Don Quixote and Picasso

Not many people I know have read Don Quixote. At least not all of it. Or even any of it. The thousand odd pages of dense text can appear rather daunting. It’s also a novel with an odd structure and the second half tips a wink to a pirated sequel that Cervantes had no hand in. It’s a story within a book, told via a narrator and if you think too much about it, your head hurts.

I bought mine from a one legged man in Tanzania. I had time to kill and nothing to kill it with. I paid six dollars for it. Rather excessive for a tatty paperback. In hindsight I should have just taken it. What was he going to do, hop after me? For a week I immersed myself in the comical sad world of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

The book is over five hundred years old but the comedy could have been written this morning. It’s just two blokes, one with a vast imagination and tenuous grip on reality, the other na’ve in some respects and cynical in a whole lot of others. The interplay is everything to the story but it’s the evolving relationship between the two that kicks the book along. Other characters come and go and some hang around the periphery, but Cervantes uses them to bounce around ideas and to skewer the main characters into new adventures.

My copy was weather beaten and stained. It dated from the late sixties with a beautiful Picasso drawing on the cover. It must have taken him thirty seconds and it captures everything I love about the book. A series of squiggly lines form an outline of Quixote sitting with an imperial air on top of Rocinante. The drawing looks effortless, but full of detail. Abroad stroke gives Quixote a jutting chin as he contemplates the windmills in the distance. His horse is a mesh of dark jabs over bandy legs. A swish completes his face and adds expression. It is simple and perfect.

I began to treasure my copy and after a thorough clean and some sticky tape, it began to resemble a proper book once more. However, a thousand page treasure carried in a rucksack quickly turns from book to brick and I soon swapped it for something altogether less grand. I wasn’t too bothered, promising myself I would find a copy when I came home.

Of course I came home, searched everywhere for it, but never found that edition. The best marriage of book to cover I’ve come across and the best $6 I have ever spent.