Tag Archives: Spain

There were some downsides

After they moved to Leiden in the Netherlands, the Pilgrims discovered just one hitch—well, okay, a few hitches: Spain had the idea that a global Spanish Empire (paid for with buttloads of gold from the New World) would be a good thing. Spain was ardently Catholic and not tolerant of other people’s religions. There’d been a 12-year truce between Spain and Holland that was about to end while the Pilgrims were there. If you lived in Holland in the early 1600s and kept up on current events, you understood that things could go sideways pretty quickly. Not only that, the Pilgrim kids were becoming more Dutch than English. Dutch tolerance was not only for religion but for libertine lifestyles. If you’re a strict Calvinist you don’t want your kids lured away to wallow in the fleshpots of Leiden.*

A couple of Dutch wantons.

* The Pilgrims were serious about their faith and it must have been exhausting. I’m exhausted just from writing this: Sunday morning service began at eight o’clock with an hour of prayers, then a 3-hour sermon, then lunch (dessert was always red Jello with those little marshmallows in it), then another sermon, then discussion. They stood for most of it (too much risk of falling asleep if they sat, I suppose)—no kneeling; kneeling reminded them of Catholicism or the Church of England. They wore sober-looking clothes; men & women were kept separate during service; no church building; no organ—hymns were sung with no instruments. There’s a painting of a church service, The Pilgrim Fathers, in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. The artist August Allebé (1857-1878) mixed up the crowd to make an interesting composition, but generally the ladies and kids sit in front, the gents stand in the back. They look to be in a store-house with a dirt floor. https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/nl/collectie/RP-P-1905-2755

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

Mucho mejor

Much better. I made Rosinantes just a little bit bigger—115%. It made all the difference.

Don Quixote

What Picasso might have created if he’d learned how to draw. I have to admit I may have made Rosinantes too small. I’ll fix that when I paint him.

We did it! We slogged through every first piece of vernacular Western literature (written in the author’s own language rather than Latin)—at least all the ones I can think of. German, English, Italian, French, Spanish. Chivalry and knights in shining armor sure was a popular subject. It’s as if: even as writers were moving everyone into a more modern age they needed to fondly look back and say so-long to the Middle Ages.

Spanish author Miguel Cervantes (mee-GEL sair-VAHN-tez) was having none of that. It was the late 1500s, the Middle Ages were over and their foolishnesses needed to be lampooned. In his book, El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha), the doddering old gentleman Don Quixote (DON kee-HO-tay) is obsessed day and night with reading those poems of chivalry and knights and their mighty deeds—to the point where his brain dries out. It’s cooked. Don Quixote loses his marbles; he becomes demented. Don Quixote gets the idea he should put on an old suit of armor he finds in a barn and become a knight-errant to restore honor to Spain. He talks a local peasant, Sancho Panza, into being his squire by promising him a parcel of real estate. The Don chooses as his steed a moth-eaten, played-out scrawny old horse named Rosinantes. As a nod to courtly love, he fixates on a local girl he calls Dulcinea—but she has no idea that she’s being honored this way.

Don Quixote and Sancho go adventuring across the countryside, questing for wrongs to be righted and monsters to vanquish. In the book’s most famous scene, Don Quixote (whose eyesight isn’t so good) mistakes a windmill for an ogre and charges at it with his lance. He gets caught up in the windmill’s vanes and has to be untangled. In nearly every other adventure, Don Quixote and Sancho get beat up by whomever they encounter.

Don Quixote is considered to be the first modern novel (a book-length work of fiction). Cervantes intended to move us out of the past into modernity, and he sure did. One bit of pure writing genius: Don Quixote speaks Old Spanish while the other characters speak modern Spanish. For us English speakers, imagine a modern novel’s character speaking like Chaucer or Shakespeare. Cervantes’ readers understood Don Quixote’s dialogue but he sounds antique and out-of-step.*

* In fact, Aldous Huxley used this gag in Brave New World to give us information about a character—https://www.litcharts.com/lit/brave-new-world/chapter-7

Wikipedia has a comprehensive entry for Don Quixote, including a summary of the story:
Look! You can get a poster of the title page of the 1605 edition of Don Quixote: https://www.amazon.com/Quixote-Ntitle-Cervantes-Published-Valencia/dp/B07C4K5LDY/ref=asc_df_B07C4K5LDY/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=527702999903&hvpos=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=9503647619533183764&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9005111&hvtargid=pla-1401775165677&psc=1
And here’s Peter O’Toole in the musical Man of La Mancha. In this scene, Cervantes is in prison, entertaining his fellow prisoners. In real life he’d been imprisoned twice, the first stretch for 5 years as a guest of the Turks. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iH9nDlBr3b4
You can visit Don Quixote’s windmills—https://www.awayn.com/listing/all_listings/consuegra-spain-consuegra-the-windmills-of-don-quixote-hiking-trip/

Hey, whadayaknow—Sophia Loren’s in this movie, too! She’s Dulcinea, who maybe wasn’t so unaware of being treated like a lady. I know, it’s hokey, but I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff—https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42y15BYusmA&t=209s

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

Super special Friday bonus post

La Loren in costume for El Cid. ¡De nada!

