9 Real Stops On Christopher Columbus’s Voyages

istock
istock

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue … and totally missed his mark. His journey may not have gone exactly as planned, but there were some interesting detours along the way. 

1. THE CANARY ISLANDS 

When Columbus set sail from the Spanish port of Palos on August 3, 1492, he already had his first pit stop planned. The Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria headed to the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco for last-minute preparations and restocking. It's a good thing, too. By the time they arrived, the Pinta's rudder had disconnected and the ship was taking on water. (Columbus suspected some of the crew had second thoughts about the voyage and sabotaged the vessel.) There was talk of leaving the ship behind—but what were they going to do, order another one online? The men repaired the Pinta during the layover and officially headed west on September 6. 

2. SAN SALVADOR ISLAND 

We know Columbus—or perhaps a sailor on the Pinta named Rodrigo de Triana—first spotted land on October 12. But what we don't know is where exactly they were. Not that there's anything wrong with that—Columbus thought he was in the East Indies! The island was definitely in the Bahamas and already inhabited by the Taino people, who called it Guanahani. Columbus named it San Salvador and recorded that it was "very flat and with very green trees" with a surrounding reef and laguna in the middle. A number of islands fit the description, but many scholars later agreed that it was probably what used to be known as Watling Island. The Bahamanian government renamed it San Salvador Island in 1925. 

3. CUBA 

Columbus didn't stay put for long. After naming the small surrounding islands Santa Maria de la Concepcion, Fernandina, Isabela, and Las Islas de Arena, the fleet took off again. On October 28, Columbus and his men arrived in what they believed to be China—but was, in fact, Cuba—most likely through the Bay of Bariay. Columbus christened the island Juana after Queen Isabella's son and soon discovered the joys of tobacco. Long before Cuban cigars, the Arawaks smoked with Y-shaped nostril pipes. 

4. HISPANIOLA 

After China, which was actually Cuba, Columbus set off for Japan. The trip was no pleasure cruise: On Christmas Day, the Santa Maria ran aground after hitting a reef. Columbus ordered his men to dismantle the ship and build a temporary fort called Villa de la Navidad with some "help" from the locals. Columbus headed back to Spain on the Niña a few weeks later, leaving 39 sailors behind on La Isla Española, with his mistress's cousin Diego de Arana acting as governor. When Columbus returned a year later, the fort was destroyed and all of the men were dead. Today, Hispaniola is one of only two shared Caribbean islands, split between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. 

5. SANTA MARIA ISLAND

The journey back to Spain was miserable. After a number of storms, the crews of the Niña and Pinta disembarked in the Baía dos Anjos on Portugal's Santa Maria Island around February 15. Columbus set off seeking boat repairs while half his crew went to church (presumably to thank God they were still alive). Alas, the locals were wary of strangers after numerous pirate attacks and quickly arrested the sailors. So first Columbus lost the ship Santa Maria, and then he almost lost half his crew on Santa Maria. Fortunately, he was able to reason with the Portuguese to get the sailors released, plus to get some boat repairs. Then they finally headed home.   

6. DOMINICA 

Columbus didn't have much to show for his adventures when he returned to Spain, but he quickly secured funding for a second voyage. Returning to the fort on Hispaniola was his first priority, but he got a little distracted. On November 3, 1493, Columbus spotted a heavily forested island and had to take a look-see. The Kalinago natives weren't very welcoming—and the Europeans thought they were cannibals—so Columbus quickly named the island Dominica and headed out to explore the neighboring tiny islands, including modern-day Antigua and Montserrat. Why did he call this new place Dominica? Because it was Sunday (Domingo in Spanish) and, if you haven't noticed by now, Columbus wasn't especially original in the naming department. 

