A Matter of Perspective

[Today is Illegal Immigration Day — the day that we celebrate when the inhabitants of Miami Beach discovered an illegal boat person on their shore, and made the gigantic mistake of offering him and the others on his boat asylum… and look at what happened. In Los Angeles, of course, they just renamed the day Indigenous People Day. Back in the 1950s, however, the day was called Columbus Day, when we celebrated a city in Ohio for reason no one really knows, other than we needed to give bankers a 3-day weekend in October, because we all know they need the respite.]

In 1961, the humorist Stan Freberg issued Volume 1 of The United States of America, a musical telling of the founding of America through the Battle of Yorktown (Volume 2 goes through the end of World War I (“They’ll never be another war…”)). The first scene on Volume 1 relates the story of how the Indians discovered Columbus. Although many things have changed since 1961 when this was recorded — Columbus is no longer held in the same regard, the portrayal of the Native American would likely be very different — there are still points that ring true, especially the exchange:

Columbus: Alright. Hello there. Hello there. We white man. Other side of ocean. My name, Christopher Columbus.
Chief: Oh, you over here on a Fulbright?
Columbus: No, no. I’m over here on an Isabella, as a matter of fact. Which reminds me. I want to take a few of you guys back on the boat to prove I discovered you.
Chief: What you mean discover us? We discover you.
Columbus: You discovered us?
Chief: Certainly, we discover you on beach here. Is all how you look at it.

As today is Columbus Day, let us remember that unfortunate day that the Native Americans discovered a Italian sailor, and the world was never the same. Just look at all he brought us: “real food: starches, spaghetti, cholesterol, … all the better things. That’s called progress.”

I present a transcription of the scene, just as it happened:

NARR: 1492, Madrid. The Queen of Spain grants an audience to an obscure Italian sailor. There, in her chambers, plans are made destined to change the course of history.
COLUMBUS (CC): Alright, we’ll go over it once again. First you hock the jewels, you give me the money and I buy the ships. Then I discover the new world, you dump the king, and I’ll send for you.
QUEEN ISABELLA (QI): You say you’ll send for me, dahling, but will you?
CC: Look, we’ve been all through this before.
QI: I know, but really, you’re such a dreamer. You’ll go out there and sail right off the end of the world.
CC: I will not!
QI: You’re such a charming boy, dahling. Why don’t you forget all this? I’ll set you up with a nice little Fiat agency over in West Barcelona.
CC: I don’t want a Fiat agency!
QI: Then why don’t you go to art school like your friend, Da Vinci? I’ll put you through.
CC: If Lenny wants to starve to death, that’s up to Lenny. Me, I want to discover the new world, carry out my dream. (trumpet fanfare)

ANNOUNCE: His Majesty, King Ferdinand.

QI: (gasp) The King.
CC: Oh, sure, he’ll be at the inquisition all afternoon.
QI: Time just slipped away. Quickly, take the jewels and go, over the balcony. (door opens)
CC: Too late.

QI: Good afternoon dear. How was the inquisition? Amusing?
KING FERDINAND (KF): Dullsville. Same old… say, who’s that?
QI: You remember Christopher Columbus.
KF: You mean old “round, round world”. (laughs). You and your Bohemian friends.
QI: He’s not Bohemian, he’s Italian.
KF: Italian, Bohemian. Look at him in that hat. Is that a crazy sailor?

QI: Crazy? I’ll tell you how crazy. He’s a man with a dream, a vision. A vision of a new world, whose alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears. With purple mountains magestied above the 2 cents plain
CC & KF: (fruited)
QI: Fruited. He holds these griefs to be self-evident, this “round, round world” with Indians and justice for all. Let us then go forward together toward Miami Beach, so that the dream of this crazy Italian boy, indivisible, should not perish from the map. (cheers from crowd)

CC: Is that moving? Was that a great bit?
KF: I always said this girl had a lot of…Wait a minute! I ask a simple question, I get a pageant. Why should Spain sponsor you? Why don’t you go to Portugal?

CC: I did—they bought “The Price is Right”
KF: Oh.

CC: Then I have your permission to sail?
KF: Have you had your shots?
CC: I have.
KF: Permission granted.
CC: Gracias. Areva Derchi
KF: Hasta La Vista
QI: Adios (Mariachi band: Adios Muchachos, Compañareros)

KF: Would you get out of here? (footsteps) Strange, he left by the balcony.
QI: Force of habit I guess.
KF: Yeah, yeah, how’s that again.
QI: Nothing.
KF: Isabella? When are you going to quit fooling around with these nuts?

(on ship) 1st Mate: Admiral Columbus, sir. The men are weary, on the point of madness.
CC: Well, that’s the trouble with labor today. Don’t they realize we’re going to discover the New World?
KF: You’ve been saying that for the last 57 days.
CC: Nobody forced you to come along, your Majesty.
KF: My doctor told me I should go to Florida for the winter.

KF: I still can’t see what you needed three ships for?
CC: I got a better deal on the fleet rate.
KF: I’ll accept that. But we better sight land soon, there’s rumblings of mutiny.
CC: Really?
KF: Come over here and listen

Crew: Rumble. Rumble. Rumble. Mutiny. Mutiny. Mutiny.

CC: I see what you mean. I’ll jump up here on the rigging and speak to them.
KF: You mean on top of everything else this ship is rigged?

