Monday 30 July 2012

Still celebrating Stoker and his vampire count

Celebrations of the memory of Bram Stoker as theatrical manager and author are still ongoing, and the Irish An Post marked the centenary of Stoker's death with two stamps depicting Stoker himself as well as his most famous fictional creation, Dracula. The stamps are available at face value, including the minisheet shown below on top of the sheet published in 1897 to celebrate the centenary of Dracula itself. Click on the photo for a more detailed look, or go to An Post's shop if you are interested in purchasing the stamps. The new stamps are designed by David Rooney.

Considering the use of the written word in various formats, including a number of letters, in the novel itself, and the enormous amount of letters Stoker must have written while working for Henry Irving, stamps are a fitting way of celebrating Stoker and his vampire.

Oh, and by the way, having spent some hot and sunny days in the Western part of the Mediterranean Sea here in July, it is interesting to note that it is at the same time of year that the Demeter experienced 'rough weather' while journeying to the Gibraltar Strait. I suppose that, although Stoker meticulously dated the events of the novel, one recalls the events and not the context. But then it is perhaps even more unpleasant that Count Dracula conjures up a storm in late July. Following the novel more or less 'in real time' via the Dracula blog allows one to be reminded of the timing of the events.

Saturday 28 July 2012

'Vampire skeleton' still popular

As I pointed out when the 'vampire skeleton' from Sozopol in Bulgaria made the news, the number of visits to this blog exploded when people (particularly in USA) went in search of 'vampire skeletons'. Now a recent short news story on the subject on the National Geographic web site has attracted a lost of interest on Facebook, becoming the most shared news story in four months, according to As of writing, it has been shared 4.441 times and 10.692 people have 'liked' the story.

According to National Geographic, 'the skeleton's teeth [or rather some of them, ed.] had been pulled. Scholars believe the rod and tooth-pulling were techniques villagers used to prevent dead men from turning into vampires.'

Friday 27 July 2012

Vampires in Barcelona? Perhaps...

Despite the heat and sunshine, a modern day vampire film could easily be set in Barcelona. The narrow old streets, the shuttered houses, the broad avenues, the modernista houses, the modern architectonical creations, the numerous citizens and the masses of tourists flocking the streets and beaches well into the night, all of them are elements that would make an interesting backdrop to the fictional vampires preying a city in search of blood.

In real life, as a tourist one must beware of pickpockets and scam artists. A guy entering a metro train right behind me was pickpocketed, but fortunately recovered his wallet before the thief could get away with it. This, unfortunately, is the case with various larger cities, just as a waiter in a restaurant in the old part of the city apparently mixed up bills so I was asked to pay an amount that was almost one and a half of what we had actually ordered. Fortunately, most of the people we met on our stay were friendly and helpful.

This was certainly the case of the head waiter (owner?) of Crama Dracula, a small Romanian restaurant located in 18 Carrer de Provença opposite a huge panopticon style prison (closest metro station is Entença). We arrived there early, so we got a lot of attention and the food consisting of some traditional Romanian dishes with mineral water and 'Dracula' Cabernet Sauvignon arrived very quickly.

I suppose you need some sense of humour to own or work in a Dracula restaurant decorated with various Vlad Tepes and Dracula artefacts, so perhaps that is why I afterwards thought our waiter had a hint of John Cleese about him. Anyway, we were treated nicely, also tasting their 'Dracula crepes' for dessert as well as their Țuică.

And if you want to enjoy Romanian wine and food at home, there is a shop, Unirea, selling Romanian wine and ingredients almost next door to the restaurant. Their 'Dracula wine' is actually pretty cheap, just €4.

On a more horrific note, this year marks the centenary of the detention of the so-called 'vampire of Barcelona', Enriqueta Marti, a kidnapper and murderer of children. Born in 1868, Marti moved to Barcelona as a young woman and ended up as a prostitute, later on specializing in prostituting children. According to wikipedia, she led a double life:

'During the day she dressed in rags and begged at houses of charity, convents and parishes in the destitute parts of town where she selected children who looked the most abandoned. Taking the children by the hand, she made them pass as her children. Later, she prostituted or murdered them. She did not have any need to beg since her double work as a procurer and prostitute gave her sufficient money to live well. By night she dressed in luxurious clothes, hats and wigs, and attended the El Liceu, the Casino de la Arrabassada and other places where the wealthy of Barcelona gathered. It is probable that in these places she offered her services as procurer of children.'

