Viva Cristoforo Colombo

October 6th, 2007
Christopher Columbus
Cristoforo Colombo

Some of my friends have been checking in today, to ask how I plan to celebrate Columbus Day. Certainly, one component of my observance will be to use this blog to dispel any misunderstandings about that tawdry business with Joe Columbo.

I can see how misunderstandings have arisen. The guy’s name was Columbo, and he got whacked in public on Columbus Circle in midtown Manhattan. But contrary to the most popular misunderstanding, it happened months before Columbus Day—on June 18, 1971. And Joe was leading a rally to celebrate a holiday he’d made up, one that had nothing to do with global exploration: Italian-American Unity Day. The purpose of the rally had more to do with gaining public sympathy for his own “family,” upon whom the FBI had been lavishing their attention, than in unifying Italian-Americans.

Christopher Columbus apparently had had enough problems of his own with the indigenous population of Hispanola without being associated with wise guys a few centuries into the future. I hope I’ve cleared this up.

Nevertheless, celebration is in order. To paraphrase Calvin Trillin, Columbus didn’t come all the way to America just to have a city in Ohio named for him. Nor did he sail west because he got a deal on accommodations for a long weekend in October… And if we are to believe historians, Queen Isabella’s admiral never actually made it to North America at all.

But on this holiday weekend, I’ll celebrate the fact that Christopher Columbus, one of Genoa’s native sons, is the man who brought linguine al pesto to the New World.

Of course, I’ll spend some time in sober reflection about the man and his accomplishments. After all, for my Columbus Day dinner, I’ll need only to combine fresh basil, Parmigiano, pignoli, garlic, and olive oil in the Cuisinart. In Columbus’s time, if I had wanted to go out for a dish of linguine al pesto, I would have risked falling off the edge of the earth.

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