It was destiny that all those names should perish. San Salvatore became the island of the Cat; Fernandina, l’Esuma; Isabella, the Esumeta; the islands of Arena, Mucaras; Giovanna took back the name she had from her natives, the name of Cuba.
A little river also placed in the Gulf to which Christopher Columbus landed. That little river took and held the name of San Salvatore. Entering with the palischermo, to insult the depth, the Spaniards put away two pirogues, which had just detached from the shore. And they also fleeing the inhabitants of the coast, in whose huts they were only stoics, woven of palm filaments, hooks, bones of bone, and other fishing tackles. It began badly, to rediscover the treasures of Cipango. Reassembled in the ship, the almirante set about to sail the coast to the west, and in that exploration he descended several times to the ground, visiting villages, from which the inhabitants constantly fled to the woods. The houses were better built, noticeable cleanliness; there was no shortage of indications of a more advanced civilization; for example, certain statues of idols, roughly carved, but with a certain vividness of expression, in the wood.
Surely, the marvels described by Marco Polo would not have lingered to show themselves. And this was not only the hope of Christopher Columbus, but also that of Martino Alonzo Pinzon. Three natural Guanahani, embarked on the Pinta, said that behind a promontory, previously called the Palms, was a large river, reassembling which, you could go in four days in Cubanacan!
-Cubanacan! -Required Martino Alonzo.-Cubanacan! Is not this a corruption of the Kublai-kan kingdom? We are on the trail, Mr. almirante, we are on the trail.
“Let’s not be confused,” the almirante replied. “If this is the island of Cipango, how could the reign of Kublai-kan be, that Marco Polo has placed on the mainland? Notice, Martino Alonzo, that this is an island; they announced it to us for this interprement, pointing it to us, around noon, when we were still in the waters of Isabella.
“We’ll have misunderstood,” Martino Alonzo Pinzon said. “Meanwhile, my three savages say this is not an island. And they call it Cuba, and they say that Cubanacan finds itself in four days in the earth; they add that there is gold in abundance; what do you want more?
-The discovery of the great river, from which we would have to take the steps, -without Christopher Columbus was quietly. -We are therefore looking for the great river.-
But turned the head of the Palms, the great river was not found. Other promontories were seen and turned away; but without finding, not that the great river, a branch in which to throw the anchor. The wind blew sideways; the infoscarsi of the sky had foreseen a big thunderstorm. The Almirante rightly thought that it was prudent to go back, to moor at the mouth of another river, already seen three days before; to which, for the width of its mouth, had imposed the name of Rio de los mares.
So they had arrived at the last day of October. The next morning, at the first sunrise, the almirante sent the palischermi to the shore, because a group of his sailors visited a village, whose huts were seen to whiten among the trees. The sailors went and went ashore; but when they appeared, the frightened inhabitants took the path of the woods, nor did they come, with words or signs, to return them to the beach.
It is licit to smile of the illusions of Cristoforo Colombo, participated and increased by Martino Alonzo Pinzon; but it is not legitimate to laugh at it. The smile is always benevolent: it sometimes means condescension; some other is a pitiful judgment that we make of ourselves, estimating ourselves fully capable, under the same conditions, of falling into the same errors. Laughing, on the other hand, is proud that they believe themselves to be infallible and impeccable; it means irony, sarcasm, mockery; it usually abounds in the mouths of fools, and in that of the ignorant, their friends and cronies. Please, by grace, consider one thing, or rather two. First of all, Cristoforo Colombo could well have argued the existence of a continent beyond the Atlantic, having assumed the sphericity of the earth. But he placed his faith, like that of the whole Christian world, in the scientific authority of the Sacred Cards, which almost measured the surface of the globe in palms; and the veracity of the relations of Marco Polo and Ser Giovanni Maundeville around the extreme regions of Asia is admitted; What would have filled the little space that remained unknown to the west, if not the most recent areas of Asia, that the Venetian and English had not entirely visited? The true gimmick of the Genovese navigator, what would be called the flash of genius today, was to look for those eastern borders of Asia by the western route. In all the rest, the authorities gripped him on all sides, the prejudices of the vulgar chained him.
And then, and then, contemporaries of my soul, that you have cheap manuals and atlases, the wall papers under the eyes and the teacher in the chair, think that dangers, that hardship and above all that constancy there is desired , to give us such a lavish meal of doctrine to us. We can smile, we do not have the right to laugh. After all, we have laughed so much in Salamanca, from all those pundits, that we can very well abstain from others.
