sherpa de la mancha

As my good friend Natalie sets off on her quest across Spain, I am reminded of one of my favorite stories of all time:

Don Quijote de la Mancha!

(Picasso’s Don Quixote)

Some people spell it Don Quixote, but either is correct. I was introduced to this story by Chris Mathews, my drama professor who gave me the honor of playing Don Quijote in our renditon of Man of la Mancha in 1986. (Am I old yet?)

I’ve watched the 1972 musical movie version staring Peter O’Toole and Sofia Loren which makes me cry still when I watch it. In the early 1990’s I was fortunate enough to see Raúl Juliá and Sheena Easton live on Broadway and it was as if I had never seen it before. Raúl Juliá’s voice was powerful and commanding. Sheena Easton was dirty and sexy as Aldonza/ Dulcinea. It was as if the roles were made for them.

Man of la Mancha tells the story of Don Quijote from the point of view of Cervantes, a writer/actor who is thrown into prison by the Spanish Inquisition. He and his man servant carry a trunk of props. The other prisoners hold a mock trial to see if Cervantes should hand over this trunk to them. Cervantes and his man servant then use the trunk of props to tell the story of Don Quijote, Man of la Mancha. Using other prisoners as actors the story morphs from the prison dungeon to the open fields of la Mancha. It brings hope to the prisoners and shows them how to look past the dirty, gritty prison walls and see the simple beauty in the world.

An example of the views in duality would be when Don Quijote sees a shaving bin, which is a bowl that a professional barber would rinse his trade tools , filthy with remnants of hair and bits of skin and soap. Don Quijote sees it as the magical Golden Helmet of Mambrino and proudly wears it on his head.

The main contrast is the character of Aldonza/ Dulcinea. Aldonza is a woman of ill repute, who is repeatedly raped and viewed as an object by the townsmen. Don Quijote sees the same woman and views her as the most beautiful and virtuous woman in the world. He names her Dulcinea and courts her as his queen. She rejects his advancements as she has only known a world where she is told how useless and dirty she is. His views are foreign to her and difficult for her to grasp.

Cervantes is interrupted periodically by his jailors letting him know that his execution is to come shortly. Knowing this will be his last story, he wants to make it his best. Cervantes tells of Don Quijote’s greedy family who sees him as crazy and only wants him for the wealth they will inherit after his death. The family comes and captures Don Quijote, bringing him back to their home and they quash his notions of a quest and being a knight essentially killing him.

As Don Quijote lay on his death bed, Aldonza comes to him and pleads with him to remember her as Dulcinea, now craving the spark of beauty he brought into her world. As she speaks with him he remembers and in his last breath calls out with excitement “Sancho! My Armor!” then dies in her arms.

Just then the jailors come for Cervantes who has now become Don Quijote to the prisoners. He climbs the stairs out of the dungeon with honor to face his death as Don Quijote, a man reaching for the impossible dream.

I have visions of watching Raúl Juliá climbing those stairs and it still makes me cry.

The sentament may be trite. The vision may be silly. I care not the opinions of others as I live in quest of my own adventure. Damn the torpedos and bring on the scars of failure for they serve as reminders of what does not work and scream to others of wisdom beyond their grasp. If you reach for the stars but only land on the moon just look at how high you have jumped.

What power dreams have. What grasp visions of what could be, hold. What is your impossible dream? Why can’t we all live in la Mancha? Where is my armor, Sancho?


To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far

To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell
For a heavenly cause

And I know if I’ll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I’m laid to my rest

And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star


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