim their sleeves with fur, or use the expensive Tyrian purple dye, or wear silk clothes.  There's a nice example where the law attempts to save the foolish from themselves in a diktat issued by England's Queen Elizabeth I.

If I have nothing useful to say on Don Quixote the book, why bring it up?  Well I was tickled by the coincidence that 6 days ago we acquired our very own Man from La Mancha who will be living with us up the mountain.  He's here to perfect his English, while learning how to make bread and how to plash a hedge.  As he's been picking grapes and olives and pruning vines and olive-trees on his home-place in the middle of Spain since he was 14, the latter task shouldn't be too difficult/different?  And he's already made a passable white yeast loaf for our multinational menage.

I think I might give Don Quixote a go, it can't be less tedious than Lord of the Rings.

1 comment:

  1. that bursting out of her bodice link was just something that could not be ignored...the plashing of a hedge much less entertaining...there again I've done that!