A voyage to remember
For those faithful readers who have been following our light-hearted, year-end cruise to the western Mediterranean, along coastal Spain, to Gibraltar, to the North African cities of Casablanca and Tangiers, to Seville and on to Portugal, I must report that we did not find all the answers we sought.
Wonder Wife and I did confirm that mayonnaise was invented in Mahon, Minorca, and not in Metropolitan France. But our goal of purchasing a jar of mayonnaise made in Mahon was thwarted. The nearest mayonnaise plants are in Barcelona and Seville. The only spread we found had to do with my waistline.
Our quest to determine the true nationality of Christopher Columbus became even more confused when we dined with a fellow cruiser who has just written a book on this very subject. The author says Columbus was born in Genoa – before Italy became a nation-state – but spent most of his life in Portugal. Thus, the Portuguese can make a claim that Columbus was Portuguese. The marginal notes made by Columbus on the logs of his ships were mostly written in Portuguese although some were in Catalan as well. Evidently, Columbus never wrote in Italian.
In Barcelona, people claim the discoverer of the New World was actually a Catalonian Jew whose first voyage was financed by a wealthy Jewish merchant of Barcelona. If true, this may explain why Columbus (Christobal Colon) sailed all the way around to Barcelona instead of stopping in Cadiz or Seville to report the discovery of the New World.
But his wealthy Jewish patron was not there to receive him in Barcelona. Instead, he was received by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. It seems while Chris was off discovering the New World, the Spanish government expelled all the Jews from Spain. How handy for Ferdinand and Isabella to step into the shoes of the Jewish financial backer of that historic voyage of discovery and reap the financial rewards.
So, when Columbus Day rolls around, it looks like our traditional Italian menu will have to be modified somewhat. In addition to Italian meatballs and pasta, we’ll add some Spanish paella to honor Christobal Colon, some Norwegian creamed herring for Kristofors Columbusen and a bottle of Mateus to honor Portugal. Although we still won’t know the true nationality of old Chris, at least we’ll have a fine meal.
In Casablanca, we took a taxi to visit Rick’s Café Americain inside the Casablanca Hyatt Regency Hotel. Of course, none of the famous characters were there in person. But the walls were covered with posters that were used back in 1942 to advertise what is arguably one of Hollywood’s finest films. They still have a piano player. But he isn’t named Sam. Sam’s replacement is called: Big Joe.
Although we were in and out of the Lisbon Airport twice, there was no trace of Ilsa and Victor there either.
On a serious note, our voyage had two real highlights. One was a day-long tour of the Rock of Gibraltar. Gibraltar is one of those fascinating places where it would be prudential to spend several weeks.
The other highlight was to witness a Christmas Day High Mass celebrated in the world’s third largest cathedral. Even for two Protestants, the Mass as celebrated in the Cathedral of Seville on Christmas Day, was a profoundly moving religious experience. The liturgy spoken and sung, partly in Latin and partly in Spanish, was not a barrier to our understanding because the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child transcends the limitations of human speech. What began as a light-hearted look at some parts of the world which we had not seen before came to an uplifting climax that Christmas Day in Seville.
But we couldn’t resist one last bit of frivolity. All the barbershops were closed that day in Seville. Fortunately, Wonder Wife remembered to bring a comb and some scissors to trim my hair. An obliging fellow cruiser used our video camera to record Wonder Wife as the Barber of Seville.
William Hamilton is a nationally syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today.