To Dream the Impossible Dream

Posted on July 14, 2011


As is the case of many gringas who end up with latinos, I was a Spanish major in college.  At my school, the Spanish program was really a literature degree, and I focused my studies on Latin America.  Popul Vuh, Sor Juana, magical realism, the Boom, feminist poetry, revolutionary theater, so on.  It’s good stuff.

But we also had to dedicate a portion of our studies to Spanish lit.  At the time, I had no interest in Spain, nor Spanish writing.  That is, until I went to Buenos Aires.  In an inspirational class alongside young Argentine scholars, I discovered Lorca and Unamuno and, perhaps most preciously, Antonio Machado (with whom I curled up for long luscious hours in Parque Rivadavia).

This led me to pursue that Spanish vein a bit more upon my return from study abroad, resulting in a fascinating exploration of Almodovar films, the development of rich relationships with my Spanish (from-Spain) professors, and … the task of drudging through Quixote in my last quarter at Northwestern.  Okay, okay, I know it´s a great masterpiece.  But let’s be honest — Cervantes is dense!  Especially when ones Spain-Spanish from antiquity is rather unrefined.

Though it wasn’t a thrill-ride, I’m ultimately grateful for the class.  Because of the knowledge acquired, the challenge… But really because it led me to one of my all-time favorite movies: The Man of La Mancha.

Maybe it was the wistful time in life, the adventure I sensed awaited after graduation.  Maybe it was the nostalgia that the soundtrack caused, reminding me of the sheet music"" that sat on my grandmother’s piano as a child (a remnant of my mom’s piano-lesson days in the 60’s).The Impossible Dream … Or maybe it was just Peter O’Toole’s hypnotic blue eyes (Sophia Loren played opposite him – lovely pair!).  Whatever the case, this movie did me in with old-style idealism.

Cinematically I know it doesn’t hold a candle to Lawrence of Arabia or The Lion in Winter.  Yet it inspired me then, and still does, with its eponymously quixotic quest for Good.  O’Toole as Cervantes is charged with lunacy under the Inquisition, then mounts a convincing case as to why our notions of lunacy vs. reality are warped, and why perhaps lunacy ain’t so bad if it means desperately clinging to ones ideals.  Why it came to my mind at this moment, I have no idea.  But among many treasured quotes from this film, I’ll share this one:

“Life as it is?  I’ve seen life as it is.  Pain, misery, cruelty beyond belief.  … My comrades were men who saw life as it is, and they died despairing.  No glory, no brave last words.  Only their eyes, filled with confusion — questioning, “Why?”  I do not think they were asking why they were dying, but why they had never lived.  

When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies?  Perhaps to be too practical is madness.  To surrender dreams — this may be madness; to seek treasure where there is only trash.  Too much sanity may be madness. And maddest of all:  to see life as it is and not as it should be!”

At this point in splendid summer, it’s easy to get a little  lackadaisical.  But as you’re out and about adventuring, don’t forget to pursue some lunatical dreams. What better time to leave behind life as it is, imagine something greater, and pursue your personal legend or quest?  Whatever you are struggling and searching after in your life now, may you, like Quijote, keep moving forward.  In last year’s nest there are no birds.

. . .

Now, if you really want to go for all-out sentimentality, here’s the song.  They’re quality lyrics, so listen up.  Dream impossible dreams.  Tra la la!

Windmill Painting: 1
Windmill Photograph: 2
(and other great windmill images on etsy: a, b, c, d … I’m currently getting my kicks dreaming of these on my walls)

Posted in: Poetry