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22.1.05

Don Quixote at 400

Salvador Dalí, Don QuixoteAs noted around Blogistan (credit for first link that I saw goes to Mark Sarvas at The Elegant Variation), on January 16, 1605, Cervantes published the first part of Don Quixote. An article (Cervantès en majesté, January 17) by Diane Cambon for Le Figaro describes the 400th anniversary celebrations in Spain. There have been all sorts of new editions of the novel in Spain, from a lowly paperback (made to sell to the masses at 1 € [US$1.30] a piece) to a 3,000-page critical edition with illustrations and annotations. Here is my translation of an excerpt:

Since the last months of 2004, Quixote is heading up book sales. For many Spaniards, the myriad of celebrations is an opportunity to rediscover the hero of La Mancha. For the majority of them, this work, unavoidable in any scholarly curriculum, is perceived like barely digestible concrete. "Here, you study Don Quixote at the age of 10. It's much too early to be able to appreciate the breadth of the work. Young Spaniards confront classic Castilian and find the novel too complicated," admits Ramiro Sanchez, a high school literature teacher in Madrid. Anyway, most Spaniards recognize only the book's first line («En un lugar de la Mancha cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme...», or "In a village of La Mancha, the name of which I have no desire to call to mind") and very few claim to have read both parts of the novel.

And yet, Don Quixote is firmly anchored in Spanish society. "In contrast to other countries, where the national heroes are real people, here the country's most charismatic and heroic figure is a fictional character," says Ramiro Sanchez. The Spanish make pilgrimages to Don Quixote's sacred places, as if they were following the trail of a famous person. The village of El Toboso, where the picaresque hero meets his lady, Dulcinea, in reality only a peasant girl, has become an important location. The road of the windmills, which Don Quixote mistakes for giants, has also become part of an ecotourist, cultural circuit. For the anniversary, the government has furthermore marked out 2,500 km [1,553.5 miles] of paths throughout Spain (Ruta de Don Quijote), on which tourists can lose themselves in the quest for a picaresque adventure.
The Spanish government's official Web site for the anniversary, IV Centenario de El Quijote, is chock full of information. You can download the novel (as two .PDF files, in Spanish, of course), look at 238 images of the Don Quixote pilgrimage route, find links to a speech on Don Quixote («Mi entrañable señor Cervantes») given by Jorge Luis Borges in 1968 at the University of Texas, Austin, among other papers and articles, and lots more.

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