October 15: America's First Quagmire

Vespucci, sort of. I imagine he went way over budget too.

Actually, it's Amerigo's first quagmire, but it's a lot less sexy a title. It's Chef Boyardee Presents Famous Italian Explorers Week, sponsored by The Olive Garden and powered by the wines of Ernest and Julio Gallo, and today's Prince Spaghetti reading (for, as my Masshole readers may know, Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day -- I don't know how many times I saw that commercial watching the Terry O'Reilly Bruins) is Vespucci's famous (and I guess disputed) letter detailing his discoveries in the New World.

About this reading I have two remarks. The first is that, apparently, one had to be much more cringey in writing to a Florentine noble than in a Spanish one, because there's pages of bootlicking before we get to the Indians. Bureaucrats out there, take note -- I recommend putting the following phrase on top of all your cover sheets to your boss:
...as fennel is customarily given atop of delicious viands to fit them for better digestion, so may you, for a relief from your so heavy occupations, order this letter of mine to be read: so that they may withdraw you somewhat from the continual anxiety and assiduous reflection upon public affairs: and if I shall be prolix, I crave pardon, my Magnificent Lord.
Stop being prolix about being prolix! Still, Amerigo (and why isn't "Amerigo" the name of a moving company?) knows himself -- the dude is way prolix. So, skipping all the way to the end, as though we were doing coverage, let's get to the second thing.

What's happening here is that Amerigo and crew have been tribe-hopping -- some tribes are friendly, some are naked, etc. etc., but they're seeing them all. Think retirees on a cruise, but with more potential for smallpox. Finally they hang out for about a month with some friendlies to repair boats and stuff, and now they're about to shove off:
...and (now) desiring to depart upon our voyage, they made complaint to us how at certain times of the year there came from over the sea to this their land, a race of people very cruel, and enemies of theirs: and (who) by means of treachery or of violence slew many of them, and ate them: and some they made captives, and carried them away to their houses, or country: and how they could scarcely contrive to defend themselves from them, making signs to us that (those) were an island-people and lived out in the sea about a hundred leagues away: and so piteously did they tell us this that we believed them: and we promised to avenge them of so much wrong..
So they go fight these guys! And, while they are not greeted as liberators, it turns out to be a cakewalk:
when the next day arrived, we beheld coming across the land a great number of people, with signals of battle, continually sounding horns, and various other instruments which they use in their wars: and all (of them) painted and feathered, so that it was a very strange sight to behold them: wherefore all the ships held council, and it was resolved that since this people desired hostility with us, we should proceed to encounter them and try by every means to make them friends: in case they would not have our friendship, that we should treat them as foes, and so many of them as we might be able to capture should all be our slaves: and having armed ourselves as best we could, we advanced towards the shore, and they sought not to hinder us from landing, I believe from fear of the cannons: and we jumped on land, 57 men in four squadrons, each one (consisting of) a captain and his company: and we came to blows with them.
No mention of the trying-to-make-friends gambit, I suspect it was bullshit all along. Let the liberation commence:
...and after a long battle (in which) many of them (were) slain, we put them to flight, and pursued them to a village, having made about 250 of them captives, and we burnt the village, and returned to our ships with victory and 250 prisoners, leaving many of them dead and wounded, and of ours there were no more than one killed and 22 wounded, who all escaped (i.e., recovered), God be thanked.
There you have it -- the first New World foreign adventurism. And it couldn't have been easier.

So where is the quagmire? It's right here:
...and we thereon made sail for Spain with 222 captive slaves: and reached the port of Calis (Cadiz) on the 15th day of October, 1498, where we were well received and sold our slaves.
And it was on that day, 510 years ago today, that America lost its innocence for the first of the about a million times it has claimed to have done so.

0 comments: