Thursday, September 21, 2017


     Remember Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes? I feel a little like Andy Rooney in this post today, recounting a day-in-the-life of a retired person.

     Yesterday B and I bicycled across four states. Well . . . that's not exactly true. We bicycled from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. Then we crossed a bridge from New Jersey into Pennsylvania, then went back to New Jersey and returned again to Pennsylvania. Back and forth across a state line, four times. We were biking a route along the Delaware river.

     Since we moved into town, and the terrain around here is relatively flat, we've decided to get bicycles. We can ride to the library, the museum, the theater, the restaurants. We have to weave through traffic; but there isn't that much traffic and the cars are going pretty slow. Plus, part of the way around town is on a bike path and the rest is along the side of the road marked off for bicycles.

     Riding a bike is supposed to be good exercise for my old broken down arthritic knee. Maybe I can avoid a knee replacement if I build up the muscles and keep my leg strong and limber.

     After our bike ride I settled down to read my book. I picked up The Caribbean by James Michener a couple of weeks ago. The paperback was a freebie in the lobby of our library. (I love the library; even better than Amazon!) I'd read a couple of Michener's other books, and now with the Caribbean in the news I thought I'd give this one a try.

     It's an interesting tale beginning with the pre-Columbian Arawaks and Caribs. The book, published in 1989, covers in fact and fiction a number of topics, from sugar plantations, slavery and pirates, up to the Rastafarians, Fidel Castro and hurricanes. But it is a long book, weighing in at over 800 pages. I wonder if Michener were writing today, with our fast-paced lives and shortened attention spans, would he be nearly as popular?

     I was sitting there reading, sipping coffee from the mug I bought this summer on Cape Cod, when I suddenly noticed the mug has the date of 1602 on it. Wait a second. 1602? Where did they get that? When did the Pilgrims come over and land on Plymouth Rock anyway?

     So I went to the trusty Internet . . . and sure enough, the Pilgrims landed on Cape Cod in 1620, before sailing on to Plymouth Rock and founding America. So where did they get 1602? Is it a typo? No. Apparently Cape Cod was a landmark for early explorers, perhaps going back to the Norsemen, circa 1000 AD. It was 1602 when English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold sailed by and named this spit of land Cape Cod. Samuel Champlain and Henry Hudson both explored the area over the next couple of years, so by the time the Pilgrims got there, even though it hadn't been settled, it was well-trod territory.

     But wait a second. The Pilgrims didn't found America. And by the way, I read up a little on the Pilgrims. They left England where they were not welcome, went to The Netherlands where they didn't fit in, and finally set off for the New World where they could exercise their religious freedom -- and then deny everyone else religious freedom, which is how Connecticut and Rhode Island were founded, by people cast out by the Puritans.

     We hear about people proudly tracing their heritage back to the Mayflower. If I had an ancestor on the Mayflower I don't know if I'd want to brag about it. Let's face it. They were a bunch of pretty strange dudes.

     And so how do the Pilgrims get all the credit for settling America when, first of all, the Spanish were roaming around the Southwest even before 1600, and we all know it was Jamestown, founded in 1607, that was the first permanent English settlement in America.

     Of course, we've heard of Captain John Smith and Pocahontas, and know the mostly apocryphal story about how she fell in love with him. But Plymouth Rock gets most of the credit. Is it because we re-enact the other mostly apocryphal story of Thanksgiving every year in November? Or is it because the media is concentrated in the Northeast, and so anything that happens in New York and Boston commands more attention than events occurring in coastal Virginia . . . which is, after all, west of the Hudson River?

     By the way, they're taking down statues of Robert E. Lee for being a traitor, and Christopher Columbus for bringing the murderous Europeans to America. So why are they not taking down monuments to the Pilgrims who, after all, were there for the start of the deforestation of our woodlands, the decimation of wildlife, the pollution of lakes and rivers, and the near-extermination of Native Americans?

     And speaking of decimation, as the day ended I sat down to watch another episode of the Ken Burns Vietnam program on PBS. Good show; bad war. What else can be said?

     See what I mean? A little bit of Andy Rooney.


Juhli said...

Apparently you aren't the only one reading The Caribbean. When I looked it up on my library website it was checked out but I requested it despite Michener books making good door stops! Great post.

Barbara said...

Love Michener. He has a very interesting background which helps explain the complexity of his fiction. His story would make a good one of your bio posts.

Celia said...

Our town, downtown Walla Walla has a statue of Marcus Whitman who has also lost his reputation of late. Gone from martyred missionary to profiteer who used coerced native labor to build his business.

Keep up the Andy Rooney:-)

Anonymous said...

There are bad dudes everywhere.

Stephen Hayes said...

Now you've gone and made me miss Andy Rooney.

Olga Hebert said...

I love libraries and use them all the time. I do have a Kindle, but I don't love it. Still like a book I don't have to turn on or plug in to charge.
I have decided that most of what we know about history is a matter of opinion.

DJan said...

Yes, you do sound a bit like Andy. I always enjoyed his take on things. Or rant if you want to say it. I read a lot of Michener but haven't read that one. Just finished reading Al Franken's new book on my Kindle and enjoyed it immensely. :-)

Tom Sightings said...

Well, Celia, I think most of our historical figures are known for being the first to get somewhere, or for accomplishing something important, or for inspiring major developments; but they still had their faults and perhaps used unsavory means to meet their goals, esp. when judged by today's standards. What are ya gonna do? But Olga, I don't think it's all a matter of opinion. Different people may have different interpretations of events; but there is evidence; there are records. So let's ground our history -- and our science too -- on real information and legitimate documentation.

Laura Lee Carter said...

Nice stream of consciousness (or unconsciousness!) summary of American history... What a country! I've been watching "The Vietnam War" too. As it turns out, the choice we made there were more pathetic than I thought!

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