Again and again we traveled to Catalonia, south of Tarragona. Again and again we noticed the sign to the village Pratdip pointing to the mountains. One day, we followed them and we found Dip and Joan Perucho’s novel „natural history“ or in Spanish “las historias naturales”.
Let me tell you more about Pratdip and its vampire Dip.
Pratdip is a small village and the inhabitants are proud of their Dip
Pratdip is located in the mountains of Llaberia, some 40km southwest of Tarragona.
Narrow steep streets are overseen by the ruins of their castle that sits on a steep rock.
In the village there are various portraits of the vampire Dip in his incarnation as a dog-vampire (vampires can change their appearances rapidly).
When we enter the tourist office, we find another dip.
The assistant laughs: „You are looking for the vampire Dip“, she asks and proudly shows us the book of Joan Perucho with the title „Las historias naturales“. She adds: „Perucho tells you everything about the Dip and what he has done to Pratdip.“ The original version of the novel is in Catalan. I buy the Spanish version.
Then we walk to the hermitage of Santa Maria, along orchards with hazelnut trees…
… and enjoy the hermitage Santa Marina in the mountains…
… where we find a friendly restaurant.
To round our excursion up, we climb the castle rock and enjoy the view.
Back at home: I enjoy reading „natural history“ by Joan Perucho to learn all about the dip
Back at home I read the novel of Joan Perucho. In his normal life, Perucho was a serious judge. When writing his „historias naturales“ or „natural history“, he must have twinkled with his eyes. The novel can be located somewhere between fable and reality and is full of humor. I could find five threads of interlaced actions.
- First the novel is about the vampire Dip – his full name is Onofro de Dip. In the 13th century, he had owned the „meadows“ around Pratdip (hence the “prats of dip”). He traveled to Hungary to prepare the marriage for his king James I with Yolanda (or Violant) of Hungary (James and Violant are a historical fact). On the way to Hungary, Onofro de Dip fell in love with the lady vampire Meczyr who turned him into a vampire and „Non-Dead“ (No Muerto). He returned to Pratdip in the early 19th century and terrorized the village killing inhabitants every night. The current owner of Pratdip, Baroness Urpí, asks her brother, Marqués de La Gralla, for help (Gralla is a „real“ noble family from Barcelona; they owned a palace that no longer exists today). A friend of the Marqués de Gralla, the young natural scientist Antonio de Montpalau (an invented person), travels to Pratdip, neutralizes the vampire with the help of garlic, parsley and wooden crosses. Then he finds Dip’s grave in the castle and expulses Dip from Pratdip. Onofro de Dip morphs into the solo guerillero El Mochuelo (the Owl) fighting for the (conservative) Carlists and terrorizing the region of Tortosa and Berga. Montpalau pursues him, finds him finally in a crypta near Berga (castle Mataplana) and by speaking out some magic words, Montpalau makes Onofro de Dip die „properly“ and find his peace.
- Second the novel is the portrait of the higher society of the Barcelona area in the early 19th century. Montpalau as a young scientist belongs to that higher society. The members of the high society enjoy meeting in the Gralla palace, eating and discussing history, natural science, mathematics or music. As a reader you feel the luxury and shake your head about the sometimes detached, elitist or even absurd discussions. Once Frédéric Chopin and George Sand are invited to a banquet, as they stop over in Barcelona.
Antonio de Montpalau is a scientist who is focused on classifying animals and plants aorund him. He is also interested in geography and geology. Before going to Pratdip, he researches all literature available and he finds scientific literature about vampires that recommends using garlic, parsley, portulak, wooden crosses and mirrors to fight vampires (I can feel Perucho smile, when he lets Montpalau buy ten dozens of mirrors before leaving for Pratdip).
- Third the novel has a historical background: The year 1840 in the first Carlist War in which the male pretendent of the throne, Carl V, fought against his niece, the actual Queen Isabel II.
- One one hand, the Carlists that fought for Carl V, were conservative. Their target was a federation of several states unified by the king of Spain and the catholic church as the only two common denominators of the federation, conserving, what Spain had been before. A man made constitution was not needed in their eyes. Federation was, of course, welcomed by Catalonia (or also the Basque region). Carlists were strong in Catalonia.
- On the other hand, the followers of the actual Queen Isabel II were classified as liberal, as they based their ideas on the French Revolution. The wanted the separation of church and state, a centralized state based on the constitution (as set up in 1812, like France). The idea of the centralized state was not, what Catalonia strived for, but the high society in Barcelona, including Antonio de Montpalau, was liberal.
- Some real persons give a realistic background, the most important being Ramón Cabrera. He was the outstanding leader of the conservative Carlists in Catalonia. His liberal (pro Isabel) opponent was Baldomero Espartero. In 1840, Espartero defeated Cabrera and his Carlists in Berga not far from the Pyrenees.
- Montpalau and Onofro de Dip interact with the real persons. Ramón Cabrera has been photographed wearing a large scarf around the collar of his shirt. Furthermore he has been reported to feel ill, when trying to conquer Gandesa. Perucho tells us the reason. Cabrera attacked Gandesa at the time, when Dip morphed into the Carlist guerilla „El Mochuelo” that wanted to become a Carlist leader himself. He bit Cabrera such that he will become an immortal vampire. This is why Cabrera felt weak and this is why, he had to wear a large scarf (to hide the stitches of the vampire – twinkle). Perucho continues describing, how the liberal Antonio de Montpalau was captured by the conservative (Carlist) troups of Cabrera, how he could ease the symptoms of the bite for Cabrera and how finally Montpalau succeeded to free Cabrera from his gloomy destiny by making Onofro de Dip die properly – as described in the first thread of actions – in the crypta near Berga, just after the Carlist Cabrera had been fully defeated in Berga by the (pro Isabel) Espartero.
- Fourth the novel is a travel report about Catalonia in the early 19th century. Antonio de Montpalau, his nephew Novau and his coachman Amadeo travel from Barcelona via Villafranca, Reus and Falset to Pratdip. After having expulsed the vampire-Dip from Pratdip, they leave to pursue the vampire-El Mochuelo, cross the Ebro near Miravet, stay for some time in Gandesa, continue to Morella. Cabrera resides in Morella and Montpalau and his followers are captured here. Then as prisoners they accompany Cabrera to Berga. Our travelers visit places of interest on the way (e.g. the monastery Vallbona de los Monges where the Queen Violant from Hungary has been buried), admire the beauty of the landscape, eat local specialties and drink delicious wines from Terra Alta. The travel reports are full of humor, e.g. about real places of interest such as the cathedral of Tarragona that they like though their travel handbook by (real) Alexandre Laborde does not recommend to visit it. Or about less real events: The three heroes meet giant fleas, but luckily Monpalau knows, how to escape them: They inflame branches of pine trees and carry them like torches (twinkle).
- Fifth it is a love story with a very, very happy end. While Antonio de Montpalau is fighting the Dip in Pratdip, he and Inés fall in love. Inés is the daughter of the baroness Urpí that has asked her brother, Marqués de Gralla, for help against the Dip. Montpalau has to leave his love to pursue the Dip. A historian has encouraged Montpalau to do so, as he found (historic-scientific) sources that reveil, it is Montpalau’s fate to defeat the Dip (twinkle). After having vanquished the vampire Dip-El Mochuelo near Berga, Montpalau returns to Barcelona. At the palace of Marqués de Gralla he finds his love Inés (the Marqués‘ niece) waiting for him. What a happy end!
Perucho’s novel was the first book that I accomplished reading in Spanish. In the beginning it was a bit of a tough start for me, because Perucho takes his time to set the stage. But then, when the action of neutralizing and chasing the Dip-El Mochuelo accelerates, what a pleasure! And it was even more pleasure to go back to the start to enjoy the setting of the stage, once I understood more about the historical background. The novel is full of humor and of fantasy with links to real history and geography. I did enjoy to read about many places in Catalonia that I know and that Perucho moves to the early 19th century presenting them with the eyes of Antonio Montpalau and his followers. And I did enjoy to learn more about Spanish history which helps to understand what is going on in Spain today.