Friday, October 12, 2007

Columbus Day

"By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination." Christopher Columbus

Over five hundred years ago Christopher Columbus bumped up against the first spit of land he and his fellow seafaring explorers had seen in several months. I can only imagine that they experienced something of an elated "Woohoo! We did it!" feeling, combined with a dizzying snippet of "what now?" I also suspect there were a few sailors that told old Chris they weren't stepping foot back on those boats until some of the luscious looking tropical treats were added to the menu.

Call me crazy, but I think that turning the anniversary of the day that proved to be the beginning of the end for the natives who had been living in the old world for thousands of years into a holiday is a little strange. Don't get me wrong, I think Columbus and the boys did an amazing thing. No doubt saying goodbye to friends and family for a voyage into the unknown must have been down right scary, even for the ancestors of what we know today as macho Hispanic men. Nevertheless, I think it's kind of weird to celebrate the crowning achievement of this intrepid sailor and his men simply by extending the first weekend in October by one day.

Can't you just hear Chris saying to his men, "Holiday? You want a holiday? We've got countries to plunder and people to conquer. Let's get back to work men, and figure out what we're going to call this brave new world."

Unless one lives in Columbus, Ohio, Columbus, Indiana, or Columbus, Georgia, I doubt if many Americans (people who live in the USA) even stop to think about Christopher Columbus and how his bluejacket escapades changed the world. Ocean travel is no big deal today, but back in 1492, Chris must have been the laughing stock of his neighborhood. With the benefit of hindsight and history books, we now know that his ideas weren't so far fetched. We also know the world is round and Eric the Red discovered North America before Columbus was even a glint in his daddy's eye.

However, back then the people of Spain, Italy and Portugal had never heard of the Vikings. In fact, their knowledge of other people in the world was probably as limited as their knowledge of the its geography. You've got to give it to Chris. He must have been some kind of fast talker to get Ferdiand and Isabella to dip into the royal Spanish coffers and give him a big stack of pesos because there was a very real chance they'd never see him again or any return on their investment.

Even though the seafarers didn't know exactly where they were going, their ultimate destination was the Orient. So I ask you, when they landed in the Bahamas (a far cry from China), the only dry land they'd seen in a l-o-n-g time, what made them declare it was a new world? Why didn't they think they had made it to where they were headed? And let's say they had made it to their desired destination, I'm not quite sure why Chris thought he had the right to claim the island(s) for the King of Spain. Wouldn't that be kind of like me heading out for Georgia, ending up in Alabama and calling it Maryland. What's up with that?

Also, I have to ask if Columbus truly thought he had made it to Japan, why did he call the natives Indians and not Japan-ians?

That first group of Spaniards must have made a big impression on the people they met when they landed; metal helmets, body armor and long knives most likely impress by their very propinquity. The Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, precursors to Carnival's fleet of cruiseliners that sail in and out of the Caribbean Islands, undoubtedly sent rumors flying across the ancient coconut telegraphs.

I don't think it would be too farfetched to think those indigenous people also enchanted the explorers. Oh sure, Columbus made it back to Spain with a little bit of gold, some exotic food stuffs and a new world map, but he also took with him tobacco and syphilis. An even trade for the havoc the old world germs wreaked on the natives and ecology of the Americas? You decide.
Maybe Columbus's discoveries were preordained. Maybe they were just plain good fortune. If it hadn't been Columbus, it would have been someone else. All that land sitting in between of two oceans was ripe for discovering. All those Renaissance men stretching their minds beyond the known limits. There was bound to be a collision of people and cultures.

There aren't many new frontiers waiting to be uncovered anymore ... Antarctica, outer space, the bottom ocean. None of which sound real inhabitable to me. But there are still people who don't settle for the status quo; who push the envelope of mainstream thinking and travel to the beat of their own marching band. Perhaps along the way, one of them will discover a way to blend the old with the new in a peaceful, respectful way.

When that happens, I think a parade would definitely be in order.

The Gospel according to
Merry ME

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