El Cid

Chuck Heston as the Cid

The first piece of literature written in Spanish was Cantar de mio Cid (Song of my Lord), whose author may have been Per Abbat who wrote it in either 1207 or 1307 or maybe it was Abu I-Walid al Waqqashi in 1095 or maybe it was one of those pieces of folk literature that gets passed from generation to generation. El Cid, the Cid, al Sayyid means ‘the lord’ or ‘the master.’ Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar was El Cid—an actual person—and he fought against Moorish control of Spain. His army reconquered Valencia so that Christianity could be reestablished there. Like Chanson de Roland, Cantar de mio Cid is a poem about knights who perform mighty deeds and strive to live virtuous lives by sticking to a code of honor.

You can take a biking vacation along the route of El Cid’s exploits: https://en.caminodelcid.org/cid-history-legend/cid-history/
When Charlton Heston wasn’t being Moses or Henry VIII, he was El Cid—with Sophia Loren, the most fabulous woman who ever trod the Earth—https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054847/?ref_=fn_al_tt_2

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

Next time Nonna makes big sauce, thank Columbus

The thing about Christopher Columbus: he was the European navigator who discovered the New World, but it’s not clear that he knew he discovered the New World. At least, it must have been nearly impossible to recognize how big North and South America are. It looks like he may not have gotten as far north as Florida.

Christopher Columbus made four trips to the New World. His voyages were the beginning of what we call the Age of Exploration. European traders started asking, “What if the New World has even more or better stuff than China?” The New World had never-seen-before fruit and vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, pineapples, peppers, pumpkins—and a new kind of poultry, the turkey. Chocolate and tobacco came from the New World. Europe wanted these new products as much as they’d wanted Chinese silk and spice. Remember that Columbus was sponsored by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Spain became a major world power through her new source of trade. The Ottoman Empire no longer held all the cards.


Sailing the ocean blue

As you know if you’ve been loyally reading this blog, silk and spices from Asia had become big business in Europe. European merchants who wanted to trade in the far East were finding overland routes through the MidEast and Asia too dangerous, or taxed to unprofitability, or closed off completely by the Ottoman Empire. In fact, the Ottomans were doing their best to expand their empire to include Europe.

The Venetians had a monopoly on the sea-routes that they protected with their navy. Other European cities who wanted to do business with the far East were shut out. They had compasses and maps and ships but had no way to get to the East.

Or did they?

Christopher Columbus was a sailor, chartmaker and trader from Genoa, Italy. He’d done some trading along the west coast of Africa. Columbus had studied Eratosthenes and reasoned that if Earth were round, he could travel west to reach the far East. To do that, he needed ships, money and royal patronage—the blessing of a king or queen.

King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I ruled the cities of Aragon, Castile, and Leon in Spain. Spain had been part of the sultanate, the Ottoman Empire, for nearly eight centuries. Ferdinand and Isabella wanted to reassert Christian control over their country—they had succeeded with military force early in 1492 at the Battle of Granada. Another way to take control might be to open up trade with the far East by working around the Ottomans. After a few interviews, Columbus persuaded Ferdinand and Isabella that he could take the back way around the globe to reach the East.

They finally gave him the green light and in ad 1492 Christopher Columbus began his voyage to the East Indies with the ships Nina, Pinta & Santa Maria.

The lovely little caravel—a Portuguese-designed ship like the ones Columbus used on his voyage


If you like your history served with gorgeous illustrations, get your hands on Bjorn Langstrom’s book about Columbus. Mr Langstrom has written and illustrated 3 books about ships that I know of. See if your library has this one.

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Funeral for el Señor

A sketch of the funeral procession from Señor Don Gato.  I drew this in 2002, and it was the first time my illustrations looked painterly rather than cartoony.  I consciously mimicked Diego Velasquez for this project.  You’ll notice that in the sketch I amateurishly put interesting details in the gutter—the vertical strip in the center where the 2 pages meet—which had to be moved to one side in the painting.

Another Señor Don Gato post here.

Here are odds and ends from the reference file I amassed for this project. I liked the banner in the Goya painting and adapted it for this scene.