Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Helmet of Mambrino

 “In the course of the altercation, among other things the barber said, ‘Gentlemen, this pack-saddle is mine as surely as I owe God a death…if it does not fit like a glove, call me a rascal; and what is more, the same day I was robbed of this, they robbed me likewise of a new brass basin, never yet handselled, that would fetch a crown any day.’”  -Cervantes, Don Quixote.   Chap.  XLIV

I never shave when I travel.  Scruffy neck and scratchy cheeks.  I throw a long brimmed hat over my eyes and head out into the unknown.  Camping on the Great Wall, crossing Siberia by train, riding motorbikes through Sumatra,  kicking sand in the Rub al-Khali… I’ve been around.  I like the way the world's untrodden paths feel under my knicked-up boots.
 “’I can give no explanation except the usual one, that such transformations will take place in adventures of chivalry… run Sancho my son, and fetch hither the helmet which this good fellow calls a basin.’”  -Cervantes, Don Quixote.    Chapt XLIV

Of course, there’s another reason for looking like a hot disheveled mess.  Part of travel is not only seeing the world through your own eyes, watching foreign people, seeing how they live, what they value, and assimilating that into your own life… but also witnessing how you're treated as a guest.   I’ve seen it firsthand, arriving by chauffeured driver with brand-name luggage, I’m treated as a VIP.  Conversely, stumbling out of the bush with a tattered rucksack and clothes ripped at the seams, I’m eyeballed with skepticism and paranoia.  I like this balance.  I think traveling unshaven and rough around the edges gives me a better perspective…or maybe I’m just a lazy slob.  Probably the latter.     
 “’There is no doubt of that,’ said Sancho… ‘when he let loose those unlucky men in chains; and if had not been for this basin-helmet he would have come over well that time, for there was plenty of stone-throwing in that affair.’”   -Cervantes, Don Quixote.   Chapt XLIV

I felt this way trekking through Spain.  The Catalonian sun seems to sprout golden facial hair soft as a Mediterranean breeze.  I carried around a copy of Cervantes with me (total Hartenstein geek out!) and ruminated upon one adventure of intrepid hero Don Quixote where a hapless barber is caught in the rain and to protect his bald dome he clapped a wash basin on his head that Don Quixote insists is the Helmet of Mambrino, a mythical crown of pure gold that renders the wearer invulnerable.  (Charlemagne chased its glory, and it was procured by Gradasso, King of Sericane who was robbed of it by Orlando Furioso, who slew him at Barcelona.)  Of course, the helmet is nothing more than a chamber pot…but to Quixote, it is the embodiment of chivalry itself.
 “’May I never share heaven,’ said the poor barber, ‘if your worships are not all mistaken.’”    -Cervantes, Don Quixote.   Chapt XLV

I love this imagery.  It’s the things we live for, the small codes of armor we carry everyday silently for ourselves that others may or may not understand.
“To which Don Quixote very deliberately and phlegmatically replied, ‘Fair damsel, at this present moment your request is inopportune, for I am debarred from involving myself in any adventure until I have brought to a happy conclusion one to which my word has pledged me…’”     -Cervantes, Don Quixote.   Chapt XLV

Chivalry isn't dead.  As are the errant adventures of  secret knights and silly fools around us.  It's a quest, make it yours alone.  

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