Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616) is probably the most important Spanish writer in the history of literature. He played such an important role in shaping Spanish literary culture, that echoes of him can be heard in our common sayings, in contemporary pieces of literature, in theater, movies and TV, and in other kinds of media. In short: pretty much anyone who lives in a Spanish-speaking country has come into some sort of contact with him.
Cervantes in Madrid
This year, Miguel de Cervantes has been more present that ever, as it has been 400 years since he died in Madrid, in the Barrio de las Letras (Literary Quarter).
The Barrio de las Letras
Located in the heart of Madrid, the Literary Quarter is between the Carrera de San Jerónimo street and Atocha street, from north to south, and between the Paseo del Prado and the Calle de la Cruz (de la Cruz street), from east to west. It was given its name thanks to the many artists who lived there during the Spanish Golden Age, which goes more or less from 1492 to 1659. Artists such as Luis de Góngora, Francisco de Quevedo, Lope de Vega, and, of course, Miguel de Cervantes.
By the time I arrived, it was already dark and the museums were closed, so I just walked around the neighborhood to get to know it a little better. It turned out to be magical, the decoration of the bars and restaurants, the street names always accompanied by an illustration, the signs on the walls, and pretty much everything surrounding me reminded me of the place where I was and of the people who’d been there before me.
That night I walked until I found the Plaza de las Cortes, where the monumental buildings told me it was time to turn back, but not before saying “hi!” to Cervantes himself, who was standing in the middle of the little plaza, in front of the Villa Real Hotel.
The next day I walked through those streets again, I read the signs on the walls, I observed the floor and we read each and every single quote that we found.
The road took me to the Plaza de Santa Ana, the square where the Spanish Theater is. The Spanish Theater opened its doors in September 1583 and it has seen the premiers of plays written by playwrights such as Leandro Fernández de Moratín, Pedro Calderón de la Barca y Federico García Lorca.
Miguel en Cervantes
Spain has been celebrating the 400th anniversary of Cervantes’ death since the beginning of the year, and will continue to do so until at least the 8th of January 2017, and nobody better to organize events than the Cervantes Institute, who had just opened a free-entry exhibition: Miguel en Cervantes: El retablo de las maravillas (the website is only in Spanish).
The exhibition is divided in two sections: the biography of Miguel de Cervantes and the play El retablo de las maravillas, which is basically a retelling of the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. The illustrations were made by David Rubín and Miguelanxo Prado.
It’s a rather small exhibition, but it is definitely worth seeing! The illustrations and themes are organized in a circle: the outer circle narrates the life of Miguel de Cervantes in a short, fun, and dynamic way, and the inner circle presents the El retablo de las maravillas play as a comic book.
To be honest, I didn’t love the comic book part. I thought the illustrations were good but somewhat unclear and with a very aggressive color palette. However, I thought the illustrated biography was truly excellent, so I purchased the book of the exhibition on my way out.
If you find yourself near Madrid this December, make sure you go to Miguel en Cervantes. It’s an awesome exhibition, it’s fun, and it’s free! (#budgetfriendly)
Visiting hours: Tuesday to Friday from 16 to 21h. Saturday from 11 to 21h. Sunday & holidays from 11 to 16h.
Address: Instituto Cervantes – Sala de Exposiciones, calle (street) Alcalá 49, 28014 Madrid.
Cervantes in Mexico City
I encountered Cervantes once again after my short trip to Spain, this time in Mexico City. Two weeks ago, my dad came home announcing that he had bought four tickets to see Man of La Mancha, a musical based on Don Quixote, written by Dale Wasserman and Joe Darion, and composed by Mitch Leigh.
The play begins when a young idealist named Cervantes is thrown into prison, where he must await an audience with the Spanish Inquisition. The other prisoners decide to judge and punish him, and in order to protect himself and a mysterious manuscript, he tells them a story and invites them to participate in it as if it were a play. It is the story of a crazy knight and his loyal friend and squire, Sancho.
The musical is not a direct adaptation of the original story, but with its good music, great production and very fun libretto, it is practically a love letter to Cervantes. I walked out of the theater feeling glad, not just because I had just seen a very good musical, but also because, even after 400 years, Cervantes is still celebrated.