Operating for many years, she not only had a brothel prostituting minors, but also served as a kind of witch-doctor. Again, according to wikipedia:

'The ingredients she used to make her remedies were made from the remains of the children that she was killing, who ranged from infants up to children of 9 years. From these children she used everything that she could; the fat, blood, hair,and bones (that normally she turned into powder). For this reason, she did not have problems disposing of the bodies of her victims. Enriqueta offered salves, ointments, filters, cataplasms and potions, especially to treat tuberculosis, which was highly feared at the time, and all kinds of diseases that did not have a cure in traditional medicine. Wealthy people were paying large sums of money for these remedies.'

On February 27 2012 she was finally arrested after a neighbour had noticed a girl she had never seen before playing in Marti's mezzanine flat in 29 Carrer de Ponent, now 29 Carrer de Joaquín Costa in the part of Barcelona called Raval. The girl turned out to be a girl kidnapped by Marti. Investigators from the police then searched a number of flats where Marti had stayed and made macabre discoveries of human remains.

All sorts of atrocities are attributed to Marti, but as she was never tried - the legal proceedings were interrupted by Marti getting lynched by fellow prisoners in 1913 - the case appears to be somewhat unclear. But if you read the wikipedia article - which appears to be an attempt at translating the Spanish one - you will find all manner of criminal and sadistic acts attributed to her.

Returning to the world of fiction, I noticed a well-assorted DVD store near the university: Castelló 70-nou in 79 Carre de Tallers, even stocking Dracula and Mummy lamps and clocks! I stuck to a cheap DVD as a kind of souvenir of El Mundo de las Perversas Vampiras (!), a Jess Franco film from 1971 (according to imdb: 1973) called Virgen entre los muertos vivientes in Spanish and known by a multitude of titles like Christina, princesse de l'érotisme.

Charitably said, the cover of the DVD is more fun than spending 75 minutes to get through the story of a young woman going to the estate of her family after her father's death, ultimately learning that the family members she meets are (living) dead with a taste for blood. Franco has his fans, and this film has once again convinced me that I will never become one of them...

Finally, it may be worth mentioning that Catalonia is, of course, the home of Cercle V, an organization interested in vampires, including the historical aspects. Among those involved in Cercle V is Jordi Ardanuy.

Thursday 26 July 2012

Varberg vampires

I was considering going to the museum in Varberg on the Western coast of Sweden, as they are currently hosting an exhibition about vampires. The home of the famous bog body known as the Bocksten man, this might be worth spending a day off on. Then I read what author of a Swedish vampire book, Katarina Harrison Lindbergh, wrote on her blog and decided that it probably was not worth the time and money. The museum claims that the exhibition was inspired by her book, Vampyrernas historia, but she was clearly disappointed and is actually grateful that she had nothing to do with it. I suppose that it is, as I had myself expected, mostly staged to attract the attention of kids and youngsters interested in Twilight and The Vampire Diaries.

The best exhibition on the subject that I know of, was Dracula: Woiwode und Vampir exhibited at Castle Ambras and the National Museum of Art of Romania.

Sunday 15 July 2012

Apropos of Bulgarian archaeology

After the find of the so-called 'vampire skeletons' in Sozopol in Bulgaria, someone posted the montage below of another Bulgarian archaeological find 'endorsed' by Bozhidar Dimitrov. According to 24 часа, Dimitrov appreciates the witty comment on his current involvement in the news stories on vampires.

And by the way, in 2011 a bay in Antarctica was named after Dimitrov.

Monday 9 July 2012

The new vampires

However popular zombies - or rather the zombies of cinema and comic books - have become over the past years, what with e.g. The Walking Dead, I sincerely doubt that their appeal will ever replace that of vampires. As zombies usually behave like brainless automata, who would ever want to become a zombie, whereas it appears that many people find the undead life of the (fictional) vampire intriguing and enticing.

Photo taken from Season Four of True Blood.

