The last leg of our route deviated from Don Quijote’s route, to chase down some people who have studied Cervantes or the novel. In Cambrils, we met some wonderful high school teachers who recently completed a similar digital project with their students mapping Don Quijote in Barcelona. In Valencia, home of Gregorio Mayans who was Cervantes’ first biographer, we talked to a history professor at the University of Valencia, and soaked in the Mediterranean atmosphere of this beautiful city. From there it was back to Madrid to turn in the car, and head to the airport!
In Barcelona we spent our first day exploring the Barrio Gótico, and the places associated with Cervantes and the Quijote including the house where Cervantes spent some time, with the help of an expert on Barcelona and the Quijote, our guide Rafa Burgos. The next day we started back in the Barrio Gótico, and the Biblioteca de Catalunya, but then we toured modern Barcelona, and chased down Gaudí all day, along with half of Europe, the Americas, and Asia!
The group loved Toledo so much, we went there twice! The first time the students saw this medieval city on a hill, they saw El Greco’s beautiful Vista de Toledo as they approached on a bike trail along the Tajo River. It was spectacular, and even Dr. Lewis, who has been to Toledo many times, was blown away! As we explored the narrow streets, old churches, cathedral, and former synagogues and mosques, we saw some of what Cervantes saw of what was still in his time multicultural city. We also soaked in all the El Greco (and one Goya) mystery and beauty that we could! It was also a good place to do some shopping, eat really well, and wash our very dirty laundry after our first week was over.
This beautiful place was some of what we expected–agricultural, flat, windmills; and some of what we did not expect–emerald green and blue lagoons, craggy mountains, abundant wild flowers (AMAPOLAS!!), castles, and lots and lots of vineyards! Our home base was the Casa de la Torre, a lovely inn that dates back to the time of Don Quijote (or rather, Dulcinea) in El Toboso.
Museums, special exhibits, monuments and tracing the footsteps of Cervantes were on our packed 3 day agenda in Madrid! We couldn’t have made it through these long days, still suffering from jet lag without our daily shot(s) of cafe con leche and cortados!!
Images from our visit to the University of Virginia Special Collections Library, April 29, 2016
We left Toledo to stop by Cervantes’ birthplace, and then on to our splurge stay at a Parador in Alcañiz, in southern Aragón, our idea of what the Dukes’ palace in the Quijote might have been. This one-time palace to the Duke of Parma (the Infante Felipe, son of Bourbon Felipe V), had been originally a convent-castle for the Order of Calatrava in the 12th century.
While browsing through our photo gallery to find something that I could write a post about, I stumbled upon our time in Toledo. I also noticed that in every picture, I’m wearing a tank top because the weather was nice enough to permit such a garment! During our time in Toledo, we took a bicycle tour with a lovely man named Nacho, a local who brought us to the highlights of the city.
One of the main components of the city that I thought was incredibly important was a tiny sign in the middle of a busy plaza. This sign, which denoted the location in which part of El Quixote was found, was a huge part of the reason that we went to Toledo in the first place. While the plaque itself wasn’t anything impressive, and was rather out of the way, it was still nice to see that there was at least some acknowledgement of the fact that Toledo played a role in the development of the novel itself.
While we were on the tour, we ran into two men from the United States who were also touring the city. What’s more, they were touring the entirety of the Spanish countryside. This conversation, which was a refreshing break from Spanish culture, inspired me to return to Spain after graduation (155 days away, but who’s counting?) in order to explore more of the country that I unfortunately could not get to during this excursion.
During the tour, it occurred to me that we were having a very Quixote-esque moment ourselves. Although our travels on our mighty steeds (the bikes) led us through only a limited area of the Spanish countryside (Toledo), we still had our own opportunity to travel through the country and explore different aspects of the culture. In a different way, we were our very own forms of Don Quixote.
When we think of literary classics in America, we typically think of anything written by Shakespeare, Mark Twain, or Ernest Hemingway. When you go to Madrid, specifically between the dates of March 4th and May 29th of this past year, you’ll be greeted with a classic none other than Miguel de Cervantes.
During our time in Madrid, we were lucky enough to stumble upon an exhibit that the Biblioteca Nacional had put up (a description of which can be found here) that described the life and times of our good pal, Miguel de Cervantes. The exhibit covered everything from his birth in 1547 to his death in 1616, and then even past that. The exhibit covered two large rooms with exhibits that talked about the possible origins of his birth, which is still up for debate, and had several examples of the works he created throughout his life.
The very last room ended in a wall-to-wall screen which essentially covered the entire exhibit in a technological way, which we, as millennials, greatly appreciated and thought was a breathtaking exhibit. While there was no interactive display of Cervantes that we could interact with, which would have made the entire exhibit an unforgettable experience, we still spent much more time in there that we would care to admit.
