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Sempé Fi (On Covers): Winter Keeps Us Warm

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Pollux writes:

A cold wind blows across an empty urban landscape, agitating the slender trees that stand tenuously in the moss green and greenish-gray city. In Adrian Tomine’s cover for the February 2, 2009 issue of The New Yorker, the only source of warmth, ironically enough, comes from the inside of an ice-cream truck. The urge to launch into the worst in “dark and stormy night” writing has been suppressed: Light bathes the lone ice-cream salesman, who sits contentedly in his truck reading a rose-colored newspaper. He’s not calling it a day, and the winter has not erased the smile off the kiddie-cup face of the Ice-Cream Man gracing the side of the truck. “We got sundaes, shakes, and cones; we got sundaes, shakes, and cones…”

Tomine’s delicate linework and subtle coloring lend themselves well to the inherent incongruousness of selling ice-cream on a wintry day. It isn’t a clichéd form of comedy with a sad-sack salesman staring and shivering gloomily into the darkness. Tomine’s salesman waits for business, but not impatiently so. He’s snug in his earflap hat, scarf, and jacket. Besides the inherent incongruousness of this scene, there is also the innate optimism of such a commercial enterprise. If people, perhaps motivated by hunger or by childhood nostalgia, want ice-cream, they’ll buy ice-cream. But they’ll have to brave the snow to get it. When my grandmother, a native of much warmer climes, visited Hornsea, England in 1979, it was in the middle of a hard Yorkshire winter. The town was battered by bone-chilling North Sea winds. It didn’t matter. My father bought her a 99 Flake ice-cream crowned with two half-size Cadbury chocolate bars. It was so good that she felt she deserved punishment or time in a mental asylum. “They should beat me with sticks,” she said.

It doesn’t matter if it is an odd thing to eat ice-cream in winter. Let’s all venture out into the snow and treat ourselves to a selection of sundaes, shakes, or cones. Happy times may be here again.

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