Don Quijote’s Evil Giants

When you first see the windmills on the great hill of Consuegra you will remember Don Quijote.

windmills at Consuegra, Spain

windmills at Consuegra, Spain

He thought they weren’t windmills but evil giants standing haughtily in front of him; and he bravely tilted his lance and charged.
They do look very strange.

Here is Gustave Doré’s engraving of the mad charge, seen by thousands of readers of Cervantes’ Don Quijote de la Mancha.

Doré gives a terrible-giant appearance to his windmill, which is good illustration; but his windmill is way off.  Spanish windmills don’t look like that.  That is a Dutch or a French one.

Here is a Spanish windmill, the kind Don Quijote charged.

Windmill in La Mancha

Windmill in La Mancha

It is a very, very modest building—in fact, no greater architecture than a child’s sand-castle made with his pail. A simple cylinder of mud and stone, whitewashed, with a cap on it. And of course the propellers or blades, without their sails now because no one makes flour with a windmill anymore.

The propellers are fixed to the hood, which can revolve. Hanging down at the back is a long pole. The miller pushes it to make the propellers face the wind.

Spanish windmills date from the days when Spain “owned” the Netherlands, so the idea came from there.  But the people of La Mancha skipped the fancy decoration and did the minimum to hold up the propellers and house the millstone and the flour. And the miller and his family, of course.

What is a windmill like inside?

Here is a drawing.

The miller and his family lived on the second floor—a very small apartment with a tiny window. Spanish peasants had to choose between light, which brought in awful heat from the sun, and darkness, which meant cool or cooler; and they chose darkness. So their windows were all as small as castle loopholes.

The miller climbed the stairs to the third floor when it was time to work.  That feels like a kind of hot attic. Here he had no choice but to drill half a dozen little windows around so he could see to work. The millstone, a big, flat, stone disk, lies in the room like a table. It revolves on top of another one. The miller pours the grain between the disks and they grind it to a powder. It is very simple.

How do the propellers make the millstone revolve?  A couple of big wooden gears with hand-carved teeth change the direction of the movement from the vertical of the propellers to the horizontal of the millstone.

inside-a-spanish-windmill

Before starting to work in the morning the miller had to dress the propellers with canvas, as though they were the sails of a ship. The guides who show you the windmills nowadays love to fascinate with the old jargon. There were names for all the parts of the great “ship” and the millers were experts in wind and weather, like sailors.

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