In the Lagunas de Ruidera, in the rocks above one of the larger lakes, there is a cave known as the Cueva de Montesinos. I have mentioned it before, but until this weekend I had never gone further in than the entrance. It is a karstic formation, consisting of a narrow passage leading down to a chamber with a raised floor surrounded by water and contained a great deal of clay of high purity (it is said that the Romans mined clay here and there was a kiln and buildings on the spot whose foundations can still be traced), and a roof of iron-lined rock, on which patterns of crystallized calcite deposits make patterns which can be interpreted (with some imagination) to tell the story of the cave itself.
Don Quijote visited this cave, spoke with the spirit of Merlin, who had enchanted it, and with the Lord of Montesinos, and other spirits, and came out the next morning with tales of visions and promises and predestination. Sancho was sceptical from the start, and Don Quijote himself later admitted more or less that he had made it up, but the cave, which already had a legend of enchantment, became famous around the world, and is visted for that reason, more than for its geological interest, which isn't great.
In these days of micro-inspection, ultra-regulation and obsessive concern of authority with everything except that which actually benefits the country in general and allows the individual to make a living, where it is forbidden to burn rubbish or stubble, requiring it to be packed up and thrown away, where it is forbidden to maintain any kind of animal except in accordance with rules dreamt up by people in offices in Madrid, where farmers are told what they can grow, when, where and how, and where the market is manipulated by Brussels in order to prevent them from earning a proper living, where all economic activity can be shut down on the orders of an urban bureaucrat if certain animals or birds are reported to be on your land, where the local and national socialist governments think all land is really theirs and you are just their servant, to keep it looking pretty for the people who they allow to walk all over it, or to have it taken from you if they decide to build a road or a new town hall, in these days, I say, it is refreshing to be shown the cave by the nephew of the old game-keeper at the farm, who has been showing it for thirty years, as his father did before him, with a handful of torches and asking only for 'la voluntad'.
He knows every rock, every pattern, every angle, every story, and he knows where every foot should be placed to avoid the danger of tripping in the dark or falling into the water below. And he describes it all, bringing to life the cave, the book, the colours, the minerals and the rocks themselves. The cave has a story, a mythology, older than Cervantes, Don Quijote has a story, there to be read, and the guide himself has a story, in which he has become the rocks he has spent his life observing and describing, reading and writing his own story in the figures on the wall.
Above, a hare issuing from a magic lamp, and below, the reclining Dulcinea.
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