CC: Now hear this! This is the Admiral speaking. I know the going has been rough, but if you can just hold out a little while.
Crew: (rumble rumble)
CC: Stop that rumbling down there.
KF: Who can blame them! The whole thing is madness! I don’t like the way the crew is acting!
CC: You’re overplaying it a little bit yourself there.
KF: I tell you the world is flat, and that’s that!
CC: It’s round as your hat!
KF: It’s flat as your head!
CC: It’s round!
KF: It’s flat!

CC: It’s a round, round world
It’s a round, round world

I contend it’s round,
and it’s gonna be found
When all the results are in
It’s a round world now and it’s always been

KF: Flat Flat world
It’s a flat, flat world
I insist it’s flat as a welcoming mat
And he’s sailing off the end
How about our crazy Itralian friend?

CC: Friend, Get hip
Would I climb aboard this ship
If I didn’t have odds the earth was highly spherical

KF: It’s a miracle if it is

CC: Square, square king
You’re a square, square king
If you don’t believe
You’re gonna receive
The shock of your royal life
When the ship pulls in at Miami…

Crew: Yo, ho, ho and a Dramamine
We are loyal subjects of the king and queen
But what kind of nut would you have to be
To borrow a ship and put out to sea
When you don’t know what’s on the other side

[Simultaneously:]

KF: All week long on a hardtack bun
Brother, who said getting there is half the fun
Give up my throne for one Navy Bean
No wonder I’m turning three shades of green
How could I go on such a loony trip

CC: Round, round world
It’s a round, round world
I contend it’s round
And it’s gonna be found
When all the results are in
It’s a round world now
And it’s always been

[Simultaneously:]

Crew: Crazy kind of scheme
It’s a cockamamie dream
If we don’t sight land we’re gonna scream

CC: Get hip
Would I climb aboard this ship
If I didn’t have odds
The earth was highly spherical

KF: It’s a miracle if it is

[Simultaneously:]

Crew: Yo, ho, ho through the wind and rain
There’s a typhoon coming up
But where’s John Wayne?

CC: Square, square crew
You’re a square, square crew

[Simultaneously:]

CC: If you don’t believe
You’re gonna receive
The shock of your salty lives
When I take command in the name of…

KF: I feel like a red witch having a wake
How much of the ocean bit do you think I can take
Claim that land in the name of…

CC: Isabella and Ferdinand
KF: That’s Ferdinand and Isabella:

Both: New rulers of this round, round world
Crew: Crazy kind of scheme, It’s a cockamamie dream, but we hope that’s its a round, round world.

KF: Well, for all our sakes, I hope that…
Lookout: Land Ho! (horn fanfare)

KF: What was that?
CC: French horns.
KF: No, before that.
CC: It was the lookout, he sighted land.

Crew: Hurray

CC: Quickly, hand me the glass.
KF: Alright.
CC: No, no, the other one.
KF: Oh? (pause) Oh. (sound of wine pouring)
CC: To the New World!
KF:
Likewise (clink)

KF: Alright, alright, give the kid top billing.
CC: I claim this land in the name of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain.
Indian Chief (IC): How?
CC: Well, first I stick the flag in the sand, and then I…
KF: Watch yourself Admiral. Natives. They may be hostile.
CC: Well, we’re all a little hostile now and then. Some of us are able to sublimate. Others can’t adjust. You know how it is.
KF: I know, but you better try to talk to him.
CC: Alright. Hello there. Hello there. We white man. Other side of ocean. My name, Christopher Columbus.
IC: Oh, you over here on a Fulbright?
CC: No, no. I’m over here on an Isabella, as a matter of fact. Which reminds me. I want to take a few of you guys back on the boat to prove I discovered you.
IC: What you mean discover us? We discover you.
CC: You discovered us?
IC: Certainly, we discover you on beach here. Is all how you look at it.
CC: Yeah, I suppose. (pause) Well, my men and I were wondering if you could spare a little food.
IC: What kind num-nums you want?
CC: What is that strange looking plant you’re holding there, with the little yellow kernels?
IC: You mean this? (trumpet fanfare)
CC: Yes, what is that?
IC: French horns.

CC: No, no, what you’re holding in your hand.
IC: Oh, corn.
CC: That’s what I thought it was. What else you got to eat around here?
IC: Berries, herbs, natural fruits, and organically grown vegetables.
CC: Just as I suspected. What kind of a diet is that! That’s why I’ve come here, to fulfill my dream.

IC: You have a dream?
CC: Yes I do.
IC: Would you like to talk about it?
CC: I certainly would. My dream is to open the first Italian restaurant in your country. Give you some real
food: starches, spaghetti, cholesterol, … all the better things. That’s called progress.
IC: Hmmm.

CC: Now right here would be a good location for the restaurant, ocean view and all that. Is there room for a parking lot?
IC: You kidding? Whole country is parking lot.

CC: I suppose. Well, I’d like to put a little deposit down on the property, here…
IC: OK
CC: …I only have a few dubloons on me, so if you direct me to the nearest bank, I’ll get a check cashed.

IC: You out of luck today. Banks closed.
CC: Oh, why?
IC: Columbus Day.
CC: Oh, yeah. (pauses) We going out on that joke?
IC: No, we do reprise of song, that help.
CC & IC: But not much… no…

Simultaneously:

CC: Round, round world
It’s a new found world
And the land looks good
Like a continent should
Complete with a flag unfurled

Indians: Yo, ho, ho and a buckskin sleeve
Now the white man’s here I guess
It’s time to leave
But why go to war and fight like a jerk
Perhaps we can pick up some kind of work

Indians: In an Indian extravaganza
Wyatt Earp or Bonanza

CC: Please don’t call us, we’ll call you

KF: Step aside pal, meet the new
Both: Big cheeses of this round, round world!

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