The story of ice cream on the boulevard

In the warmer side of the year the plazas of Pau, my newest home, smile with ice cream vendors.  Some ice cream trucks sell big-brand manufactured ice cream cones drizzled in twisting stripes and advertised in bright carnival colors that seem ready to burst from the cardboard and shoot into the air on a trail of sticky exhaust.  Other vendors advertise home-made ice cream on simple signs with old-fashioned blue lettering.

In one of the last delicious days of August, when summer was still enjoying a final fanfaronade, we bought some ice cream from an old-fashioned ice cream truck parked by the funicular on the Boulevard de Pyrenees.

My boyfriend and I were disputing which flavors to try, when the woman inside the truck asked us if we were from Spain.  David told her that he was from Venezuela.

The woman began speaking to us in a French-accented Spanish.  She told us that her name was Maria Angela, and her family was originally from Spain, but most of them left in the 30’s because of the civil war.

Her grandfather settled in Pau and began to make and sell ice cream in 1936, just as war was taking hold of his homeland on the other side of the Pyrenees.

At the age of 15 his son Emile Mantecon, Maria Angela’s father, began to work selling ice cream along the streets of Pau too.

Emile Mantecon

Emile Mantecon

When Emile was 18 years old, his father presented him with his very own ice cream truck.

Emile Mantecon made and sold delicious ice cream most of his life and passed the family tradition on to Maria Angela.

She told us that although her grandfather had come to France, his other siblings had moved to Caracas. She said she must have many relatives now in Caracas, David’s home town, the city I also called home for more than three years.

Perhaps I brushed shoulders with one of these relatives as we rode the subway together or passed each other in the street.  Maybe one of them was my neighbor in Parque Central.  Or it could be that I saw one of them sitting on a bench in the plaza in Chacaito or at a neighboring table in one of the Tascas where my roommate and I frequently could be found eating Spanish-style food and drinking Sangria.  Perhaps one of them ran one of those Tascas.

Maria Angela

It was one of those crystalline moments, standing there holding our pistachio and coconut ice cream on a boulevard overlooking the Pyrenees, in a remote town in the South of France, realizing how connected we often are in the most surprising ways to the people around us and to the lives we have lived before.

~ by zoetropic on September 21, 2010.

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