Instead, let’s admit, smiling, how and why the stories of Marco Polo commanded the spirit of the great Genoese navigator. We see it now, at the mouth of the Rio de los Mares, determined to find that blessed Cubanacan, in which Martino Alonzo, the commander of the Pinta, saw a simple corruption of Kublai-kan. They both ignored something known later: that the naturals of those places said nacan as we say the “means”; hence the consequence that Cubanacan meant the means, the center of Cuba. Pinzon, who saw a corruption of Kublai-kan, could have with equal foundation see a Cipang, which was the name reported by Marco Polo for the insular kingdom of Japan . After all, the desire to associate the new discoveries with the old names was right in the blood. Cuba, when all hope of becoming one with the island of Cipango was lost, was ascribed to the Antilles archipelago; a name appropriately modernized by the famous Antilla of Aristotle, dug by ear from the no less famous Atlantis of Solon, and of his great-grandson Plato.
But it is time that we return to the story. Escaping from the shore the savages at the first entry of the palischermi into the mouth of the Rio de los Mares, the almirante let his marinaresca rest a few hours, also wanting to persuade those suspicious natives that he had no hostile intention. In the afternoon he only sent one of his guanahani interpolations to the bargio.
The villagers had returned to their huts; but they were always on the alert, ready to run away. They saw the bargio approach, saw a savage of their species in the rower, and they waited. The interpetre, as it came near the shore, so that it could be heard from the ground, stood up on the prow of the small boat, and addressed the speech to those peoples, painting them foreigners as superhuman beings, come from heaven, white in face, friends of the red men, to whom they made many beautiful donations, similar to what he was waving in front of them, making it pleasantly resonate in the ears. When he had finished his speech, the Indian threw himself into the water and turned to swim at the beach.
He was alone; he was received without suspicion. His speech, really, was a little different from that of Cuba; but how can it be different among peoples of the same blood, long lived divided. They hardly understood it, but they finally understood it, and they persuaded themselves that strangers had come from friends. And then that rattle that the messenger was jingling in their ear, what music!
Immediately they slipped their quick pirogues from the beach; they placed us in cotton, fruits and cassava; with those present they went to meet the ships of the white men.
The almirante welcomed them with demonstrations of jubilation; he liked those present, and returned them, as usual, with small bronze bells and glass beads. The natural ones did not wear native gold pieces suspended on the nari; but pieces of silver. Metal too, and of greater value than it should have been twenty or thirty years later, when from Cuba, precisely, and from all the other lands discovered, so much abundance overflowed it in Europe.
Silver also had its value, and its appearance was greeted with joy. But more pleased the news of the white men in the ears (so they seemed to understand) that in the interior of the island, four days of walking, was the living room of a powerful and very rich king. The natives of the coast had already sent him messengers, to warn him of the arrival of those three huge pirogues with wings. If the white men were still six days, they would have seen them come back, and most likely with the king’s messengers.
Christopher Columbus could wait six days, and even longer; but he wanted to be sure of entering into a relationship with that king, in which it was lawful to imagine the great Dog. Therefore, an exchange to wait for the king’s messengers, he resolved to send his men into the interior of the island, calling for this office Rodrigo of Xeres and Luigi di Torres.
Ah, finally the great interpetre could have drawn his polyglot doctrine? He knew and spoke Hebrew, the hot, the Syriac, and he also crammed Arabic. Either one of those languages would have meant the great dog. But if he had not understood any of them?
For each good purpose, Christopher Columbus sent two naturalists to the polyglot interpetre, one from Guanahani, who already knew that little bit of Spaniard that was said, and another from the same beach in Cuba, who, in the case of not leaving mother island, willingly accepted.
But those four did not have to go alone. Damiano’s bizarre spirit did not want it. Having briefly called his cousin Cosma, he introduced himself to the admirer to tell him:
– And two Genoese, by chance, could not go to Cubanacan?
-Why do? asked the almirante.
-But I know! what will be done by Rodrigo Xeres and Luigi di Torres. This good Jew came to the faith, knows his mother tongue, the hot, the Syriac, and a little bit even the Arab; but then….
-Orbene? what would you say?
-I want to say that he does not know the Genoese, which is the mother tongue, much more than the Hebrew.
He smiled at the almirante, and he noted with an accent of witty goodness:
“You two, Cosma and Damiano, you seem men to know much more than the native language of the Ligurians.
-Make your Excellency that we know the Latin, -recently dared Damiano.-If you were to meet on the road the Priest Janni, it would take someone who could speak to him in Latin, I imagine. As a priest, in fact, he will read his breviary every day.-
We could not help laughing at the one found of the bizarre Genovese. And laughing, Cristoforo Colombo fired the two fellow citizens to follow the expedition by land. Damiano jumped for joy, and immediately ran to warn his companion.
