As if you didn't indulge me every day, today I ask for a little extra indulgence.
Our windmill is a former prop that was was regularly set afire in a performance based upon Don Quixote by the now defunct Cirque de Flambe. We've removed the heavy metal vanes and replaced them with swimming noodles.
The fire in the performance, I assume, represented the intensity of Alonso Quijano's imagination as he sallies forth into the world, believing himself to be the chivalric hero Don Quixote de la Mancha. I prefer to think that he is neither "a madman nor a fool," as the great critic Harold Bloom writes, "but someone who plays at being a knight-errant." Bloom, in his book The Western Canon cites Dutch historian Johan Huizinga who in his masterpiece Homo Ludens asserts that play is the source of all human culture.
Play is a voluntary activity, unlike madness and foolishness. Play, according to Huizinga, has four principal characteristics: freedom, disinterestedness, excludedness or limitednss, and order. You can test all of these qualities upon the Don's knight-errantry, but not always upon Sancho's faithful service as squire, for Sancho is slower to yield himself to play. The Don lifts himself into ideal place and time and is faithful to his own freedom, to its disinterestedness and seclusion, and to its limits . . .
There is no greater universal image than the Don's impossible dream quest, that thing that brings us all every day out into the world to unreasonably stand before windmills and fight them as if they be giants that "move more arms than the giant Briareus." If each of us is not standing from our beds each day, our minds afire with our dragons and Dulcineas, then we are the more sane Sancho Panza, the one who says, "the arms you fancy, are their sails, which, being whirled about by the wind, make the mill go." Throughout our lives all of us are sometimes the Don and sometimes Sancho, both of whom see the world with a clarity that makes the other seem mad or foolish. (Although I will point out that in the end, when the Don is at last defeated, he returns to "sanity," giving up his play, and dies, an indication, I think that Cervantes put the special star of life by his "insane" Don.)
And play is what this all about, the first novel, and perhaps the greatest thing ever written. It's about play's sanity, it's insanity, and it's bulls-eye central-ness to what kind of thing we are in the universe. That's why we still read Don Quixote and why when we see a storybook windmill, those of us who haven't forgotten how to play, always take a tilt at it.
I did not want our windfall of large pieces of canvas to become one of those prizes that I wind up curating while it sits on the shelves for months, if not years, awaiting the "perfect" moment, so I'd promised myself they'd get used this summer. Last week the children arrived to find their windmill a canvas wrapped giant in the center of their classroom.
We sallied forth on our adventure, paint brushes in hand, together dreaming our impossible dream.
We marched right up to this giant and made our marks, shoulder to shoulder, still seeing a windmill I suppose.
Perhaps we were a troupe of Sanchos as we set out, still seeing vanes instead of arms.
Playing, yes, but practically with our brushes and our quiet little cups of paint. There's a goodness and rightness about that; an innocence, certainly. It's the kind of place from which the best adventures start.
Some of us, in the freedom of our play, chose to swing around to the back stage side of things, where we found something magical to do, that being the moment when we first suspected that there was more here than a mere windmill.
And perhaps is was then that we began to understand that we were dealing with a giant.
It had grown right here before us. We needed to reach higher so we began to call for ladders to allow us to scale its ramparts.
It continued to grow as we painted and its many arms to spin like the giant Biareus. This would not be enough.
That's when we decided to manufacture lances for ourselves, long sticks onto the ends of which we duct taped brushes to allow us to do proper battle with those long arms, all the way up in the clouds where they waved about so fiercely.
Of course, these particular children may not have been battling at all.
In fact, I'm inclined to believe they were not, but rather playing an entirely different story, but one, I'm sure nonetheless was a quest worthy of knights.
They just were playing; you know, building a little human culture.
Tell me this is not the stuff of legend.
We reached into the clouds indeed, our knight-errantry taking us to heights beyond ourselves, and many simply beside ourselves, like the peculiar incident that involved someone planting a green dot on someone's cheek unawares.
But the invention of this new slice of human culture was far from complete as we then proceeded to the launching of paint besotted projectiles, such as sponges, and something (I don't exactly know what; they predate me) in the toes of nylons that we generally use for splat painting (dipping them in paint, then dropping them onto paper from a height).
Look how boldly we stand here before the giant.
We are the Don.
Adding an extra challenge was the group of peasants who sought to ride their donkey's in the neighboring pastures, so we were careful to avoid collateral damage.
After each toss, we approached the giant to survey what we had managed.
And oh, we had some technique.
Amazingly, this one hit it's target!
Lest you get the idea that we were playing a kind of war game here, I should point out that I'm the only one of us (meaning me and the kids) who has read Don Quixote, so this fantasy combat imagery was only in my head, as it was in the Don's. Up to this point, all the tools we'd used -- ladders, long paint brushes, paint soaked projectiles -- were all discussed as attempts to paint to the "very top" of the canvas. I mention this because this last thing we did is quite martial and I don't want you to think we'd been the whole time building ourselves up into a combat-ish frenzy.
That's right, we took our dangerous spear throwing to a whole new level, taping paint brushes to the ends of our bamboo stakes, dipping them in paint . . .
. . . taking aim . . .
. . . and letting them fly!
It was an idea one of the kids had suggested and we just had to give it a try, you know, because we're the Don, and Sancho, for the time being, is no where to be found.