Don Quixote’s in the air. It started with Cervantes, the old man at the polling place Tuesday and has hovered around the edges ever since. The layer upon layer of self-delusion in news accounts of the monster’s reaction to the results of the election have more than a whiff of the old knight-errant’s spirit. It’s clear that he will hold onto whatever shred of hope he can before being dragged from office. The difference is that there isn’t even a pretense of nobility.
A couple days after Election Day I drop off Rae and Khadi’s portraits. It turns out Don Quixote is Rae’s favorite book. She wants to get a tattoo of her hero and I volunteer to make a design. There are many illustrations already but she prefers something new. I mention Terry Gilliam’s star-crossed and much-delayed film, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote and it turns out she’s a fan like I am. I use stills from it for reference.
I download the audiobook of Quixote for my drive east. I doubt I’ve read the entire thing but whatever parts I have was long ago. Probably read to me by my father or mother at bedtime. So maybe it’s appropriate that this is the soundtrack for my visit with them now. I may not have the patience for the endless throat-clearing and embellishment of Cervantes on my own time, but trapped in the non-place of a car speeding down toll road after toll road his long-windedness is entirely appropriate. My adventure is far less fanciful but no less well-meaning.
Listening on as the daylight disappears past the hills somewhere in New York I wonder whether Quixote is supposed to be sympathetic. Are we to identify with him because few people’s lives approach their dreams? He torments everyone who cares about him, never listens to anyone who tries to reason with him, and insists on doing it his way when everything in the world screams for him to do the opposite. He’s the butt of most jokes yet he rarely realizes it and plows on undaunted. Is he just a selfish asshole?
The image of the lone man on the horse is burned so deep into the collective psyche of this country. No amount of evidence to the contrary can convince a sizable chunk of the population that the man on the horse may not be the hero. Quixote keeps trying to make his far-flung fantasies into reality. It’s not surprising given the last few years that people believe similarly that whatever words escape their mouths become fact by virtue of their wishing them to be so. I turn the audiobook off when I’m within a few miles of my parents’ house. I try to remember what dreams I had when I was growing up. Nothing specific comes to mind. I never had much imagination. It’s why I never got very far in this world. I’ll listen to the book some more on my drive back to Chicago. Maybe I’ll learn something.
p.s. I illustrated a story from Ghana.