Monday, August 3, 2009

Quixotic Musings

In Part II of 'Don Quijote' that great if misguided gentleman enters a cave called 'La Cueva de Montesinos', let down on a rope by Sancho, and spends the night there. He emerges the next morning full of the visions he has seen there, of the phantasmal visitors he has had and of the tasks commended to him by the spirits. To a certain extent these visions dictate his subsequent movements. Sancho is a tad sceptical of what his boss says and, towards the end of the book, Don Quijote more or less admits that he may have dreamt it all, or just made it up.

La Cueva de Montesinos is a real cave, a few miles from here, in rocks above the lakes, on land that belongs to our neighbours, who are Mrs Hickory's cousins. It's an encarstic formation, and is narrow but penetrable to a considerable distance. Cervantes describes how Don Quijote is lowered some 80 metres by Sancho, though in fact you don't need a rope, you can walk, crouch, crawl and climb about that distance, maybe a little more. It reaches down to the water level of the lakes, down to the lake itself in fact, since the water that lies in the bottom gallery is a submerged part of the nearby lake, and it is possible to reach it.

It is years since I saw it, so yesterday I took my trusty rucksack and walking shoes and wandered over there. The brother of the former gamekeeper here used to make a form of living in the summer by showing it to visitors, and he and his son, as well as telling a bit of the geology of the area and its place in the book, had invented a large number of stories based on the rock formations, imagining the faces Don Quijote might have seen in them. They told these stories at enormous length, to the general delight of the visitors, not all of whom understood a word they said.

Now his son has a cap and a badge from the town council, but he still tells the same stories at the same length and with the same enthusiasm, and as he takes you through the cave he brings both it and the figure of Don Quijote to life. You quite understand how the old boy could have seen and believed all manner of things down there.

Sorry agian for the lack of photos- with the USB thing it would take all day- and I don't have a copy of the book to hand to give specific references, but if you're ever in the area, read the chapter carefully, and then let José show you the cave and give you his version of Don Quijote's vision. I can assure you it's worth it.

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