It was the question that many journalists were asking: what had become of Mrs Puigdemont and the two little Puigdemonts? Well, yesterday afternoon we found out. After a bit of elementary detective work, we photographed her driving home with her two children in the car. In other words, doing the school run.
Now, Marcela Topor – she uses her maiden name – has long stood four-square behind her husband in his quixotic battle for independence. For all we know, she could have no objection to him leaving her holding the babies (she did not respond to my request for an interview). But as I caught sight of the harassed expression on her face as she ferried her two girls home from school before dashing on to another appointment, it was hard to shake the impression that her husband was rather a cad.
With the Belgian prime minister emphasising that the Catalan separatist would be treated ‘like any other citizen’, Carles Puigdemont’s future looks increasingly in doubt. His laughable plea for Madrid to guarantee him a fair trial before he returns was devoid of even the slightest leverage. He has refused to present himself to the Spanish authorities this week, and a warrant will likely be issued for his arrest. Should his lawyer be unable to block an extradition request, he could find himself spending three decades behind bars.
As any family man with an element of risk in his job instinctively understands, Mr Puigdemont isn’t just putting his own future on the brink of disaster here. He is dragging his wife and two young daughters with him.
And while it all hangs in the balance, Marcela Topor – known to her friends as ‘Mars’ – has been left organising the home single-handedly while holding down two demanding jobs (she edits a magazine and is an interviewer on Catalan television). Hardly the definition of fidelity, Mr P. As the drama of the past few weeks has unfolded, perceptions of Mr Puigdemont have steadily deteriorated. He began as a freedom fighter; as things stand, the way he has handled, or rather mishandled, the affair has exposed him as a devious, self-serving figure of fun.
On Monday, when our Catalan Walter Mitty pretended to be going to work in defiance of Madrid’s threats to arrest him, one of his ministers was pictured in his office with pictures of Tintin on the wall. Twitter assumed it was a joking allusion to Mr Puigdemont’s abscondment to Belgium; before long, an amusing Puigdemont-as-Tintin meme was doing the rounds.
That minister, Josep Rull, at least had the guts to turn himself in today, along with more than 10 other ousted Catalan officials. This included the deputy leader, Oriol Junqueras, who led from the front, tweeting: ‘with humility, resolve, bravery and courage, we begin a historic journey! We will win freedom’. Now that’s leadership, Mr Puigdemont.
But this gloating over a wizard wheeze simply showed the contempt in which Mr Puigdemont and his cabal hold the Catalan electorate. Telling ordinary supporters to ‘peacefully resist’ Madrid’s crackdown before playing made-you-look and fleeing the country is not really very clever or funny. Not to them. Indeed, as the EU’s Guy Verhofstadt put it in a Facebook post: ‘Not sure if comparing Puigdemont to Tintin is adequate. Tintin always finds solutions to the adventures he encounters.’
And then there was Tuesday night. After an improbable rumour emerged that the deposed Catalan leader had grown a pair and boarded a plane back to Barcelona, a small and tired band of journalists set up camp at Arrivals. Unsurprisingly, this too proved to be a Catalan red herring. A protester with a megaphone announced that ‘the mop is still in Brussels’. The damned elusive Puigdemont didn’t show.
At this point, comparisons on social media went from Puigdemont-as-Tintin to Puigdemont-as-Where’s-Wally. The Catalan hero’s descent into mockery was complete. One can only imagine what poor old Marcela Topor made of this – if she had time to watch it unfold, of course.
One can’t help but be unpleasantly reminded of Julian Assange (there have already been reports that Mr Puigdemont is planning to hole up in an embassy somewhere). It’s the unbearable smugness of the thing; the ideology-über-alles attitude; the way they congratulate themselves on their own cleverness and bravery while remaining entirely oblivious to the people they betray. In recent days, I have even been haunted by a vision of Mr Puigdemont popping up in Edinburgh in the maternal embrace of Nicola Sturgeon.
Noticeably fewer pro-independence flags have been flying in Barcelona of late. As Mr Puigdemont’s true colours continue to flap in the breeze of public opinion, Catalans are gradually arriving at the unavoidable conclusion: this was not the leader they were looking for.
Jake Wallis Simons is Associate Global Editor at the Daily Mail Online