Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Following Columbus

MON, 10-22-07

AT SEA - We're following the trail of Christopher Columbus to the New
World - approximately. This cruise, beginning in Barcelona, Spain, and ending in the Caribbean, was billed as retracing Columbus' footsteps.
And it has done that, to some extent, stopping at four beautiful ports along the way to the vast Atlantic where we are now. But the islands didn't quite fit my memory of Columbus' stops.
None of the ship's staff or reference library could give me any help and surfing the Internet at 75 cents a minute is too high-priced for this low-budget column, especially at the speed of the ship's Internet connection.
Further research awaits when I get home to my comfortable desktop. Meanwhile I decided to go to the top and ask the captain. Since this is a Norwegian Cruise Line ship, I had my first clue already. The second clue was that we didn't have a Columbus Day cerebration aboard ship. And my third clue came when Captain Lars Bengtsson asked why I would even be interested in a Johnny-come-lately like Columbus.
I mentioned his ship's pre-cruise claims and he mumbled something about the company's marketing department. Captains mumble a lot. After I mentioned that I understood about the Vikings, he explained that Columbus was blown off course often and ended up at a number of different islands on his three trips.
The stops we did make, however, were spectacular. Palma de Mallorca was possibly the most beautiful port I had ever seen, until we landed in Funchal, Madeira, a Portuguese island off the coast of Morocco.
We also stopped in Ceuta, Spain, on the coast of Morocco, directly across the strait from Gibraltar. It's a bit ironic that the British control Gibraltar, on the coast of Spain and the Spanish control Ceuta on the coast of Morocco. For the moment, at least, it is a stable situation.
So many ports in the Mediterranean are absolutely beautiful, with their steep hills covered by white houses with red tile roofs. Inland, also, many towns are distinguished by hillsides with houses flowing down them.
How different that is from Santa Fe, where there are laws against building houses on hillsides. Reasons for those laws range from the aesthetic to environmental. But letters in local papers reveal that much of the motivation seems to be envy.
Back to Columbus a moment. Although his day was not observed on the ship, it was celebrated in a big way in Ceuta, Spain, where the town closed down despite a cruise ship being in port.
As my wife gazed through shop windows advertising great bargains, she said it was just her luck to be in a great shopping port in the only country that gets enthusiastic about Columbus Day.
One of our surprises in the part of Spain we visited was the influence of the Catalonians who, like the Basques, would like to have their separate country. Outside our Barcelona hotel on the Sunday before Columbus Day, a parade of Catalonians formed. Participants were colorfully dressed, the music was cheerful and many children were present.
We followed the parade to the Catalonian Plaza and sat at a sidewalk café for an hour or two enjoying the music and dancing. That evening, as the sun set, another parade formed outside our hotel window. This one was angry, mostly men beating drums and carrying signs. We didn't follow that one. Barcelona TV was filled the next morning with stories of demonstrations and arrests.
When it comes to holidays, American cruise lines do celebrate Halloween in a big way, with decorations, costumes and little children going door to door trick-or-treating.
It appears to me that New Mexico does not celebrate Halloween quite to the extent that much of the rest of the nation does. Elsewhere, costumes and candy come out in the stores in early September and whole neighborhoods are decorated by early October.

Help yourself to FREE treats served up daily at the Messenger Café. Stop by today!


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