By YVONNE FRENCH
Dutch poet and travel-writer Cees Nooteboom read from his works on May 19 and brought to life the mise-en-scène of Don Quixote of La Mancha.
"The light is false, a leaden gray streaked with brass like the backdrop of a tragic opera. And of course they are not windmills but men wildly flailing their arms, dangerous warriors, high-born knights. Nabokov, who devoted an exhaustive study to the Don, says succinctly: 'Notice how alive the windmills are in Cervantes' description,'" Mr. Nooteboom said, "And alive is what they are:
Look over there, friend Sancho Panza, where more than thirty monstrous giants appear. I intend to do battle with them and take all their lives ...
As he spoke, he dug his spurs into his steed Rocinante, paying no attention to his squire's shouted warning that beyond all doubt they were windmills . . . Covering himself with his shield and putting his lance in the rest, he urged Rocinante forward at a full gallop and attacked the nearest windmill, thrusting his lance into the sail. But the wind turned it with such violence that it shivered his weapon in pieces, dragging the horse and his rider with it, and sent the knight rolling badly injured across the plain.
... What you see as you approach Consuegra is the author's flash of inspiration. In a certain light, a certain configuration of clouds, the shimmering heat suspended over the plateau gives everything a spectral, unreal quality," Mr. Nooteboom continued. "It was Cervantes himself who recognized giants in these windmills before his Knight set eyes on them . . . They are mills, to be sure, but with that one dead eye marking the pivot of the four revolving sails they are also living creatures in a menacing battle formation. I linger among the slate-colored rocky outcrops [of the castle ruins] gaze over the plateau stretching limitlessly westward, past the crumbling crenellated walls, and each time I turn I see the ever-watchful windmills silhouetted against the darkening, doom-laden sky."
In his first selection from the book Roads to Santiago (English translation 1997, Harcourt Brace), Mr. Nooteboom entranced the Mumford Room audience of 200 with his impressions of the paintings of court artist Diego Velásquez in the Prado. In other chapters he ponders such subjects as why Salvador Dalí depicted melting watches and the birth of the Gothic arch.
Mr. Nooteboom, who considers himself foremost a poet, also read two of his poems in Dutch and English so the audience, many of whom were Dutch, could hear his craft in his native tongue. The renowned contemporary Dutch author has published 10 books of poetry. This year, Sun & Moon Press in Los Angeles published an anthology of his poems, The Captain of the Butterflies.
He travels widely. His first novel, Philip and the Others (first published in 1954, English translation 1988, Louisiana State University Press), was inspired by a long hitchhiking trip he took through Europe. When he is not traveling, Mr. Nooteboom divides his time between Amsterdam and Berlin, retreating in the summer months to the Spanish island of Menorca in the Mediterranean. He has been going to Spain several times a year since 1954.
Mr. Nooteboom was born in The Hague in 1933. Early in life he wanted to be a Trappist monk because he was attracted by the possibility of staying in the same place forever, said Prosser Gifford, director of the Office of Scholarly Programs, introducing the speaker. "The abbot gave him a life of Abelard in Latin and said, 'When you finish translating this, come see me.' Now Abelard lies open to page 10 and Cees Nooteboom travels the world."
Later Mr. Nooteboom, in response to a question from the audience, said, "When you are a nomad, living in other countries gives you a remarkable distance from your own country."
Said Mr. Gifford: "This is truly an international occasion, to have a Dutch author reading to us in English about Spain." The reading was sponsored by the Office of Scholarly Programs and the European Division, and coordinated by German/Dutch Area Specialist Margrit B. Krewson. A welcome was given by Madelien A.J. de Planque, counselor for press, public and cultural affairs for the Royal Netherlands Embassy.
It was the second time Mr. Nooteboom appeared at the Library. In 1984, he read from his works as part of "An Evening of Postwar Poetry of the Netherlands and Flanders." In addition, he has recorded for the Library's Archive of World Literature on Tape.
Ms. French is a public affairs specialist in the Public Affairs Office.