Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, El Pequeño Colonel Benjamón was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice cream.
But in early February of 2018 — when the bitter oranges fell from the trees and rolled on the lawns and into the fountains and the streets — Benjamón (aka, Benji) was waiting for his friend Luke Padovano to arrive in Sevilla from Rye, NY. Each afternoon he prayed fervently and joyfully, as was his habit, while his older sister Ibby amused herself by scratching designs on the ground with a stick.
One Friday afternoon Luke descended slowly from the sky and landed just beside Benji on the open deck of the Metropol Parasol. Benji’s mother, Brookcita, who was sitting beneath the spreading branches of a magnolia tree in the nearby Plaza de Museo, sensed the arrival of the Padovano and smiled.
And the world was so recent then that many things lacked names. Or maybe it was that El Pequeño Colonel didn’t know the word for “croissant” in Spanish, and in order to indicate that he wanted a “croissant” it was necessary to point at a croissant and say “mmhhmm, sí.” So to avoid this very trying obstacle Benji walked with his friend Luke to the convent to buy Magdalenas, which he called “convent sweets,” and these they shared with their sisters.
Soon, the whole family of Padovano set up their tents near Calle Muro de los Navarros, and with a great uproar of pipes and kettledrums they displayed gift boxes of Annie’s Shells & Cheese, yellow corn grits, and nutritional yeast. The daguerreotype below was taken by an itinerant stick-seller and it captures the moment of silent reflection just before the Padovanos began taking their bath in the fountain. You can see that Ibby is sad because she lost her stick and cannot afford another one.
The fountain in the Plaza de San Lleandro. Poor Ibby. Where is her stick?
Andrew (center, in the grey shirt in the daguerreotype above) was only able to join for a weekend, and during that time he had tapas, ate ham, visited the Real Alcazar, drank wine, ate cheese, fished for spare change in the fountain and picked olives from the trees around the plaza. But the city is old, and the age and spirit of the place wears off on a man, so that — although no one but Santa Justa can say for sure — by the time Andrew left he seemed different, and maybe freer.
Benji and his father also changed. Inspired by the free living and libertine ways of the Padovanos, Benji prepared for nights of dancing and singing, and clapping of hands and loving of ladies, while his father brought forth a marvelous invention — underwear for the telephone — that seemed destined to bring the family much fame and fortune until his father, El Colonel Grande, sold it to the gypsies for a bottle of wine, two Euros and one slice of jamón iberico.
With one of the Euros Ibby could afford a new stick, and would buy one from the itinerant stick-seller, even though her mother fretted that this was a senseless extravagance.
In the closing days of February, as the band of Padovanos prepared for departure, there were attempts at disguise and subterfuge, along with ridiculous amounts of smiling.
And finally, taking the other Euro from his sale of the telephone underwear, plus 25 more Euros that Andrew fished from the fountain, El Colonel Grande and the family went to the Amarino Gelato Shop and Money Laundrette, and it was there that El Pequeño Colonel tasted ice cream for the very first time.