– Come on, you know? The almirante also sends us to revere the great dog. I know a thousand years to see it.
“Who?” Cosma said.
-The big dog, by golly. I’m afraid to know if he’s dumb too, like all the dogs we’ve found so far. ”
The following morning, at the first light of the day, the embassy was set on the way. The natural of Cuba, which had practice of places, opened the march; he followed Rodrigo of Xeres, accompanied by Luigi di Torres. The two Genoese closed the march. The natural Guanahani went a little ‘forward, a little’ back, to serve, in his quality interpetre, the need of everyone, when they wanted to hear the speeches of the leader, or be understood by him. But much more often he was alongside Damian, who said he wanted to teach him the Genoese, but in fact he tried to learn as much as he could about the wild language.
They had set off for a verdant look, where no trace of trail appeared. Happiness of savages and hunters, not knowing the beaten roads. And when they reached the top of the desert, they entered a spot that looked like mastic; whence, for valleys and hills alternated, they entered a larger valley, out of sight of the sea. They passed by some small freshwater ponds, whose margins were dressed in borrachin, and on which certain large trees of unknown species, with their large foliage, like flowered dresses, such as loads of fruits, such as flowers and, were throwing friends’ shadows. of fruits at a time: spring and autumn associated in a single vegetable. Everything laughed, in that paradise, and everything even chirped, because there were birds in the thousands, fluttering in flower like the very small colobus, climbing from branch to branch like parrots, moving from tree to tree like magpies , colorful and talkative no less than their relatives rampents.
The variety of the fruits, the beauty of their colors, and the strangeness of their forms, aroused the curiosity and admiration of the ambassadors. And many tasted, without any fear of poisoning, as they eagerly ate the birds, these first connoisseurs of vegetable gastronomy. Moreover, even the two naturals intended theirs, and they themselves went to pick the most exquisite fruits from the branches, choosing them to their point of maturity, which the Europeans could not at first know.
It was the party of green and blue; of the green that shone with a hundred different shades around the admired travelers, of the blue that spread, profoundly serene, on the peaks of the gigantic trees. Between the green and the blue ran a fresh and pure air, graceful by the effluvium of a thousand flowers, enlivened by the predominance of resinous fragrances, which came pleasing to the nari, giving a sense of health to the fibers of the brain, and of vigor to the faculty of the spirit. To make the illusion complete, to let believe that it was another earthly paradise, the human creature was absent from those places. But there were travelers; but it is our mind, in front of the great spectacles of nature, to make abstraction from ourselves, seeing and not considering them. In the great solitude the contrasts of light and shadow were the sole voice; the colors of the painting are the only variety; there was no human note, so often jarring, that sometimes brings the image and the meaning of life, but always spoils calm and brings back to the earth the vagabond thought. At a certain moment, in front of a forest clearing, where a long and wide prairie followed a lake, our messengers had seen in the distance a lined group of men, certainly warriors, immobile in their place, and kept on their side their sentinels, ready to give the dream of every imminent danger. Strange thing, in the land of naked men: those warriors all appeared dressed in red. But the vision did not last long enough to bring it close to a crossbow shot. The sentinels had shouted; and warriors and sentinels had widened their red cloaks, taking flight toward more distant regions. They were the red flamingos, then so numerous on the island of Cuba.
Another lovely sight was the night; the night, always so beautiful under the tropics, illuminated by the light of the stars shimmering from the vault of the sky, while at the soft light of the moon all things seem to approach you in the transparency of the air, and the same shadows of the forest, broken by the flash continuous with marvelous insects, simulating the light of the ruby, the sapphire, the diamond, they let themselves be penetrated by the look, bringing the image, almost the sensation, of a soft and sweet bed, on which, more than sleep, is sure and promising the to dream.
Our Damian did not think all these things, the first night of the trip to Cubanacan. They bothered him, perhaps, or disturbed his doctrine of natural history, the birds of the island, who continued to chirp, to trill, to warble, as if by day.
“But what have these devils?” He exclaimed. “They do not sleep, then?
“They dream,” said Cosma, who sometimes suited herself to speaking.
-Oh yes; and they do not have the wrong! “Damiano claim.” In this blessed island, it could be a continuous dream. I, for you, I want to tell you what I think: I would live there willingly for the rest of my days.
“Are you?” Cosma said.