After posing with the statues outside of the library, smelling the rosemary bushes, and shopping through the gift shop at the end of the exhibit, it hit me just how important Cervantes was to the entirety of Spain as a country. I believe that this was a significantly beneficial way to begin our journey throughout all of Spain. Every step of the way, we saw a bit more of Cervantes and how he was essentially ever-present. The purpose of the project was, essentially, to see how much the culture of Spain has been changed as a result of Cervantes’ writings, and I can say with certainty that there was in fact an element of Cervantes, and especially El Quijote, everywhere we went.
In Valencia we met with Professor of Modern History, Monica Bolufer Peruga, at the Universitat de Valencia. While Valencia was not referenced in Don Quixote, Gregorio Mayans y Siscar (1699 – 1781), a Spanish historian and writer who is considered to be the first person to write a biography on Cervantes, a real one based on investigation and sources, was born in Valencia and attended the very university we visited. During this interview, we focused on Mayans and whether Valencia has any connections to Don Quixote.
Professor Bolufer Peruga told us that she read the novel at the same the majority of Spaniards have, which was in school when she was about seventeen or eighteen as mandatory reading. She admitted she has not read the entire book start to finish since, but has read excerpts and parts.
She also mentioned how Don QQ has been adapted for the younger generation. There used to be a lot of children’s books and drawings. Now as somebody with children, she can’t say she’s seen those be used a cultural reference lately. She says she remembers sees a comic strip when I was younger. So my children haven’t seen. I still remember the song from the TV series. So it was lost the cultural reference or it has lessened.
When asked why Gregorio Mayans chose to write about Cervantes, she explained that he had been an intellectual very interested in the history of Spanish literature. He had made attempts to recover Spanish classics from the Enlightenment period, however his work on Cervantes was commissioned by the British ambassador to Spain at the time. The objective of his work was to acquaint the world with the author. During this time, Spanish intellectuals felt that in general most European intellectuals had very limited knowledge of Spanish culture, and they often made prejudices or assumptions of the country, so there was an effort to inform and show the contributions of Spanish culture, and that is what more than what the English and French believed it was.
When asked if there was a presence of Don Quixote and/or Cervantes in Valencia, Professor Bolufer Peruga didn’t seem to think there was, at least not in the public space of the city, other than hearing there was a street named after Cervantes. It wasn’t a major road of importance though. We asked if there had been anything done in recognition of the 400th anniversary of his death in Valencia as there had been in Madrid, she said she hadn’t heard anything about any exhibitions or celebrations.
However, she reminded us that we had to keep in mind that Valencia did not have a presence of Cervantes because he wasn’t an author who had any connections to the city. We also had to take into consideration the historical context of when the novel was written.
Valencia had been conquested like the rest of Spain under the marriage of Ferdinand II and Isabella I of Castile, but it still belonged to the distinct crown of Aragon meanwhile Cervantes was a castellano author of the Crown of Castile. The crowns had very separate and distinct political and cultural institutions. Therefore Valencia didn’t have a strong relationship with Castile.
For smaller towns that are not as strong as cities such as Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia have a larger touristic presence of Don Quijote. DQ is a great main tourist attraction in a zone like Castile-La Mancha, which is not rich for other reasons, and so tourism connected DQ to the region, which has great economic potential for them. In other cities, it would be almost artificial. The area has conserved the heritage of DQ.
Professor Bolufer Peruga also mentioned how she read an article about how in the 18th century, the brother of a British ambassador to Spain traveled through Spain. He was interested in Spanish culture. He traveled and he said that DQ was a book that every traveler should take with him. And so DQ was very known during this time in the circles of intellectuals and cultured people. But within those circles it was the most known Spanish novel, and so they used DQ has reference, as a guide. They would take it with them materialistically when they traveled to Spain, they could compare the streets and places referenced in the book to see how it was in real life, just like we just did.
Our hostess at Casa de la Torre in the small town of El Toboso, La Mancha, Spain (home to the legendary Dulcinea) is a great collector of all things Quixote. Here is our interview with her:
Here is another interview with Isabel done by the Escuela de Organización Industrial, in which she talks about how she turned her love of history and travel into a successful business.
We met with University of Barcelona English professor John Stone and his wife Rosa Roig at the Granja Viader in the Barrio Gótico of Barcelona, where we tried the xocolata and the delicious pastries.
As we ate, we asked them some questions about their experiences with Don Quixote. Here is the audio of our interview:
On our way to Barcelona, we stopped at a secondary school (equivalent to middle and high school in the Spanish Education System) where we talked to a Spanish teacher named Isabel Castro. Cambrils is in the Spanish Autonomous Region of Cataluña, which means the native language is actually Catalán (its very similar to a mix of Spanish and French) and Spanish is considered a “foreign language”. The reason we decided to visit the school is because Isabel and her Spanish student had been working on a project very similar to our own, called “Quijote news”. They were making a Spanish newspaper chronicling the important events all throughout the novel, after traveling around to important locations such as Madrid and Barcelona and collecting information. This interview was more focused on the project, and therefore explains in detail about its purposes and methods.
