In a street of Alcalá de Henares, the name of which I have no desire to call to mind, there lived not long since (y. 1547) one of the greatest geniuses of literature: Don Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra.
I arrived at that solitary street on a dull, windy and rainy day of October 2012 …
In that street was the Cervantes’ birthplace …
I entered the writer’s house and there I saw an old edition of my absolute favorite book of all time: “El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de La Mancha”, or “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de La Mancha”.
I opened the book …
… and then the sun shined again …
Picture above: that is the main square of Alcalá de Henares (Madrid region, Spain). The red things in the foreground are flowers (claveles, carnations, dianthus caryophyllus) and the black silhouette in the background is Don Miguel de Cervantes.
Picture below: Don Miguel de Cervantes, soldier in Lepanto, slave in Algiers, novelist, poet and playwright in Spain and king in the Realm of Literature.
Don Quixote is supposed to be crazy, but I do not agree with that mainstream opinion; I had a brief conversation with him in Alcalá de Henares and I can assure that he is not.
But I have to admit, on the other hand, that I am not sure if all the inhabitants of Alcalá are mentally healthy or not. For instance, some of them love to wander around sounding ancient trumpets and drums:
Kids in Alcalá go to school on donkeys:
Alcalanians love hectic cooking on the street:
And they love to set the table al fresco:
Photographers in Alcalá are crazy too:
Even statues seem a little crazy:
That statue belongs to the Alcalá de Henares University (façade). It was founded in 1499:
The University and the Historic Precinct of Alcalá de Henares have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The Cervantes Prize (the Spanish-speaking world’s most prestigious literary award) is awarded annually by the King and Queen of Spain in the Paraninfo (Great Hall) of the university of Alcalá.
Who knows? Perhaps some day this blogger will win the Cervantes Prize, thanks to his unpublished novels written in Spanish. On the contrary, as you may well see, Covetotop’s English doesn’t deserve anything good.
But you, my dear reader, you do deserve something very good: read Don Quixote if you haven’t read it up until now. Still better: learn Spanish and read it in its original version, in old Spanish. Can you imagine Shakespeare translated into Spanish or French or Japanese? A translation means just a nice story, some times a boring story. A masterpiece in its original version always means awe.
This is the problem with translations: you get the melody but miss the harmony.
It’s like listening to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in a flute solo version. Ooohh!
Ok. Let’s assume that you don’t speak Spanish and hence you cannot read Don Quixote in old Spanish. Don’t worry. You always can listen to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in its full, glorious and original orchestration.
Just in case you neither can read Don Quixote in old Spanish nor like Beethoven, you can console yourself by having lunch at a good restaurant, like this one:
Its name is “Hostería del Estudiante”, and its address is Colegios, 8 (Alcalá de Henares). In fact, this cozy corner is the former Minor School of San Jerónimo, founded by Cardinal Cisneros in 1510, and it overlooks one of the beautiful patios of the University.
Walls with four hundred years of history make the perfect place to sample a traditional menu, like “sopa boba” …
… and “cochinillo” …
If you need a hotel room in Alcalá, just in front of the Hostería is the “Parador de Alcalá” (former Dominican Convent). This is its “modernized” cloister:
It’s getting time to finish this post. Follow me; we are going to Madrid to put an end to our story (Madrid is roughly 15 miles away from Alcalá).
Cervantes was born in Alcalá de Henares in 1547, but his family moved to Madrid in 1566. There are lots of plaques throughout Madrid commemorating Cervantes’ coming and going.
He studied humanities here:
The first edition of “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de La Mancha” was printed in Atocha Street, Madrid, in 1605 (see plaque below). The book -the most published and translated second only to the Bible- has been a “bestseller” since 1605:
Here was the house -the original building has long gone- where Don Miguel de Cervantes died. By the way, it appears that there is an apartment on sale …
Both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes died on the very same date: April 23, 1616, thus prompting UNESCO to declare April 23 the “World Book and Copyright Day”
Cervantes was buried on the grounds of the Convento de San Ildefonso de las Trinitarias Descalzas, in an unmarked tomb. It is located just a few meters away from the house where he died. You can only visit the convent church.
On the convent wall there is a warning signal: Don Miguel de Cervantes’ body is here.
In fact, Don Quixote and Don Miguel are still arguing and laughing in the most beautiful corners of the Realm of Literature.