Sunday 8 July 2012

'Vampire skeletons', a Bulgarian Indiana Jones and the remains of John the Baptist

More than a month has now gone by since the hype about the Bulgarian 'vampire skeletons' spread across the globe. Since then, the Bulgarian Finance Minister, Simeon Djankov, has stated that the Bulgarian government is planning to slate additional funding for archeological excavations on the southern Black Sea coast, and one of the skeletons from Sozopol is now in Sofia, and as far as I have understood on display at the National Museum of History.

Vampire skeleton on display in Bulgaria by Zoomin_Canada

Another 'vampire skeleton', found in Veliko Tarnovo, was ritually reburied by the archaeologists who found it led by Professors Nikolay Ovcharov and Hitko Vachev. This skeleton of a medieval man had been buried with his hands and feet tied, and with pieces of ember inside his grave.

Ovcharov, who according to novinite is nicknamed 'the Bulgarian Indiana Jones', reburied the skeleton according to an 'ethnographic ritual in which the "vampire's" bones were cleansed with wine and water, and were placed together in a new grave close to the old one together with the lighting of candles in the Bulgarian Orthodox Christian tradition,' cf. the photo below.

As pointed out by 'bshistorian' in a couple of comments to an earlier post, there are several things that are hard to understand from just reading the news stories and looking at the photos and videos of the corpse. So to what extent the find is actually related to revenant or vampire beliefs seems hard to say.

Bulgaria Looks to Suck the Vampire Legend Out of... by NewsLook

Some of the archaeologists involved are certainly characters. What are we to think of archaeologists led by a 'Bulgarian Indiana Jones' who perform 'ethnographic rituals' on a medieval skeleton, and what about the director of the National Museum of History, Bozhidar Dimitrov? According to Wikipedia, he is also a prominent politican and former Minister without portfolio. As a historian he has written polemically on the ancestry of the Bulgarians and 'macedonism'. Incidentally, he was born in Sozopol where the 'vampire skeleton' now in display in Sofia was found.

Generally, the Bulgarians appear to have a fondness for sensationalistic claims with regards to some of their archaeological discoveries, as is evident from the news story below on the possible finds of the remains of John the Baptist in Bulgaria. Curiously, the discovery was made near Sozopol, and like the 'vampire skeletons' attracted a lot of attention. The remains have been transferred to the Orthodox Church where they lay in state in the St. George Church in Sozopol. Because the theory is not refuted, obviously there are many people who hold on to it for various reasons. Obviously, some Bulgarian archaeologists and politicians hope to attract tourists who are intrigued to see 'vampire skeletons'.

When the discovery of 'John the Baptist' was made, the same Finance Minister who has now stated that more funds will be set aside for archaeological excavations on the Black Sea coast, Simeon Djankov, plainly said: 'As soon as this amazing archaeological discovery was made, I made some research, and found that such finds generate great returns from tourism and pilgrimage. Bulgaria and this region will now enter the world tourism maps as a pilgrimage site. The fact that this is a sea resort provides for an unique combination between cultural and sea tourism.'

'Scientists Say Bulgarian St John Baptist Theory Possible

Scientists do not exclude the possibility that remains found in an ancient reliquary in a 5th century monastery on Sveti Ivan Island in Bulgaria may belong to St John the Baptist.

On Thursday, a team of Oxford University archaeologists announced they have provided scientific evidence to support the extraordinary claim.

The findings are to be presented in a documentary to be aired on The National Geographic channel in Britain on Sunday, The Telegraph informs.

The research team dated the right-handed knuckle bone to the first century AD, when John is believed to have lived until his beheading ordered by king Herod.

Scientists from the University of Copenhagen analysed the DNA of the bones, finding they came from a single individual, probably a man, from a family in the modern-day Middle East, where John would have lived.

The findings do not prove anything, but they also do not refute the theory initially presented by Bulgarian archaeologists that the remains in question may indeed belong to St John the Baptist.

The remains were uncovered on July 28, 2010, during excavations of the floor of the medieval monastery on Saint Ivan island, near Bulgaria's historical, coastal town of Sozopol. They were placed in a sealed reliquary buried next to a tiny urn inscribed with St. John's name and his birth date.

The Bulgarian government decided to benefit from the discovery to boost tourism, going as far as to say that Sozopol will help deal with the economic crisis by becoming the new Jerusalem on the Balkans, attracting believers from all over the world.'
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