Reading Spain, AKA an Homage to Miguel de Cervantes

2015 06-15 Barcelona Reading Statue 1In case you missed it, I went to Spain last month (scroll to the end for some GREAT panoramas). I was there for two weeks and it was wonderful. I’m still working on a “recap” post which will probably just be a link to my photos and a list of everything we did. The plus side is that you, my lovely book lover friends, get to have a special post made just for you!

To kick off, here’s a photo of the Monument al llibre statue by Joan Brossa (Wikipedia link) we stumbled across in Barcelona. Here’s a different angle. Overwhelmingly our bookish adventures were in Madrid. I’m sure this is because I planned Madrid and Tim planned Barcelona, but that’s just how it fell.

2015 06-16 Llibreria RodésIf you’ve followed this blog for a while you might be aware I can read Spanish, or at least eek my way through it. I’ve wanted to improve on my speaking and reading of Spanish ever since I realized I was starting to lose it, but haven’t had much opportunity (aka I’m lazy). What I didn’t know was how all-pervading Cervantes’ was to the city of Madrid and the country of Spain. Seriously, I mean sure I knew going to Madrid I wanted to visit the statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in the Plaza de España, but I didn’t know I would see Cervantes or Don Quixote (Part 1 & Part 2) EVERYWHERE.

2015 07-02 Don Quixote PostcardSeriously, from the Biblioteca Nacional de España (BNE, National Library of Spain, obviously), to EVERY gift shop, to a doodle by Picasso (WHAT?! it’s famous – photo on the right is the postcard I got of it from the Museu Picasso in Barcelona), to mentions at Botin, the oldest continually running restaurant in the world, according to Guiness Book of World Records (we ate there for Tim’s birthday), to street names. Oh and that doesn’t even include the Cervantes Institute (website), which we didn’t even have time to visit, or the Miguel de Cervantes Prize! I even had a conversation. Now for what you really want to see, pictures! I’ll start with our first full day in Madrid.

Buying Books in Spanish
2015 06-16 Llibreria RodésSo when in Spain, if you can read in Spanish you should buy books right? Well that’s easier said than done. We did visit 10-15 book stores including numerous used bookstores, such as Llibreria Rodés in Barcelona (see photo). This was difficult as the books in the used bookstore were not organized in any way I could tell, but it was still really cool to see 95% of everything in Spanish. Ultimately I bought books from chain stores like Casa del Libro and La Central because that’s who had what I was looking for. We also randomly discovered that the Feria del Libro de Madrid (Madrid Book Fair) was going on while we were there. We didn’t seek it out, but we did stumble across it at one point and I found my two Harry Potter books there! I was VERY lucky to stumble across my copy of Orgullo y prejuicio (Pride and Prejudice) on our last day in Spain at the Mercado de Motores.

2015 06-13 Mercado de Motores

2015 06-09 BNE Cervantes Prize WinnerThe main thing I noticed while shopping for books was that I looked primarily for books translated from English into Spanish. But when I realized this and started paying attention in the stores I realized how small the Spanish speaking sections were. It was a disheartening to see it, but at the same time it was a bit overwhelming as I didn’t know where to start either. I of course knew those I read in school: Allende, Cisneros, Cervantes, and Garcia Marquez; and even a few since then like Ruiz Zafon and Saramago.I did pick up a copy of Allende’s El cuaderno de Maya, but again she’s part of the diaspora. One of the goals I had leaving Spain is to read more Spanish speaking authors in Spanish and if I have to start with the Miguel de Cervantes Prize winners (he’s EVERYWHERE!), I will. Unfortunately, I didn’t write down the Cervantes winner in the portrait above, but there have only been four female winners so it could be María Zambrano (’88), Dulce María Loynaz (’92), Ana María Matute (’10) or Elena Poniatowska (’13). Thanks to the lovely people at the Biblioteca Nacional de España twitter account, they were able to confirm that it is Dulce María Loynaz.

The other great thing about @BNE_biblioteca is they made me a bilingual tweeter! I had troubles signing up for the tour before we went and they were able to help me, even with my mediocre Spanish! Plus they’re currently sharing a lot on Don Quixote both the legitimate and illegitimate versions

2015 06-09 BNE Cervantes
Cervantes statue outside the BNE.

La Biblioteca Nacional de España (BNE)
On our first day in Madrid we did a bus tour of the city and that was excellent, but the main attraction for me was the BNE. I’d scheduled this months in advance and was VERY excited about it. I was also nervous as I knew I would be translating the tour for Tim from Spanish to English. My translation was okay, I understood about 75-85% of the tour and only had to ask two questions after the tour because I wasn’t sure I understood correctly. Seriously though, translating Spanish in your head is one thing, translating it out-loud for another person was exhausting. When we finished with the library I had to sit still for about 15 minutes to clear my head because I was starting to get a headache! The library was stunning, but had very few actual books in the space. The overwhelming majority of the books were kept in large underground stacks and you had to request them through the system. The decorations were pretty simple and one of the great things I enjoyed were the portraits of the Cervantes Prize winners (see photo in previous section) throughout the reading rooms.

Biblioteca Nacional Museo
2015 06-09 Biblioteca Nacional MuseoIn the basement of the BNE building there is the Biblioteca Nacional Museum (National library Museum)! The museum was a really cool look at books in general (from scratches on rocks to eBooks), but also books and literature in Spain. It was at this point that my mind pretty much stopped speaking English for a bit (and made it difficult to translate out-loud) and pretty much switched to Spanish, which was cool, but exhausting (and thus the headache later). What was even cooler, was the exhibit titled: Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda de BNE. For those of you who have no idea who Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda is, he is the author of the first copy of Don Quixote Part II. Mind broken yet? Mine was.

2015 06-09 Alfonso Fernandez BNEApparently between Part I’s publication in 1605 and Part II’s publication in 1615, Alonso Fernández wrote his own version of Part II! Talk about some serious fan-fiction. Fernández, a pseudonym that was never uncovered, released his work in 1514 while Cervantes was still writing the actual Part II!

What was really cool about this exhibit was that they had a number of letters and books about the writing of all three books in addition to editions of Fernández’s edition of Part II. See the photos below.

It was really a neat exhibit across the board, but it was fun to see the numerous translations, including the first English translation and the Catalan translation. I think I’ve labeled them correctly above, I’m no so sure about the first and second editions, but they’re both pretty old.

What was hilarious is as I began the real Part II (aka that written by Cervantes) he spends the entire Prologue eviscerating Fernández weakness at hiding behind a pseudonym and his critiques of Cervantes:

“Goodness me, how you must be longing to read this prologue, illustrious or perhaps plebeian reader, expecting to find retaliations, rebukes and railings against the author of the second Don Quixote, the one said to have been conceived in Tordesillas and born in Tarragona! But the fact is that I’m not going to give you that pleasure, because although insults awake anger in the humblest breasts, mine is going to be an exception to the rule. You’d like me to call him an ass, a numskull and an impudent monkey, but it has never occurred to me to do so: let his sin be his punishment, it’s his own lookout – absolutely his own affair.” (483)

“…remember that this second part of Don Quixote that I’m offering you is cut by the same craftsman and from the same cloth as the first one, and that in it I give you Don Quixote prolonged and finally dead and buried, so that nobody can presume to produce any more evidence against him, because what has already been produced is quite enough, and it is also enough that an honourable man has provided information about these clever follies and doesn’t want to go into them ever again: too much of something, even of a good thing, causes it to be valued less, and a scarcity, even of bad things, confers a certain value of its own.” (485-6)

Plaza de España
The one definite Cervantes/Quixote thing I had planned was to visit the famous statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in the Plaza de España and we did this. Thankfully, we got there right before the rain so were able to grab a few photos before we ran to the Palacio Real and the Catedral de la Almudena:

2015 06-11 Don Quixote, Sancho & Cervantes

2015 06-11 Don Quixote & Sancho Panza Side View

Overall it was a great trip and I probably got more bookish stuff in than I should have. I definitely still feel guilty about dragging Tim to so many bookstores, but ultimately it was an incredibly bookish trip and I enjoyed it!


11 thoughts on “Reading Spain, AKA an Homage to Miguel de Cervantes”

  1. And great pics, thanks for sharing. I’m not even a huge fan of DQ, but I love the statue at Plaza de España…love to see a country so honor a writer. I’m jealous. I lived in Western Europe a few years ago, for a few years, but I never made it to Spain…which is the one place I most wanted to go, other than perhaps London, oh and maybe Paris, and I suppose Burssels, and well c’mon Amsterdam, and to be esoteric Lux City, and probably….sigh…I’m jealous. (I did make it to all of those though, just not España, even though I had invitation from a wonderful Spanish gent to stay with him and let his Senora, make our meals. This is getting to be way too much about me now. GREAT PICS, and Congrats on what looks like an epic trip.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was. And like I said above I’m posting the rest of my pics early next week. There were so many I didn’t really edit, I just deleted the blurriest. And if you ever get the opportunity, go!


    1. You’re very right! Although my sisters response at the time I decided to switch to French (which didn’t last long) was “Oh joy another language to talk to yourself in.”

      Liked by 1 person

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