Chasing Don Quixote across the Spanish plains of La Mancha
By Susana Vera
ARGAMASILLA DE ALBA, Spain (Reuters) - When he wrote "Don Quixote", Miguel de Cervantes did not give away the name of the birthplace of the eponymous middle-aged gentleman obsessed with heroically righting the world's wrongs and bringing back lost chivalry.
But many identify Argamasilla de Alba, a weather-beaten village of almost 7,000 people, as his hometown. It is found in the arid central Spanish region of La Mancha, a patchwork of buff and green fields.
"The two most well-known things about La Mancha are Don Quixote and our (manchego) cheese," says Angel Gutierrez, a 55-year-old shepherd and rancher, tending to his flock of sheep not far from the quiet town.
Four hundred years after Cervantes' death, references to Don Quixote, his loyal squire Sancho Panza and his beautiful lady Dulcinea abound in the surrounding villages of La Mancha from sweet treats to theater productions involving livestock.
Every year, for example, Gutierrez lends his animals to a theater group to re-enact on the streets the part of the novel when Don Quixote charges at two herds of sheep after taking them for armies.
The region is dotted with historic, white-washed windmills, central to the best-known episode of the book when Don Quixote fights windmills he imagines are giants.
The scene gave rise to the expression 'tilting at windmills' or fighting imaginary enemies, just as 'quixotic' now means idealistic and impractical.