Friday, October 12, 2012

Today is the real Columbus Day opposed to the phony Columbus Day last Monday that was foisted upon us by our federal government during Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration to ensure that government workers enjoyed a three-day weekend every year during October, one of their many three-day weekends each year, if I may be so bold as to point out the obvious to you.

Accordingly, I have decided to dig into my archives and re-publish an old post:

American History, rhymeswithplague-style

In the European version of things, the New World (that is, actual land in the Western Hemisphere as opposed to more ocean) was discovered by the Vikings or Leif Ericson or somebody more than a thousand years ago. This event was commemorated in the British comedy film, Carry On, Norse.

(Note.The native population of the New World, who pointed out that the European version of things is not always accurate, were considered irrelevant and a bit of a nuisance.)

Later, during the year that Michelangelo sculpted this and this for Lorenzo de’ Medici, Queen Isabella I of Castile sent out one Christoffa Corombo of Genoa, Italy, and his merry men in three ships called the Nina, the Piñata, and the Santa Gertrudis. Christoffa Corombo, whose name morphed into Christoforo Columbo in modern Italian and Christopher Columbus in English, was known as Cristóbal Colón in Spain. This is fortunate, because Cristóbal and Colón are the names of two places on the isthmus of Panama, where Spanish is the predominant language, and Panamanians might otherwise have thought Cristóbal was part of a gypsy fortune-teller’s act and Colón referred to the part of the body between the stomach and the anal sphincter.

It’s not every day a person gets to use the word isthmus, and I am honored to have been able to use it today.

Lorenzo de’ Medici died in Florence, but we aren’t going to go there.

Christoffa Christoforo Cristóbal Christopher Isabella’s new friend set out from Spain on August 3, 1492, and returned a few months later saying he had claimed the entire New World for Spain on October 12, 1492, just because he had landed on a small island in the Bahamas. He returned to Lisbon, Portugal, in March 1493, and made four voyages in all to the New World, causing thousands of schoolchildren over the ensuing centuries to have to recite this little poem from memory:

“In fourteen hundred ninety-three,
Columbus sailed the deep blue sea.
He had done the same thing too
In fourteen hundred ninety-two.
He liked to sail so he sailed some more
In fourteen hundred ninety-four.
Though hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers fourteen ninety-five,
He made more trips ’til Spain said ‘Nix’;
He died in the year fifteen naught-six.”

Or something like that.

Portugal was definitely not a happy camper and wanted Pope Alexander VI to divide the newly discovered lands between Spain and Portugal. He did so, although by whose authority is a little murky, along a meridian 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands, leading King Ferdinand II of Aragon, Isabella’s husband and also her second cousin, to wonder aloud, “How much is a league, exactly?”

A century later the English navy defeated the Spanish armada, Portugal had faded into obscurity, and it became a moot point how much a league is exactly, because the English, the French, the Dutch, and the Swedish (and, for all I know, the Maltese, the Luxembourgers, the Lithuanians, and the inhabitants of the Outer Hebrides) began to explore the northern part of North America and claim it for themselves. Spain had everything else in the new hemisphere from Mexico south except Brazil, which belonged to Portugal, and that is why to this day Brazilians write San Paulo as São Paulo.

Eventually the French had Quebec, downtown Pittsburgh, the federal prison in Joliet, Illinois, and Louisiana, which at that time included Montana. The English threw the French out in 1763, however, at the end of the Seven Years’ War, which had begun, conveniently, in 1756. The French got to keep Louisiana for another forty years, which is why one of the first sentences everyone learns in French is “Quelle temp est-il?” and another one is “Laissez les bons temps roulez!” Then they sold it to Thomas Jefferson, who considered going to New Orleans during Mardi Gras one of his unalienable rights.

Not to be outdone, the American colonists threw England out in 1776 after Patrick Henry cried, “Give me the Statue of Liberty or give me death” but Lord Cornwallis didn’t surrender until 1783 at Yorktown, not to be confused with York (Pennsylvania), New York (New York), or Yorkshire (home of Leeds, York, Sheffield, Bradford, and Hull, which, despite what you may think, is not the name of a Wall Street law firm).

Shortly after that, everything became George W. Bush’s fault.

[Editor's note. “American History, rhymeswithplague-style” was originally published on August 23, 2010, which was not Columbus Day either. --RWP]

1 comment:

  1. The problem for those explorers when it came to the Americas was that there was an awful lots of Americas to be discovered. I suppose you could say that no one person discovered the New World, rather lots of different people found bits of it.

    Of course, it was the Europeans fault for having mislaid the Americas in the first place, the countries now referred to as the Coalition of the Absent-minded.