Don Quixote by Cervantes (1605 – what!?)

There’s a line in this that absolutely kills me. Gets me every time. Perfectly pitched.

Well, they’re lotsa funnies, but this one takes the galleta.

It ain’t much good in isolation, so let’s get the giggle glands going with some also-rans.

But first a run-up. For those of you who think you’ve got better things to do than loll around reading an 800-pager written four hundred years ago, I say, oh yeah, what’s that?

If you aren’t going to tell me and you’re still not going to read it, here it is in a sentence.

Old dotty duffer decides to turn knight errant (a medieval knight wandering in search of chivalrous deeds).

redressing all manner of wrongs and exposing himself to chances and dangers, by the overcoming of which he might win eternal honour and renown.

To do this he needs a horse, a henchman and a helmet.

A bit of scrabbling and compromise and he has Rocinante, a be-donkeyed serf Sancho Panza and, eventually, something to put on his head.

Once these preparations were completed, he was anxious to wait no longer before putting his ideas into effect, impelled to do this by the thought the loss the world suffered by his delay, seeing the grievances there were to redress, the wrongs to right, the injuries to amend, the abuses to correct and the debts to discharge.

What a classic set-up. The higher the highfalutin aspirations, the harder the fall down to earth with a bump.

From this height there’s nowhere to go but frustration, humiliation, embarrassment and ignominy.

And his first deed? To rescue a local farm wench he decides is a princess. Seriously, listen up. This stuff populates funny farms.

“…she is my queen and mistress; her beauty superhuman, for in her are are realised all the impossible and chimerical attributes of beauty which poets give to ladies; that her hair is gold; her forehead the Elysian fields; her eyebrows rainbows; her eyes suns; her cheeks roses; her lips coral; her teeth pearls; her neck alabaster; her breast marble; her hands ivory; she is white as snow; and those parts which modesty has veiled from human sight as such, I think and believe, that discreet reflection can extol them, but make no comparison.”

Lovely. Earth calling Don Quixote, will you come in, please.

Spanish readers all those centuries ago must’ve collapsed against walls clutching their sides, aching with laughter. They needed it. It was only a few decades after the Spanish Inquisition’s immolation, immurement and comfy chairs.

What do you mean get a move on? Okay, okay, five quick-fire ones.

“It is indeed clear to me that your visits to the wineskin require payment in sleep rather than music.”

“I say nothing about another blanket tossing, for such misfortunes are difficult to prevent, and if they come there’s nothing for it but to hunch your shoulders, hold your breath, close your eyes and let yourself go where fate and the blanket send you.”

“…either your worship is joking, or the gentleman must have rooms in his brain vacant.”

“Pray God, Sancho, I may see you dumb before I die.”

Ready? Nappy on?

Sancho says, on being bade to pick up Quixote’s famous head-piece

“It’s like nothing so much as a barber’s basin.”

Bump.

What a line. I always think of it when face-to-face with pride and pomposity, with or without a looking-glass.

Good book.

Also handy on hills if your handbrake isn’t working.

Thanks for being here.

Buy Don Quixote (free delivery, cardboard wrapping

Follow my I’m reading blog:

Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck (1962)

Why’d he go? He’s upfront upfront about it.

When you start getting old and perhaps not so well (he’s 58 at the time of writing) you begin to realise the head of the house becomes the youngest child.

I have searched myself for this possibility with a kind of horror. For I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment. I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage. My wife married a man; I saw no reason why should she should inherit a baby.

Steinbeck had been ill. He’d had a couple of scares. He could see the scythe’s shadow under the door.

So he decided to get off his ass and move. To go on a journey. To see the America he had written so much about. To feel it again after twenty-five years. To see if it was the same.

(The road trip ends up a ten-thousand-mile chicken thigh ‘n’ drumstick round the States. What Steinbeck finds out about his country is surprising.)

If this projected journey should prove too much then it was time to go anyway. I see too many men delay their exits with a sickly, slow reluctance to leave the stage. It’s bad theatre as well as bad living. I am very fortunate in having a wife who likes being a woman, which means that she likes men, not elderly babies. Although this last foundation for the journey was never discussed, I am sure she understood it.

Hey, let’s not kid ourselves here: a lot of the above is him talking not to us but to his third wife, Elaine.

A wise bit of prepping to make sure a rolling-pin doesn’t come whizzing after him when he buggers off.

What else to prep? Well, wheels would help.

A three-quarter-ton pickup truck with a large shed dumped on the back. Steinbeck, with due tongue-in-cheek deference to Cervantes, named it after the nutty knight Don Quixote’s bone-tired horse.

… he finally decided to call him Rocinante, a name which seemed to him grand and sonorous, and to express the common horse he had been before arriving at his present state: the first and foremost of all hacks in the world. [From Don Quixote]

Great. That’s the wife and wheels sorted.

What about a travelling companion? A latter-day Sancho Panza?

Woof.

Charley is Steinbeck’s Panza-in-a-poodle. Like Quixote and Panza, Steinbeck and Charley josh and jostle each other along the way.

Think distain, dignity, superior posturing and posing, putting on airs, cool disregard, and resigned contempt.

But love shines through. Naw.

Here’s Steinbeck pretending to be asleep when Charley is staring at him to wake him (lordy, dogs are so patient when they do that, aren’t they).

… often the war of wills goes on for a long time, I squinching my eyes shut and he forgiving me, but he nearly always wins.

Here’s Charley sulking after being shorn, He sat straight and nobly in the seat of Rocinante and he gave me to understand that while forgiveness was not impossible, I would have to work for it.

Some things were just beneath the proud pooch. Charley has no interest in cats whatever, even for chasing purposes.

Then there’s the one-upmanship. Charley could with his delicate exploring nose read his own particular literature on bushes and tree trunks and leave his message there, perhaps as important in endless time as these pen scratches I put on perishable paper.

And of course he’s far more sophisticated than Steinbeck. On coming across manure, Charley moved about smiling and sniffing ecstatically like an American woman in a French perfume shop.

Life at such close quarters for so long can have a profound effect on one’s outlook on life.

I’ve seen a look in dog’s eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts.

Who says dogs are dumb.

Thanks for being here.

Buy Travels with Charley (free delivery, cardboard wrapping)

Buy Don Quixote (free delivery, cardboard wrapping)

Follow my I’m reading blog: