Don Quixote by Honoré Daumier (1868)
I have always admired the character of Don Quixote. Why? Because of his marvelous blindness. He could see, yes, but only vague shapes he was forced to interpret with his fine imagination… a wonderful and singular imagination that was formed in the novels of old, novels with heroes and villains, novels from the perspective of romance, novels rife with idyllic ideals that were conceived by the minds of men like himself, men who longed for some sense of nobility in mankind, a mystical concept that was expressed in the code of the chevalier, a notion of heroics and the grandeur of chivalric valor, unwritten codes that prevailed in the novels written in the time of the Don’s creator… though not on the muddy highways, nor in the poor villages of Spain, nor in its people… nor in any other nation then or now… which notion likely never really existed at all in fact, beyond the hopeful fictions, the beautiful words that molded their illusory landscape.
Of course, neither did Don Quixote exist. The old man was a character in a book, a novel at that, an intellectual vehicle, a literary trope, the projection of someone like myself, a writer, a man or woman… in this case a man, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.
A writer tries to rebuild the world with a framework of words and the substance of figuration. So, by that token, in such a world, I can have dinner with Don Quixote. Perhaps a meal in my kitchen, simple fare consisting of tuna fish sandwiches on soft rye bread. Cold iced tea or maybe beer… in big chilled mugs. For dessert, maybe fresh cinnamon and raisin spice cake with sweet, thick, rich, rich, rich butter icing and coffee. Of course, the food would not really matter. It could be anything really … roast beef, chicken, lamb, pulled pork. Food is only food. The dinner is only a platform on which to build a conversation. In that conversation, perhaps I could tell a story, inject an opinion, betray confidences. Because I so love the heart of Don Quixote, perhaps I would only listen.
Cervantes is dead … though his words, his mind, and the Don live on.
I suppose that I was saddened by the fact that Cervantes wrote the books in such a way that the Don eventually died of a broken heart… but isn’t that the fate of any man or woman who aspires to an ideal and does not settle for the way things are? It’s no coincidence that the brain is the organ within us that is closest to the heavens, or that the bowels are closest to the earth. Our heart, however, lies somewhere between the two. In a way, the concept is comedic and so it is, or was, that in the cynical mind of Cervantes, Don Quixote must surely die aggrieved for his lofty and insensible perceptions.
It’s the natural consequence of truth.
The world could care less about any individual soul, man or woman, when there are so many… more than seven and a half billion last time I checked.
“Hah…” they seem to say, if not aloud… surely they’d never say it aloud, but you read the words in their tones and their eyes, “…foolish old man. Where do you get such impertinent notions? Just die, fool. We need the bed. We need the space you’re taking up, the air you’re sucking in, the food you turn to waste. Die already!”
So it is… and to say to hell with the world, I have dinner with Don Quixote. This meal we share is not unusual, I think. Maybe an early supper in a clean, noisy diner in a truck stop on the Interstate. Perhaps in Missouri or Oklahoma where the food is seasoned with pity and priceless understanding by immigrant cooks with fresh spices and hope… food meant to caress the troubled soul, quiet the restless mind, and leave the appetite sated. Meatloaf, perhaps, with mashed potatoes, peas and corn… or maybe with gravy and rich mac and cheese, a bowl on the side with sweet black-eyed peas. The meatloaf has this crispy, dark brown edge and on the top of every slice, a thin red tasty glaze of baked sweet ketchup. Lots of coffee. Pretty waitress.
The conversation? Dreams. Beautiful dreams… and maybe dark dreams as well, but dark with a twist of charity. Laughter, tears, emotions swell. I am a writer. This is what I do. This is who I am.