He's got a moustache and a hat. His best friend is a mule. And because he hawks something I desire, he comes across as less insidious to me than other commercial mascots, like Ronald McDonald or Aunt Jemima.
He's Juan Valdez, a goofy, fifty-year-old advertising creation designed to sell Colombian coffee. He's not real, though the actor that portrays him certainly is.
I never gave much thought to Juan Valdez, until I got to Colombia. But he has inspired a chain of high-end coffee shops, the kind where the sight of them fill you with relief. Overstuffed chairs! Strong java! Air conditioning! I learned to adore his manipulative, folksy self.
Which isn't what I expected. On arrival in Colombia, I was surprised that this character was embraced rather than viewed with skepticism. He's friendly, open, lovable; a happy coffee farmer content with his lot in life. This dopey, clichéd guy initially gave me the willies.
But that was before I realized how hot it was on the Colombian coast. My discomfort transformed into relief and adoration for Juan Valdez about 20 minutes into walking around in the Cartagena sun. When we stumbled over a Juan Valdez coffee shop just a few blocks from our hotel, both C and I were delighted. Strong coffee and a cool respite from the sun. Suddenly, the fictional coffee farmer had turned into a hospitable old friend.