Cervantes, Shakespeare, Pacheco, Cilleruelo... Read a Book!

Friday, April 23rd, was El Día del libro, a significant day in Spain, and especially in Barcelona, where it is also the La Diada de Sant Jordi (St. George's Day), patron saint of Catalonia. In Alcalá de Henares, the beautiful university town outside Madrid, the King and Queen preside the Cervantes Prize ceremony, honoring a Spanish language author for the totality of his or her work. It is often referred to as the "Nobel of Spanish language letters". This year the winner was Mexican poet José Emilio Pacheco. Why April 23rd? On this date, 1616, the world lost two of the most singular creators ever to put pen to paper: William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes. Quite a remarkable coincidence, and a fascinating albeit imperfect one: both Shakespeare and Cervantes died on April 23rd, 1616. But they died ten days apart. Excuse me?, you ask. Yes, in 1616 England was still using the Julian calendar, while Spain had already switched to the Gregorian calendar, initiated by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. The switch has to do with a slight imperfection (about 11 minutes per year in the Julian calendar), resulting in the Spring equinox coming progressively earlier, and that became a problem for the Church because Easter is a movable feast. Anyway, Pacheco, a poet I've admired for years, was a great choice for this prize. (That's him, above.)
In Barcelona Sant Jordi is somewhat like Valentine's Day: men give their love(s) a rose, and the girls, ever since a bookseller came up with this wonderful marketing scheme in 1923, correspond by giving their guy(s) a book. Las Ramblas is awash in flowers and books! The Catalonians are to be greatly admired: they understand what's important! Barcelona, that's where friend José Angel Cilleruelo is, and he marked April 23rd with a nice little anecdote about Cervantes, presented here as a rushed translation:

José Angel Cilleruelo,
A Man of Action Reading

From the beginning it was believed Quijote was one thing and Cervantes something quite different. There were those who who went to great lengths to demonstrate the obvious, that Cervantes was as singular as his character. On deaf ears. At estate auctions rarely is a Quijote figure missing: framed, wooden, metal, miniature, as a bust... the variety of forms is enormous, as is the variety of gestures and postures. Today I find a surprising one: an armored Quijote, seated, book in hands, reading. There is no greater paradox: if don Quijote sat down to read, he wouldn't be Quijote, he'd be Cervantes.

Thank you, José Angel!

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