The project, “Quijote News” is an online newspaper created by Spanish (Castilian) teachers Isabel Castro, Ana Pulido, and their students at INS La Mar de la Frau, Cambrils. In order to celebrate the 4th Centennial of the publication of the second half of the Quijote, Castro and Pulido decided to have students read the Quijote, visit important locations to the novel, and then transform important events in the Second Volume into interviews, news reports, comics, etc. The classes also took photos and mapped out their journey via google maps, mirroring the purpose of our project.
We talked with Isabel personally, and she was very glad to discuss the project with us. We first discussed why she created this project in the first place for the students. She discussed how Don Quijote is a required reading for students, however she wanted to do something special to celebrate the anniversary of the Second Volume. Plus, she wanted students to really enjoy learning about Don Quijote. We also asked why they decided to make a website for their magazine, and her answer was so that anyone could find it and become more informed about Don Quijote, especially people like us who share a similar passion for the story. Plus, the students really enjoy working with technology. It makes the literature a lot more interactive and fun. Finally, we discussed a little bit more about how this literature will influence her students. She believes that the books students read definitely affect their perspective, and that the Quijote is a display of great optimism and never giving up on your dreams.
Having the opportunity to take a tour of a school in another country was an incredible opportunity for us, especially for me as a future teacher. It makes the world feel a little smaller, and opportunities for international collaboration even more of a possibility. I hope that some day I can do a project such as this that is so inspiring to my students, and to to others, that it helps them see the world a little differently, perhaps a little brighter.
For our first interview, we had the pleasure of talking with Cliff Williams, Cathy Jaffe, and Elisa Martín at a quiet restaurant in Madrid. We asked them the following questions related to Don Quijote:
1.When did you first meet the novel or the character Don Quijote and how?
2.Have you read the entire novel? Did you like it?
3.How is La Mancha important to the rest of Spain? Would it be just as important without Don Quijote?
4. It has been said that Don Quijote de la Mancha is the first modern novel and the best representation of the Spanish Language. Do you agree? What importance does Don Quijote have for the Spanish culture?
5. The 4th centennial of the second volume of Don Quijote was celebrated in 2015 and the anniversary of Miguel de Cervantes’ death is being celebrated in 2016. Were these events celebrated in Spain? If so, how? Are these events important to you?
6. Do you think that Don Quijote brings tourists to Spain?
Since this interview was very structured based on these questions, I will organize the answers in a very similar format.
1.Cliff first encountered Don Quijote while taking an undergraduate course at the University of Mary Washington (Spanish 323: Introduction to Spanish Literature) and Cathy didn’t discover the novel until she was working on her doctorate. Elisa, being a native Spaniard had to read the novel while in high school as part of a mandatory reading. Also, she noted that the story of Don Quijote was a popular theme in Spanish tv programs.
2. Everyone interviewed has read at least part of the novel and seemed to enjoy it. Cathy has read the novel many times, Elisa read it once, and Cliff read parts of Don Quijote for the class he was taking in College.
3.In regards to the importance of La Mancha to the rest of Spain, Elisa, the native Spaniard, said that La Mancha is actually not very popular in Spanish culture, however it is known for Don Quijote. Other aspects, such as the culture of this region, isn’t widely known. Cathy commented that all she knows about la Mancha is that Don Quijote was “Manchegan” and very funny, which gives the impression that people from la Mancha are comical.
4. With great confidence, Elisa proudly agreed that Don Quijote is the first modern novel and the best written representation of the Spanish language. Cathy, on the other hand, was a little more hesitant to make such a definite statement. Instead, she offered the idea that all novels are different, and it is very difficult to compare them and try to create a hierarchy of “which is better?”
5. When we talked about the celebration of the 4th Centennial for the publication of the second volume of Don Quijote and Miguel de Cervantes’ death, I was very surprised to hear from Elisa that they don’t really celebrate these events in Spain, only the anniversary of the first volume. Cathy noted that she knows of some literary groups that have had celebrations for these anniversaries, in Spain or in the United States. Cliff commented that it is sad that these events aren’t recognized and celebrated anymore, and Elisa offered that the financial crisis could have had something to do with it.
6.We finally ended our “sobremesa” interview with a question about Don Quijote bringing in tourists to Spain. Cliff said he thinks that the story inspires tourists about every ten years on the anniversaries. Elisa said tourists mainly come for the “Train of Cervantes” which is a 30 minute train ride that starts off in Madrid and brings you to Alcalá de Henares, the birthplace of Cervantes, where you encounter guides dressed up as Don Quijote and others to explain the route and everything along the way. Cathy said that she has noticed American tourists coming to Spain tend to be more interested in the culture than Europeans. Still, the grand majority of tourists in Spain are interested in one thing: the beaches.
We had a great time talking to Cliff, Cathy, and Elisa in Madrid and reached the conclusion that Don Quijote is often seen more as a mandatory reading than a cultural phenomenon. Important celebrations for the novel are often overlooked and tourists couldn’t care less about the cultural significance behind their vacation destinations. This poses a very important question about tourism worldwide: Have we become careless travelers, with only a personal agenda? How much do we ignore when we travel elsewhere that could be vital to understanding the history of the people? I think we need to be much more connected travelers, willing to learn and intellectually grow from our experiences.