In search of history
On the Costa Brava. Last week in this space, this observer dealt with two really important stories: the true origin of mayonnaise and the controversy as to whether Christopher Columbus was Italian or was he actually, Christobal Colon, from that part of Spain known as Catalan? Well, just when it looked like it was a simple choice between Italy and Spain, it may well be that Columbus or Colon (take your pick) was actually a Norwegian by the name of Kristofors Columbusen. Now, you get to take your pick of Columbus, Colon or Columbusen.
One of the top editors at USA Today received a supposedly learned treatise from a self-proclaimed Norwegian academic who claimed that a serious political and economic collapse in the late 15th Century caused many Norwegians to flee to other countries in search of work. He went on to state that a flood of Norwegians headed to southern Europe, adopted local names to blend in with the natives and then hired out their navigation skills to the highest bidders.
It figures. If you were a cold, hungry, unemployed Norwegian navigator wouldn’t you head south to warm, pasta- and paella-rich places like Italy and Spain and hire out as a sea-going explorer?
And, let’s say you were impoverished monarchs like Fernando the 5th and Isabel the 1st of Spain and you want to get into the spice or gold or sliver trade – anything to pump up your sagging economy. Well, you might not be too picky about the nationality of the people you hire. What you would look for is sailors who can navigate and not worry if they have green cards. And, if they’ll work for less than union scale, all the better.
After all, you might get lucky and hire a descendent of Leif Ericson who, about 500 years prior to 1492, had already discovered such exotic places as Newfoundland and maybe even Kennibunkport, Maine.
Now, we know Christobal Colon or Christopher Columbus or Kristofors Columbusen only wrote in Catalan. At least no one has seen anything written by the discoverer of America in Italian or Norwegian. But maybe Chris or Kris had a lot of executive ability and liked to dictate what he had to say and the person taking the dictation just wrote everything down in Catalan. Or, maybe Kristofors Columbusen, like most Norwegians, was a quick language-learner and happened to pick up Catalan while sitting on some topless beach on the Costa Brava.
But I wouldn’t be too quick to embrace the notion that America was discovered by Kristofors Columbusen. How would you explain the fact that ever since 1492 no one has noticed that Christopher Columbus or Christobal Colon spoke Italian and Spanish with a Norwegian accent and preferred pickled and creamed Herring to fried or boiled Cod? Don’t you think that someone would have picked up on these little tell-tale signs and called the Spanish Immigration and Naturalization Service?
Frankly, I think there is a lot more to this Columbus or Colon or Columbusen story that needs to be uncovered. As difficult and as time-consuming as this research may be, I may just have to stay here on the sunny Costa Brava, fortified by tapas and the local adult beverages, working to solve this mystery. If the answer cannot be found here, I’ll search for the truth on Mallorca, in Almeria, Malaga and on Gibraltar. Someone out here in the western Mediterranean or along the coast of Spain must know the true nationality of the person who discovered America.
But if the truth about Columbus or Colon or Columbusen cannot be determined, then there are other stories to be tracked down in Tangiers and Casablanca. They say there was an American ex-patriot named Rick who ran a gambling establishment in Casablanca called: Rick’s Café Americain. As time goes by, I may see if that gin joint is still there. Stay tuned.
William Hamilton is a nationally syndicated columnist and a featured commentator for USA Today.