Friday, August 31, 2007

Crossing Columbus

It took Columbus a little more than three weeks to sail from the Canaries to the Caribbean Island of Puerto Rico on his second voyage of discovery in 1493. His fleet of seventeen ships dwarfed that of his first foray across the Atlantic a year earlier and his speedy crossing nearly halved the time he spent at sea in 1492 sailing westward in search of China. Last weekend Miss Brenda and I spent less than 12 hours total both ways in a trip from Memphis to San Juan.

References to Cristobal Colon's (we Anglos--in the immortal words of Steve Martin--"have a different word for everything!") "discovery" of the island of Puerto Rico are not hard to find, particularly in the ubiquitous gift shops that draw in and liberate white-legged tourists of yanqui green-backs for trinkets, t-shirts, and ball caps. This white-legged tourist added a coffee mug and a ball cap to his burgeoning collection. The cap is black with a skull & cross bones, the words "Puerto Rico" and the date "1493," meant as a back-handed slap at the "piracy of the white man," I guess. Of course, most current occupants of the island are descendants of the Spaniards that killed all the native inhabitants and colonized Puerto Rico for four hundred years until the adolescent re-United States picked a fight with aging Spain and seized Puerto Rico as a prize along with Cuba, Guam, and the Philippines.

As we sailed along at 34,000 feet and half the speed of sound, headed back north Monday morning, I couldn't help but wonder what Columbus would think were he strapped in my window seat crammed into a flying cylinder the size of the Santa Maria. Would he marvel at the billows as viewed from above, at the speed of our advance, and the reach of our advances?

Or, would he just pass out from the shock?
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