Diplomatic Impunity

Wouldn't you love to rub shoulders with a man who has been knighted by the Queen of England, honored by the Pope, and appointed our local Liberian ambassador? Of course you would!

The Man and His Titles
"This is the Order of Cordon Bleu. And that's the Order of Signum Fidei -- run by the Prince of Lippe-Biesterfeld. He is the brother or cousin of Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands. Prince Bernhard was the husband of Queen Juliana, who was a darling."

Antonio Adolfo Boada -- Tony to his friends -- is conducting a personal guided tour of his Brickell Key condo: in essence, a running monologue about his trove of chivalric medals, which he keeps under glass in mahogany display cases. "This is the Order of St. George in England, which I got," he says, his finger caressing a star-shape brooch of gold and ivory. "Um, this is Cordon Bleu again. That's the Order of the Garter," he continues, indicating a starburst of glass and silver the size of a man's wallet. "That's a Mother Teresa dollar, um, from the president of the Czech Republic. And it's not a dollar, it's actually a thaler, with a t."

Boada takes a sip of his bloody mary. It is three hours past noon on a Thursday, and the Cuban emigre is clothed in sweatpants and a black hockey jersey. Of average height and somewhat inclined to fat, at age 39 he exhibits the pallor of a man who spends much of his time indoors. His thinning black hair is combed over a pudgy, rectangular face whose central feature is a well-trimmed mustache. A gold pendant of indeterminate origin shines through the mesh holes of his shirt.

"This is, um, the Royal Order of St. George; I got that for, um, my services in Germany," he says, lifting the lid of a second case. "This one is for Britain -- for serving the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, who are the patrons of that order. This is the Order of the Holy Sepulchre," he offers, fingering a small white enameled cross. "I, um, got that from the Pope."

On and on he goes, through all the titles he has accumulated over the years, seemingly more titles than one man could possibly remember: the Order of St. Mary of Palestine, given by the Patriarch of Antioch. The Imperial Hispanic Order of Carlos V, bestowed by the cousin of the King of Spain. Knights of Malta, Order of the Griffon. The Order of Our Lady of Vilavicosa, given to him, Boada says, by the sister of the last king of Portugal. The Order of St. Lazarus, from the King of Spain, who also bestowed upon him the titles of Duke of Campobello and Marques de Alessio. "Those are just Viking knives," he quips as he dismisses two gilded daggers. "Viking and Roman knives. We could kill a few people with them."

The daggers and crosses, ribbons and medals, arrayed painstakingly in their cases, give the tiny two-bedroom condo the feel of a museum of European history. Boada's friends sometimes call the apartment the Gold Cave, because the medals, along with the gold frames on his dozens of paintings, overwhelm the paisley-print sofas and the red Oriental rugs that cushion his bare feet.

"I have things from the Royal Air Force in Britain, you know -- commemorative things that I have done. And over here, let's see," he goes on, padding across to a third display case and stroking a silver medallion therein, "this is the Order of St. George of the Dragon from England. Um, I've also got the Order of Ferdinand from Austria, and um, this is from the centennial of the Orthodox Church of Russia."

He roots around some more, all the while muttering modestly that there's no space left to store all his awards. "Albania awarded me these medals here. Um, I built up their diplomatic corps. Um. I got them their embassy in South Africa. I got them their embassy in London, I got them the embassy in Mexico and the consulate in Houston.

"This one I'm really proud of: I'm president of l'Europe Gastronomie. It's a festival of wine and cheese and so on for all the producers of wine and food in France. I headed that. And this one here is from Austria. That's the -- I don't even remember what order it is. I wore it, I know that!"

A Primer on Chivalry
Sometime during the Eleventh Century, the Pope went into expansion mode. Marshaling his European monarchs, he set his sights on conquering non-Christian lands in Spain and the Middle East. The warriors who took part in these Crusades worked as a team, and those whose bravery and good sportsmanship brought honor to their brethren and their leaders came to be known as knights. The code they followed came to be known as chivalry.

Though the quest for a colossal Holy Land was unsuccessful -- the last Crusade flopped in 1271 -- kings came to appreciate chivalry's utility. By granting orders of knighthood to their closest followers and public servants, they rewarded behavior that furthered the interests of the crown. As the centuries whisked by, chivalry proved to be such a good idea that knighthood remains in place today, still rooted in its Christian and military history, and still viewed as an enviable position to hold in European society.

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