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Happy 475th Birthday to Cervantes, author and adventure travel inspiration

29 September is observed as the birthday of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, born near Madrid (1547). The actual date of his birth is unknown, but his baptism was recorded on October 9. It was customary in Spain at that time for babies to be named after the saint on whose feast day they were born, and today is the Feast of Saint Michael, so people assume that this is his birthday.

Cervantes’ early life reads like an adventure tale. His father was deaf and worked as a barber-surgeon, which was not the prestigious and highly skilled profession that it is today, and mostly involved bloodletting, bone setting, and pulling teeth. He moved around Spain in search of income, and the family never had much money. Cervantes probably didn’t have much formal education, although we don’t know for sure. A relative taught him to read when he was a boy, and this was his chief joy in life. When he was 22, he published a poem in honor of Spain’s late queen, Elizabeth of Valois. He became a soldier the next year, and was known for his bravery. On his way back to Spain in 1575, he was captured by Barbary pirates and sold into slavery in Tangiers. He earned a reputation for courage and leadership among his fellow captives, and seemed to have been respected even by his captors, who were relatively lenient with him even though he tried to escape four times.

Cervantes was finally ransomed five years later. Once he was free, he wrote an unsuccessful novel, tried to break into playwriting, and finally took a civil service job with the Spanish Armada. He wound up in prison after he was accused of financial mismanagement in his job. During his imprisonment, he started work on the first modern novel, and the first best-seller: Don Quixote. He published the first part in 1605, and the second part a decade later, just a year before his death in 1616.

When you're visiting Sevilla you can make a stop where his house was located. Where else can you see spots found in his novel or from his own life?

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I appreciate this post in part because I love to visit literary sites in Europe. My favorites are Anne Frank's Secret Annex in Amsterdam, the ETA Hoffman house in Bamberg, Germany, and the Shakespeare sites in Southwark, London. It is good to know that others connect their travels with great literature and writers. I have two literature degrees and write for a living.

Having said that, there is a distinctly Cervantian element to me. I was in Sevilla in 2014, but didn't know that the city hosted sites associated with Cervantes.

More important, I read the first part of Don Quixote this year. Though I am used to classic literature, I came away from the book with a mixed reaction. I like the story within the story -- The Impertinently Curious Man -- and some elements of the main plot, such as the return to the inn at the end of that section, but found the novel a bit plodding. As a result, I did not proceed into the second part of the story, but plan to pick it up again.

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In birthday celebration, I'm about to watch Terry Gilliam's The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. I recommend it.