-Of course I. And note that the more I have to live again, if the Parca rightly row my part of linen.
– What would you do here? Would you always sleep?
-Oh this then no. I would rather watch, watch over a lot, alongside a beautiful castle ….
-What you did not think to take with you.
“In the hope of finding her on the face of the place,” Damiano answered. “What do you think? that there are women only in the old world?
-I do not claim this.
-Ah, I meant! You could instead observe, and with more reason, that there is no hope castellane, in these places, because there are no castles. But I make a castle myself every time I want, and once better than the other. After all, where do we go, at this rate? That is, I mean, where will we go back to, when dawn will dawn from the beaches Eìi …. that for us are the waters of the ocean? At the court of the Great Dog, I imagine myself. The Great Dog, to do what he does, will not be such a dog to refuse my daughter’s hand. You will tell me that we could give the head of the Prete Janni’s court: I would like it less, because the priests do not make a family. But he, by the way, will want to have a minister, great lords, princes assistants to the throne. You will see, Cosma; daughter of king, or daughter of prince, the first beauty that happens to me between your feet pays the tribute of the New World to your friend Damiano.
“My dear,” Damiano answered, “you know I do not want to die of heartbreak, I? If the beautiful Ca ….
-Zitto, Bar ….- Cosma interrupted.
“You shut up, now!” Damiano interrupted himself. “I see you are making a fool of one. Fortunately, here nobody understands the mother tongue; otherwise, the secret would be kept for good! –
Damiano’s cheerful chatter lasted a long time. But Cosma, who infused it with a few words, also reduced the few ones, leaving all the load of the conversation to his friend.
-I understood, -said Damiano at some point.-The night is high, suadentque cadentia sidera sonnos. So let’s see about sleeping.-
And lying on his side, he pulled his hood over his eyes. A few minutes later, he was fast asleep.
“Happy friend!” Cosma murmured, who was still leaning on his elbow, gazing up at the stars. “He left the sad thoughts beyond the ocean; and my meanwhile ….-
And his meanwhile we will let them work at their post, in the silence of the clear night. The melancholic people, you know, are fond of their own pain, and do not want to be harassed.
After all, Cosma also fell asleep, an hour after her traveling companions. In compensation (let’s say so) he was also the first to wake up, and jumped up without being asked, at the first sign of the guides, who announced the dawn sorger.
The party started again; he crossed new valleys and new hills, greeted new horizons, admired new picturesque scenes, and received greetings of new swarms of insects, new flocks of parrots. Finally, shortly after noon, as soon as he had provided twelve leagues from which he had left the coast, he saw a great valley open before his eyes, and in the center of that valley appeared a long list of cultivated land.
-Cubanacan? -You asked Damiano to the wild of the coast.
“Cubanacan;” answered the other.
– But the houses? Where are the houses? –
To this question, done in Spanish, could not answer the savage of the coast. To answer, he would have to understand the question.
Instead, the savage of Guanahani answered, or seemed to answer for him.
-Bohio, -diss’egli, pointing to the bottom of the valley, -Obio!
“And Bohio both,” said Damiano. “I hoped that we had reached the capital of the great Dog; instead, apparently, there is not even the suburb.-
On the other, following watching, he began to distinguish something. You could see the thatched roofs, of a conical shape, like those that had already seen on the islands discovered. And after a half-hour walk, at the turn of a hill, an entire village was seen; no more than fifty huts, but all very large, made of wood, hexagons, octagons, roundish, shaped like pavilions. It was not the capital of the Great Dog, certainly not; it did not shine with precious metals; but it was still a pretty picturesque village, and it was after all the first densely populated center, which was to be discovered, on those islands, from 12 October to 2 November of the year of grace 1492.
-Bohio? -You asked Damiano to the wild of the coast.
-Bohio; -received that other seriously.
“And now, my dear,” Damiano retorted, “I know how before. I also love to deceive myself with the opinion that it is the name of that tiny city, which will belong very well to the great dog, but whence a dog does not come to come and receive us.-
Even here Damiano was deceived, overwhelmed by haste. He had just finished complaining, that from the main street of Bohio (we say also Bohio, to give a name to the village) a band appeared, a procession of naturals. Cosma, who had an eye of lynx and the other of a hawk, could have recognized at that distance that the citizens of Bohio were nothing more dressed than the fishermen of Guanahani. And all those people moved to meet the ambassadors. Surely they had seen them from afar, as they turned the hill, and it was easy to discover them on that lonely hill, where the ground was clear of plants, and the green of the lawn gave yellowish reflections, under the great sundial light of the sun.