Monday, October 8, 2012

Christopher Columbus on the Couch

Today is Columbus Day, one of those convenient pre-holiday holidays where people sleep-in, go to bargain sales, clean the apartment, maybe even visit a friend.

Of course, it's also a day where we celebrate the Italian who, on Spanish ships, discovered America.

It used to be a perfunctory aspect of American life that we accepted that Columbus discovered America on the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria in 1492, that he was welcomed by the indigenous people that he found there, and that the story of America began there and then. Of course, it was always a little more complicated than that (like the fact that Americo Vespucci discovered America first) but basically it was an accepted and non-controversial fact of American lore.

Then ... It Got Real.

Twenty-or-so years ago a bunch of people began kvetching that we shouldn't celebrate Columbus because he did unfortunate things like commit genocide against the said indigenous folks, spread diseases, seized their lands -- you know, stuff like that. Suddenly a man who had been dead for centuries -- and was best known as the man responsible for used car sales and parades where lots of smoked sausages were sold -- became very controversial. The PC police yelled that CC was the Devil while the old timers said he was the hero we always knew he was, historical facts be damned. 

Then people realized it was a stupid debate and it died down.

This year, however, things are a 'lil different. Today, as we again "celebrate" Columbus Day, here in NYC,  the statue of the man's likeness in the square that bears his name on 59th street is covered up by ... a living room ... A huge scaffolding containing a living room covers the statue and people are allowed to walk up the stairs and look at the great marble man face to face. 

It's a tad odd but also interesting and re-invents this particular piece of public art -- and maybe the man its celebrates.

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