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On Dutch people's current (unwitting) penchant for Catalan writers
CATALONIA TODAY – SECTION: LONG-TERM RESIDENT - ARTICLE SIXTY-SIX
I couldn't get away from them. Whether in the canal-ridden village of Monnickendam or in the heart of Amsterdam, whether in the market town of Hoorn or the tourist trap of Marken, I kept running into earshot of Catalan speakers throughout my holiday in Holland. They seemed to have infiltrated the Dutch summer, slapdash spies who gave themselves away time and again with loud greetings of 'bon dia' followed by a conspiratorial grin.
Far more unusual, though, was the sight - unprecedented in the fifteen years I've been visiting the Netherlands - of Catalan language authors on display in every single bookshop window I peeked at, and I peeked at plenty. They all showed 'Het Geluk' ('La felicitat'), a fat novel about pre-war Barcelona by Lluís-Anton Baulenas; and some had 'De onzichtbare stad' ('La ciutat invisible'), Emili Rosales's historical mystery set in the Ebre delta; also present was a new translation of 'Colometa', the name by which the Dutch know Mercè Rodoreda's 1962 classic 'La plaça del Diamant'.
Despite all this, I found that most Dutch people I met were still blissfully oblivious to the existence of Catalan itself, let alone its literary culture. An ignorance which the above-mentioned books only served to maintain, given that their blurbs omitted to mention the tongue they were written in, while disingenuously assuring readers that they formed part of 'Spaanse literatuur'.
I sometimes wonder what would have happened if, back in the 17th century, the Netherlanders had lost, and the Catalans won, their respective wars against the Castilian occupiers. Probably Dutch, not Catalan, would now be the hidden language of Europe; and Amsterdam's Damplein, and not Barcelona's Rambla, would now be thronged with tourists using Spanish phrasebooks to buy Mexican hats.