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Weekly Photo Challenge: Angular – Don Quixote’s Windmills

The old fortress town of Consuegra in Central Spain  is famous for its windmills which remained in use until the beginning of the 1980s. These were the very windmills that Cervantes allegedly had in mind when he wrote Don Quixote and it is easy to see why because they sit in a ragged line along the top of a steep hill and they look down on the flat red dirt plains of La Mancha.

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Northern Spain – Alcalá de Henares and Cervantes, The World’s Greatest Novelist!

Cervantes Alcalá de Henares

On returning home I did as I promised and bought a copy of Cervantes’ ‘Don Quixote’.  I found it on Amazon for the bargain price of £1.99, I ordered it together with a book on the history of Spain and it arrived three days later.

Since publication in 1605 it is reputed to be the most widely read and translated book on the planet after the Bible. I tried to read it once but found it a bit heavy going so gave up quite quickly but as we walked along I resolved to give it another go upon returning home.

I opened the package and then I remembered why I didn’t finish it at the last attempt.  The book has nearly eight hundred pages and I estimate about four hundred and forty thousand words long and it has that tiny squashed up typeface that makes a book sometimes difficult to read.

It is the story of a man who believes that he is a knight, and recounts his adventures as he rights wrongs, mistakes peasants for princesses, and  “tilts at windmills,” mistakenly believing them to be evil giants.  As one of the earliest works of modern western literature, it regularly appears high on lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published.  In 2002 a panel of one hundred leading world authors declared Don Quixote to be the best work of fiction ever written, ahead even of works by Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.  Cervantes has also been credited with shaping modern literary style, and Don Quixote has been acclaimed as “the first great novel of world literature”.

So, just in case I start it and abandon it again I have decided to carry out some research and do some preparation to try and understand exactly why this is such a good book and why I should enjoy reading it.

don-quixote-book-cover

According to one reviewer Don Quixote is “so conspicuous and void of difficulty that children may handle him, youths may read him, men may understand him and old men may celebrate him”.  I hope that I am at that “men may understand him” part of life whereas previously I was only at the “youths may read him” stage and that this might make a difference.  I think it will also help that I have now visited La Mancha and have some small understanding of the place and the people and this will explain the book when I begin to read it.

The novel begins with :

 ”Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing…

…His fantasy filled with everything he had read in his books, enchantments as well as combats, battles, challenges, wounds, courtings, loves, torments, and other impossible foolishness, and he became so convinced in his imagination of the truth of all the countless grandiloquent and false inventions he read that for him no history in the world was truer.”

 I have read that first page a couple of times but have not yet felt completely ready to carry on so perhaps I will keep it for a holiday read?  I am determined to do it soon and I will let you know how I get on but for now I have got to finish my Bill Bryson book, which isn’t quite such an important work in the history of World literature but has the advantage of being very easy to read.

My Personal A to Z of Spain, W is for Windmills

La Mancha Windmills

It was going to be a long day so we rose early ready for a quick start and as usual my first job was to check the weather. The air felt fresher and from the hotel window I could see cloud to the east, which was a bit of a worry, but the lady on Spanish breakfast television seemed confident that it was going to be fine and out to the west it was clear blue and that was the direction in which we were heading. After breakfast and check out we packed the car and started on the one hundred and fifty kilometre drive to Toledo.

We drove first to the town of Alcázar de San Juan but this wasn’t because of any sort of research just an instinct that it would be interesting based on what seemed to be a promising name. I should have carried out some research because it didn’t seem very appealing at all, there wasn’t a castle to be seen and the clouds had caught up and overtaken us and there was a bleached out sort of chalky whiteness to the sky so we rather rudely carried on without stopping. Somewhere just west of the town we crossed the old A4 highway and that reminded me of the mad drive through Spain with my brother and two friends in 1984 when we drove from southern Portugal to the French border in thirty-six hours in a ten year old clapped out Ford Escort.

Back in the hotel there had been pictures of a castle and a row of windmills at the next town of Consuegra so as it came into view we left the main road and headed towards the top of the hill where they stood like a string of sentinels overlooking the town. From below, the castle looked magnificent but on close inspection it too was in a bit of a sorry state of disrepair but from here there were terrific views over the great plain of Castile and it was easy to see why this was once a very important military place as it guarded the direct route from the south to Toledo and Madrid. The castle was once a stronghold of the Knights of San Juan, the Spanish branch of the Knight’s Hospitallers of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem.

As well as the castle Consuegra is famous for its windmills which remained in use until the beginning of the 1980s. These were the very windmills that Cervantes allegedly had in mind when he wrote Don Quixote and it is easy to see why because they sit in a ragged line along the top of a steep hill and they look down on the flat red dirt plains of La Mancha.  I say allegedly here because although Consuegra clings to the Don Quixote connection because it is good for tourism, scholars now agree that the site Cervantes was describing was at the small town of Campo de Criptana which is east and South of Consuegra.

With their sails tied down and no longer spun by the wind they are almost smug in what is now their supremely safe tourist protected environment – one is a visitor information centre, one is a museum and one is a souvenir shop. They were originally built by the Knights and were used to grind the grain that was grown on the plain and they were passed down through the generations of millers from fathers to sons. The eleven Consuegra windmills are some of the best examples of Spanish windmills in Castilla-La Mancha and although it was a little cool at the top of the hill it was a good time to see them because there were very few visitors this early in the morning.

In fact the weather was getting progressively cooler and showing no signs of improvement and as we walked over the uneven rocky ground between the black sails and admired the bulk of the castle nearby we drew strange glances from bus tourists who were wrapped up in coats and scarves and gloves that were much more appropriate than our linens and short sleeves.

After leaving Consuegra we rejoined the road and headed north to Toledo and on the way the clouds evaporated and the sun poured through and we passed more castles at Mora and at Almonacid but we didn’t stop again. The scenery began to change too as it became more untidy and scrubby as we left the chequerboard fields and their delightful colours behind. Just before midday we reached the outskirts of Toledo and at the top of the city we could see the Alcázar and the Cathedral and we followed the signs to the historical centre and found a very large and convenient car park right on the edge of the city and in my league table of Spanish city car parks Toledo went straight to the top. At the bottom by the way remains Seville!

Cervantes, The World’s Greatest Novelist?

don-quixote-book-cover

On returning home I did as I promised and bought a copy of Cervantes’ Don Quixote.  I found it on Amazon for the bargain price of £1.99, I ordered it together with a book on the history of Spain and it arrived three days later.

Read the full story…