Resolving some 20th Century Problems
Somewhere over the Atlantic. As we approach the end of the millennium, this observer feels compelled to solve as many of the world’s great problems as possible. It simply won’t do to enter the new century with a bunch of unresolved issues hanging about.
Of course, I’m not talking about any thing as trivial as nuclear disarmament or if Hillary will actually run for the U.S. Senate or not. I’m talking here about the great unresolved issues such as: was Christopher Columbus really Italian or was he Spanish? And, my favorite: who invented mayonnaise, when, where, why and how?
In an unselfish spirit of public service I volunteered to embark on an over-Christmas cruise of the western Mediterranean to the place where Christopher Columbus returned after discovering Sandals, Caneel Bay and other resorts in the Caribbean. In fact, gentle reader, as you read these words, Wonder Wife and I will be about to land at Barcelona, Spain, and then sail on to the Port of Mahon on the island of Minorca. Look, someone has to undertake these important missions.
If it is true that Christopher Columbus (his Italian name) was actually Christobal Colon (his Spanish name), a lot of Americans – especially Italians – are going to be upset. So, I have to be very careful here. For another thing, such a discovery will completely mess up our menu planning for Columbus Day.
Ever since it became politically incorrect to celebrate Columbus Day, this observer has made a point of preparing an Italian feast of: meatballs, pasta, garlic bread, a fresh salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing all accompanied by a suitable adult beverage of Italian origin. If Columbus turns out to be Spanish, it looks like I’ll have to learn to cook paella and serve it on Colon Day.
Because, at this point, I don’t know whether to call him Christopher Columbus or Christobal Colon, I’ll just call him Chris until we get to the bottom this matter.
You see, the Spanish may have a good case that Chris was more Spanish than Italian. For example, no one knows where Chris was born. All of his writings and accounts of his voyages were in Spanish, actually Catalan, and not in Italian. Contrary to popular opinion, his first voyage was funded by a wealthy man from Barcelona and it was Barcelona where King Fernando the 5th and Queen Isabel the 1st went to greet Chris on his return from his discovery of America. Moreover, all of his top officers were from the Barcelona area and not Italy.
The Spanish, especially those who live in Catalan, of which Barcelona is the principal city, feel very strongly about this issue. So, I must sample public opinion on this matter by visiting every tapas bar along Barcelona’s Las Ramblas and sampling everything I can.
Even more important is what I hope to learn at the Port of Mahon on Minorca. You see, I have always thought that mayonnaise was invented in France itself and not out on some topless-beach island in the western Mediterranean.
But here is what I know so far: in 1756, a French Admiral, the Duc de Richelieu, defeated the British Navy at Mahon. To celebrate, he ordered his chef to create a great feast. The chef wanted to make a traditional sauce of crème and eggs; however, he discovered he had no crème. So, he substituted olive oil and created Mahonnaise which we spell as mayonnaise today.
Obviously, this story must be checked out in detail and, while in Mahon, I plan to visit as many cafes, tapas bars and restaurants as humanly possible and order only dishes that rely heavily on mayonnaise. All my life I’ve been a connoisseur (Wonder Wife says common sewer) of mayonnaise. In fact, I’ve been known to load up a peanut butter sandwich with mayonnaise.
Of course, after having done my duty, I’ll have to check into the Mayo Clinic. Such courage.
William Hamilton is a nationally syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today.