Monday, October 12, 2009

Columbus Day

One of the joys of living in New York City is that, although we have fantastic libraries here, the city itself is a primary source. Book report on Ellis Island? Get on the boat. Back by lunchtime. "Starry Night"? Yeah, we've got that.

On this fine day which somehow isn't quite a holiday anymore (which seems to get a lot of the local Eye-talian contingent in a bit of a knicker twist), let's talk about what we've got here in the Apple to commemorate the man.

We've got a big parade. It doesn't really celebrate Columbus per se. It's just another one of our endless stream of ethnic pride parades. You know, the ones that are so gauche and unseemly when they're being participated in by folks of other ethnic persuasions (you know, the ones who got here after your group, whenever that was) but are wholesome and wonderful when your particular group (you know, the ones who came here for the right reasons) is whooping it up, waving at the city council member or athlete that happens to belong to the tribe and, if that's part of your heritage, vomiting.

We've also got some streets. Columbus Avenue is a biggie, although it becomes 9th Avenue as it gets further downtown. Closer to Little Italy, oddly enough.

The top of the line, though, is Columbus Circle. It was a big horrifying mess of a traffic circle for a long time. Until its recent renovation, to navigate it on foot from one side to another was to take your life into your own hands, or at least the hands of a passel of NYC cabbies, and you know how good and caring those hands are. To navigate it now is to be late for wherever it is you're going. With order comes inconvenience, folks.

I recently got bored trying to get from the Whole Foods in the fresh new Time Warner Center to my usual lunchtime perch in Central Park, which requires crossing three separate rights-of-way, and just crossed one street into the center of the circle. There's a mammoth Columbus memorial thing there (umm, duh), which I've seen a milllion times, but never up close until now.

A revelation.

Here's what the inscription on the side reads.

"To the world he gave a world." Yep. I think you know where we're going with this.

We've been revising the book on Columbus for years now. He's gone from a heroic explorer to basically a genocidal creep and lives probably somewhere in between for most people. Where that in-between is depends largely on your political persuasion and possibly whether you belong to a particular one of the above-mentioned ethnic groups. (Guess which one!)

We always hear these people screaming whenever some of their cherished orthodoxies are challenged. It's no wonder they cling to religion and reject science. If you build your world on universal immutable truths, and something you thought you knew turns out to be not quite true, your whole world falls apart. ("Hey, what are all these dead bodies doing in this closet?" "Shh! Never mind that. The history books have already gone to the printers!") Of course, they would never ever try to re-write the history books themselves.

But did we always feel so straightforward about Columbus and his legacy before liberalism run rampant and insufferable political correctness? Here's a picture I snapped of a high relief on the side of the monument showing Columbus and his crew upon arrival in The New World.

It's downright inspiring! They're so full of wonder. So full of awe and appreciation for the golden land they've found and for the deity made flesh that led them there.

But wait, while they're all fawning over the captain, there's one dude with something else on his mind. There he is on the right. What's he pointing at? Must be some gold. Or lots and lots of food. "Um, chief? Chee-eef. CHIEF!"

Aw, crap on a stick. There's Indians here. Somebody call Terminix.

So, it doesn't seem that it was ever as cut and dry as we thought. Even in a monument to the guy, it acknowledges that even though he "discovered" the place there were still kinda some people here already. And not exactly very dangerous ones, from the looks of it. Which group in the above picture do you think is going to keep the land?

Happy Columbus Day!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Columbus Day inspired a lively, sometimes tart, discussion over at mrschili's blog.

Mr. Columbus was pretty much a rotten person, consistent with the practices of "discoverers and explorers" in his day, I expect. I think we should find the name of the first Native American he cruelly murdered and give that person a day.