Peter Chianca: The Columbus you never knew
More than 500 years after his death, Christopher Columbus remains one of the most controversial figures in history. Some think of him as a great seaman, others as a ruthless imperialist and still others as the reason we won’t get mail on Monday.
Thanks to an important recent discovery, however, there is no longer reason to conjecture. This newspaper has learned that the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem has found the long-lost diaries from Columbus’ initial voyage, hidden behind a box of old fans and a rare 17th-century La-Z-Boy recliner.
But does the diary resolve all of those burning historical questions about Columbus, such as: Why would anybody wear tights on a ship? For answers, we turn to the following exclusive excerpts:
July 26, 1492 — Just a week to go until I embark on my expedition to find a western route to India. Starting to regret making this bet with King Ferdinand. Reminder to self: No more wine coolers at Isabella and Ferdinand’s mutton parties.
Most preparations are set, but we still can’t decide what to name the third boat; we’re down to either the Santa Maria or the Miss Behavin’. (“Miss Behavin’” — get it? Sometimes I crack myself up.)
Aug. 2, 1492 — Set sail from the port of Palos in southern Spain. Still annoyed at getting outvoted on the boat name.
I’m concerned that Martín (“Marty”) Pinzón, who’s captaining the Pinta, is plotting against me. I thought I saw him making rabbit ears behind my head when I addressed the crews before embarking. Also, when I stopped by my quarters before we left, I caught him trying on my hat.
I hope we get to India quickly, because I’ve got a hankering for some Pork Vindaloo.
Aug. 9, 1492 — Winds and repairs have grounded us on the Canary Islands. I’m sorry to have stopped so soon, but at least the canaries here are beautiful.
Sept. 8, 1492 — Am officially sick of the &%$@! canaries.
Oct. 6, 1492 — We’ve been off the Canary Islands for close to a month now, and the crew is starting to get a little restless. I’ve tried to keep them occupied with ongoing trivia contests, but let’s face it, it’s 1492 and not a heck of a lot has happened yet.
Every night I awake to what sounds like carousing below the decks of the nearby Pinta. I can’t shake the feeling that Marty sneaked some girls on there at the last stop. Meanwhile, I’m stuck with 47 guys nicknamed “Stumpy.”
Oct. 12, 1492 — At last, we arrived in India. We greeted the Indians warmly, although they seemed a bit confused by the whole thing.
Nov. 15, 1492 — Our travels down the coast are concerning me, since the coastline doesn’t seem to match up with any of my maps. Also, where are all the silk salesmen? Could it be this is not India we’ve found at all, but some … new world?
Nov. 22, 1492 — Woke to find Marty and the Pinta sailing off on their own without permission. Word among the crew has it that he set off in search of gold; I suspect he’s grown fed up with my mandatory nightly sing-alongs. Either way, he’s out of this week’s drawing for a free scurvy screening.
Dec. 25, 1492 — A very depressing Christmas. For one, the Santa Maria grounded on a reef yesterday and today sank into the ocean. Also, the men gave me socks again.
As the Pinta deserted us and the Nina can’t fit the remaining crew, we’ll have to leave some men behind on a nearby island. To help pass the time, I’ve suggested that they vote one person off the island at the end of each week. Whoever’s left at the end will get 100 lira and a subscription to “Navigation Monthly.”
Jan. 6, 1493 — Came across Marty and the Pinta farther down the coast. He claimed that his directions said to turn left when we hit India. I asked to see them, but he said they were unfortunately eaten by a giant tortoise.
March 15, 1493 — Back in Spain at last! But was the first of my four expeditions the success I had hoped for? And more importantly, will I ever get a day named after me? Time will tell, but with the last seven months still fresh in my mind, I can say one thing for certain:
These tights are killing me.
Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. This “Best of Chianca” column is from 2000. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca.