Monday, October 08, 2007

Saving Us All a Walk to the Mailbox


Gwynyth decided in first grade to not share things she learned in school about Christopher Columbus with me. Admittedly, I tend to be able to pick out a conspiracy theory in just about anything but to be fair, there is a lot for non-Imperial Spaniards to hate about that guy.

However, since Gwynyth has already grown tired of my seasonal references to "Euro-trash" and my semi-crazed rantings about the definition of "discovery", I come here -- to the familiar pages of Pr3++yG33kyTh1ng, to give voice to my objections.

It is a generally accepted historical fact that the Vikings were in the Americas first. No shock there. I think they even added that to the lesson plan in schools, due in part to a generous contribution by the Ikea corporation. The Vikings had pretty much run out of stuff to pillage in their own regions anyway and repeat pillaging is not only considered bad form for proud Nordic warrior-types it also isn't as much fun or nearly as profitable. When the Vikings pillaged something, it stayed pillaged.

Then there is the story of Prince Madoc who traveled from Wales to Florida in 1170 and started a colony. The fortifications along the Alabama river were reported by Cherokee chief Oconostota in 1810 to have belonged to a tribe called "Welsh" who called their leader "Madok". Fort Mountain State Park in Georgia supports the theory that the great stone wall along one of the mountaintops was the site of the last stand of these "Welsh" who were wiped out in the Cherokee legend of the "great slaughter" of a "moon-eyed" people who had pale skin and hair and occupied the area before the Cherokee themselves.

But okay. Today, for me, is a day to speak of Christopher Columbus, not actual explorers. Those guys can be covered on "Legitimate Discovery Day" March 21st.

Columbus supposedly couldn't get funding for his trip to the "New" World because of the widely-held belief that the world was flat. Except that at the time of his voyage, very few people believed that the Earth was flat -- And no one at all in the shipping business believed it. The spherical Earth idea was the general opinion of ancient Greek science. The actual size of the sphere was in debate and that is why there were a few failed attempts to get funding for his trip -- Most learned people considered that Columbus was using bad math. Since he was looking for a passage to India and (until his death) believed he had found one, I'd say they were spot on about that.

This isn't to say he did nothing worth remembering. We should remember the atrocities he committed against the native people he misnamed "Indians" while he was Governor in the Caribbean. We should also remember that in the end the Spanish Crown only funded Columbus to keep him from going to work for the British through their application of the "better to have the crazy flying our flag than theirs" business theory.

We also must remember that King Ferdinand gave him the impossible job of governing that region of Asia which is between Panama and (possibly) San Salvador, buried him in paperwork and demanded that more and more islands be brought under Spanish rule until other Spanish "civilians" complained and had Columbus arrested and shipped home in chains. His arrest and discharge as Governor was the reason Spain refused in the end to pay Columbus his agreed upon fee for services rendered. Never trust royalty to do anything but skip out on a check.  

So Columbus Day offers us a unique opportunity to learn about bad math, the oppression of native populations, and the joys of working for "the man".

Right now, I'm celebrating by doing about 66% of those things. Later on the party will continue when I skip the walk to the mailbox.

1 comment:

Andrew Moore said...

The play I'm directing later this year intersects nicely with Chuck Coldumbus rather nicely.

Juana was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella. She was tutored by Beatriz Galindo, aka "La Latina", the first woman (in Spain at least) to learn Latin and teach in a University. Juana spoke English, French, possibly Dutch and most likely German. A smart chick with a big attitude problem. She confronted the Grand Inquisitors over the death of one of her Jewish teachers, and generally raised heck around Spain.

She was married off to Philip the Handsome of Austria. After Isabella died, Juana moved to Spain and was crowned queen of Castile. Her siblings died, leaving her the heir of their territories. Her husband was poisoned, leaving her Empress of Austria.

So now the very smart, very independently minded Juana was queen of half the world. This freaked out Ferdinand to no end, seeing as how he was merely king of a small patch of land called Aragon. No Ferdinand conspired to have Juana thrown into a dark cell in the middle of a rat infested castle. The word was spread that she had gone mad after the death of her husband.

Juana's son Charles (the future Holy Roman Emperor) continued this tradition of keeping the uppity non-conformist locked up, and more or less let the Austrian Lords steal Spain blind. Gold from the new world was sent to Austria directly.

Juana, meanwhile was under the impression she was still running things. She made all sorts of plans, wrote reams and reams of orders: "stop raping and killing Indians," "Let the commoners have a say in how they are governed" etc. She was in the frustrating position of being the smartest person in Spain, having her brilliant advice and suggestions ignored while she sat locked up in a dark, windowless room. She didn't even have high speed internet or diet coke! So consider yourself lucky.

Anywho, a revolt of the peasantry erupted, and Spain sat on the brink of revolution. Juana was freed, and presided over a parliment of duly elected commoners. She was engineering the first real democracy at that time. Everything looked up ... until her son Charles rode in with the Austrian army. Juana was put back into "the room without light" where she remained for another couple of decades.

So there you go. If Juana had been allowed to rule, the Indians would still be running around naked, and we'd all be speaking Spanish.