This week we are writing about historical figures and what we would like to have experienced with them. This being the week of Columbus Day,(and today being the traditional Columbus Day),
Cristofero Columbo would be my first choice, but I was sure one of the others was going to utilize him…I guessed wrongly. I know some people are often afraid celebrate Columbus; there are plenty of reasons to suspect that his landing in The New World was not the first, but we have to admit, his got the ball rolling…steamrolling, one might add, which is yet another reason many people avoid Columbus Day: the plight of the indigenous people after he made his report back to Europe. The barbarity and brutality of any conquering people never ceases to amaze me, the horrors people inflict upon others;the racism, the abuses and lack of compassion with cold ‘entitlement’, all in the name of progress … Humanity should be better than that.
I had to make that statement.
But here we are today and frankly, I’d love to know: Did Columbus actually wing it or did he possibly have old maps, (as I have heard in theory)? How beautiful were the unspoiled Caribbean coasts? And what the heck did his men see that they took for mermaids?
So, since I didn’t expect to have C.C. to myself, I will go with two other angles to the same end: Foods and other items.
The first one: another Italian explorer, Marco Polo.
I have no flights-of-fancy about how a woman traveling in those times would have been treated, but can you imagine being among the first Westerners to see Asia in its glory? Can you imagine that even the most common items in the lives of the Chinese and other Asians would be so strange, unique and unusual to the Europeans? Imagine the feel of silk for the first time, after only experiencing leather, wool, cotton and linen? There were no synthetics; it must have been wondrous.
In Europe there were wooden, earthenware, metal and (very rarely) glass vessels, but imagine beholding porcelain … and imagine being able to hand that to your patron?
Consider the first glimpse of fireworks! To be among those to introduce these items plus nutmeg, cloves, anise and other hitherto unknown spices to Europe… how cool would that be?
[BTW :Marco Polo did NOT introduce noodles to Italy; that story is from an advertising campaign,(funny how quickly we can all fall for whatever they say, huh?) Pasta was made in Europe for many centuries before Marco was even born.]
The second one would be the subsequent explorers sent from Spain after Columbus, (not that I approve of most of their methods or actions, let me make that again quite clear.)
But to this Foodie, the Americas not only yielded gold and silver, it brought all sorts of treasure, new tastes, to the rest of the world. Peanuts, chili peppers, (that took over world-wide cuisine), sweet potatoes, pumpkins and squashes (of all varieties), corn, potatoes, tomatoes, (seriously, most people can’t imagine Italian food without tomatoes, but before the 1500’s there was not one)…plus vanilla…and CHOCOLATE!
Would I like to have been the first one to get back to Europe, hand these over and watch the faces of the people as they tried these? You bet; although, I am not sure that many of the food items would have made it back on the long journeys, not with me aboard the ship or on the caravan!
Did I miss anything?