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Dimarts  04.03.2014  11:13

Autor/s: Liz Castro

Promiscuity, a short story by Albert Villaró

The prize-winning novelist will participate in a #CatalanTalk Tuesday afternoon at 5pm CET


Albert Villaró is a Catalan novelist, archivist, and archaeologist. In January, he won the prestigious Josep Pla Prize for his novel, Els Ambaixadors [The Ambassadors] (Grup62, 2014) an alternate history that asks, 'What would have happened if the very real Proclamation of the Catalan State in October, 1934 had been successful and Catalonia grew up alongside Spain's dictatorship—in this universe, sans Franco, who has died in an airplane crash—instead of within it?"

VilaWeb Global talks to Villaró on Tuesday, March 4, at 5pm CET, 11am EST. As usual, the talk will be simultaneously translated into various languages. You can follow the chat here on VilaWeb or on Twitter by searching for #CatalanTalk followed by EN, ES, CA, FR, NL, IT, DE, depending on your preferred language (English, Spanish, Catalan, French, Dutch, Italian, or German, respectively).

Villaró has graciously offered a short story to give English readers a taste of his narrative, reproduced below (translated by Liz Castro).


by Albert Villaró

In the middle of that July day, the sun was burning hot. The boulders and the rocks which had been soaking up the heat for several days were like glowing coals. The roasted air distorted the view of the mountains, and a heavy sky hung like a curtain above that hell on earth.

A big old buzzard flew up high, taking advantage of a slightly fresher air current, thinking that the figure that scrabbled heavily over the debris of Port Negre was a large beetle out on a high-altitude expedition. 

But it wasn’t a beetle, not by a long shot. Father Cinto* stopped for a moment, huffing and puffing, when he got to the pass. He’d been climbing for two hours and the suitcase that he always traveled with weighed him down so much that he was starting to feel like throwing it down the coast. He rued the day that the idea had come to him to carry so much with him on his way from Ordino to Bescaran.

 “Imagine me thinking I’d need the 'Summa Theologiae'!”

But the case formed part of his uniform: cassock, hat, and a regular umbrella, all in various shades of black. He had untiringly carried them all as he walked over fallen rocks and mountain tops, glacial valleys and ravines, always in search of poetic inspiration.

There wasn’t any shade. He had a flask of malvasia in his suitcase. He opened it. Out of the corner of his eye, he looked at the copies of the 'Summa', thinking that the 'Doctor Angelicus' could have written a more modest work in size, but not in content. After a gulp, he started the descent. It seemed as though he were closer and closer to civilization—such as it was—and that he still might make it to Bescaran before dusk. But he wasn’t at all sure: on the southern side, dark and angry clouds were gathering, and from the valley, a wind had arisen that every once in a while smelled like rain.

He quickened his pace, to see if he could find a shed before it started to rain. But the descent was even more difficult than the climb: the pebbles from the ground got into his shoes, and they started to irritate his feet. He descended with the weight of the world on his shoulders, with the clouds already covering, threateningly, the entire sky. The static electricity was clearly getting stronger, the stones let off sparks, and the priest noted that the hairs on the back of his neck were standing straight up.

The first lightning bolt fell 500 meters from Father Cinto and shattered a boulder. That was the signal for the furious launch of the heavenly brigades, with an exhibition of a variety of meteors: thunder, lightning, sparks, hail, huge raindrops, all making a monumental commotion. But the priest was a man of resources: he opened the umbrella, took out a potato, cut it in half, and stuck one piece on the metallic end, to protect himself from the electricity. He sat on a flat rock, curled up under the umbrella, resolutely waiting for the storm to pass, all the while composing the experience in verse.

All of a sudden, he felt a breath warm the back of his neck. He turned around instinctively, without imagining what he might find. It was a bear, of medium size, and perfectly formed with all its body parts, hairy and dark as the dickens. With a perfectly human movement, shifting its hips, it got comfortable on the priest’s rock, taking cover by sharing the esteemed poet’s umbrella.

Verdaguer had never seen a bear and wasn’t familiar with its customs, but he imagined that, like all the animals of Creation, he could stand a bit of rain and cold without much trouble, and had no need of seeking refuge under the umbrella of passing excursionists.

“What a lordly animal!” the priest complained quietly.

For a moment, he thought that the bear was a transfigured demon come to tempt him. He couldn’t quite imagine what sort of temptations it might use, but just in case, he pronounced a very quiet exorcism to see what happened. The bear didn’t pay any attention.

“I guess not!”

He decided to do nothing, and to wait until the rain subsided, biding his time. The beast sat there resignedly. Father Cinto was also unsure just what sort of behavior was the most recommended in such cases. They looked like two neighbors in an elevator: the priest consulting his pocket watch too often to really be curious about the time, the bear staring at the horizon and scratching its ears.

The umbrella was small. The bear, solidly positioned, took up a lot of space and Father Cinto’s right side was getting wet. As the priest felt braver, he started pushing to try to recapture a bit of territory. The animal must have weighed five hundred pounds and probably didn’t feel a thing. The priest gave up trying to win back the space, but he had to lean into his companion in order not to end up totally soaked.

Two hours went by. To pass the time, Father Cinto read fragments of the 'Summa'. The bear, undoubtedly admiring the reading prowess of the poet, cast glimpses full of envy his way.

Finally, the curtain of clouds began to dissolve and the sun seemed to want to come out to dry off the whole country. The bear stretched out one of its claws to see if it was still raining. Without saying a word, it got up with a sigh of resignation and ambled off towards Andorra.

Father Cinto, who was still meditating on the possible evil state of his storm companion, folded up the umbrella and headed down the mountain. An hour later he arrived in Bescaran. The rector at Bescaran, Father Albós didn’t believe the story and wrote off his colleague’s experience to the malvasia or perhaps the altitude. Behind his back, he made faces at the housekeeper indicating that he suspected that good Father Cinto might not be all there.

Night fell in Bescaran, and in the morning, after Mass, Father Cinto went on his way, toward Seu. He gave his umbrella to the rector before he left, who later hung it in the sacristy as a memento. At Baster’s in Seu, Father Cinto bought a shepherd’s umbrella—six feet wide—for a couple of rals.

“That way, if I find him again, we’ll have more room!” he said.

*Jacint (Cinto) Verdaguer was a Catalan secular priest (a mossén), and was regarded as one of the greatest poets of Catalan literature and a prominent literary figure of the Renaixença, a national revival movement of the late Romantic era at the end of the 19th century (according to Wikipedia). Another good article on Verdaguer can be found on LletrA, a great online source about Catalan literature.