Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Columbus Day

Columbus Day, October 12, the "real" Columbus Day, on the anniversary of landfall during his 1492 voyage, not the Monday observed holiday. Though other than no mail and the banks being closed I didn't see much observance. I seem to recall that we got the day off school when I was growing up. My daughter's school was in session yesterday and the subject of Columbus did up in her second grade classroom. Quizzing her on the ride home from school the three ships were the Nina (she doesn't remember visiting the Nina replica when she was a toddler - does remember being chased by a turkey at Yorktown Victory Center-go figure), the Pinta and "something else." She did learn were the term "Indians" came from and the story of Columbus fall off a ship, finding a paddle and "swimming six miles to shore"-though her timeline is mixed up thinking that it happened during the first voyage of discovery and not much earlier in his career.

In my lifetime the reputation of Christopher Columbus has gone from the visionary explorer and Admiral of the Ocean Sea as he titled himself to that of a slave trading , genocidal manic in some of the most extreme diatribes that I've read. I think the truth lies somewhere in between. He was a man of his time, where slavery was an excepted practice. He was clearly a master navigator, if a bit obsessive, and if he'd stuck to exploration, I dare say his reputation would would have remained intact. Alas, he was an incompetent colonial administrator, and both unable to control his settlements, nor able to fulfill his over-reaching promises to his sovereigns. He is also as far as I can tell, and neglected as the originator of the mystery meat phrase, "it tastes like chicken."

"While going around on of the lagoons I saw a serpent which we killed with lances, and I am bringing Your Highness the skin. When it saw us, it went into the lagoon, and we followed it in because the water is not very deep. This serpent is about 6 feet long. I think there are many such serpents in these lagoons. The people here eat them and the meat is white and tastes like chicken."

-Christopher Columbus

The Log of Christopher Columbus, Trans. by Robert H. Fuson (International Marine Publishing Co., Camden Maine, 1987) p.89.

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