7. JAMAICA 

Columbus was horrified when he finally returned to Hispaniola and found La Navidad in shambles. He and his men built a new settlement called La Isabela, which was later struck by two of the earliest hurricanes ever observed in North America in 1494 and 1495. But before the natural disasters, Columbus made his own trouble by mistreating the locals and alienating his fellow sailors, who were hungry, sick, and mutinous. When they failed to find gold, Columbus headed back to Cuba and soon found his way to St. Ann's Bay in Jamaica. The Taino natives were hostile, so Columbus continued exploring and landed at Discovery Bay, Montego Bay, and Portland Bight. He didn't find gold in Jamaica, either, so he went back to Hispaniola before returning to Spain. 

Columbus later returned to—well, was shipwrecked in—Jamaica on his fourth voyage in 1503 after losing his four-boat fleet in a series of storms. He and his men were stranded for a year, until captain Diego Mendez rowed a canoe to Hispaniola. By that point, Columbus wasn't even allowed to visit Hispaniola, and it took months of negotiations before Mendez could charter a rescue caravel. 

8. TRINIDAD

Back to the chronology! The King and Queen allowed Columbus to go on a third voyage in May 1498 to resupply the colonists on Hispaniola (before he was blacklisted) and find a new trade route. The six-ship fleet split up: three went to Hispaniola and three went to new islands. Columbus chose the latter, of course. He and his men had almost run out of drinking water when they spied three peaks in the distance. Columbus named the land Trinidad and quenched his thirst in the Moruga River. 

9. VENEZUELA 

Contrary to what many people believe, Columbus did not discover America. But he did reach South America on August 1, 1498. As he and his men gathered water in Trinidad, they spotted the coast of South America. They explored the Gulf of Paria for eight days, discovering the "Pearl Islands" of Cubagua and Margarita and reaching the Orinoco River in Venezuela. Ever wrong about geography, Columbus admired this verdant new land and concluded he'd reached the Garden of Eden. Sigh. 

The Fascinating History Behind Why Jewish Families Eat Chinese Food on Christmas

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iStock

For Jewish New Yorkers, scoring a seat at one of veteran restaurateur Ed Schoenfeld’s Chinese eateries on Christmas Day could be compared to a holiday miracle. “I think on that day we do more business than many restaurants do in three months,” Schoenfeld tells Mental Floss. “We serve all day long, we stay open all day long.”

Schoenfeld is the Jewish owner-operator of RedFarm, an Asian-fusion dim sum restaurant with two locations in New York (plus one in London), and Decoy, a West Village shrine to traditional Peking duck. While his expertise lies in Far Eastern cuisine, Schoenfeld grew up in Brooklyn and learned to cook from his Eastern European grandmother. And just like his customers, Schoenfeld and his family sometimes craved Chinese food on Christmas, eschewing homemade fare for heaping plates of chow mein and egg foo yung. The future restaurateur's grandmother kept a kosher kitchen, but outside the home all dietary laws flew out the window with the single spin of a Lazy Susan. Suddenly, egg rolls with pork were fair game, transfigured into permissible delicacies through hunger and willful ignorance.

As Gentiles feast on turkey and roast beef during the Yuletide season, why do many Jews opt for chop suey? For starters, it's convenient: Chinese restaurants are open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But as historians and culinary experts tell Mental Floss, other ingredients play a part in this delicious story.

Jews developed their love for all things steamed, stir-fried, and soy-sauced after leaving the Old Country. Between the mid-1800s and the 1930s, waves of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Germany, and Greece began settling in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a gritty, inexpensive neighborhood teeming with tenements, docks, and factories—and filled with synagogues and kosher butcher shops. “You started here, and then moved on," Sarah Lohman, author of Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, says.

While Jewish immigrants found community on the Lower East Side, "there was a lot of discrimination against Jews at the turn of the century,” Lohman adds. "They were often criticized not only for not dressing like Americans and not speaking the language, but also for not converting to an 'American' religion."

Right next door to the burgeoning Jewish community on the Lower East Side was the city's nascent Chinatown. Many Chinese immigrants had initially come to the U.S. to work on the Transcontinental Railroad. After its completion in 1869, these laborers faced violence and discrimination in the western states. They came to New York City seeking new business opportunities, and some opened restaurants.

By and large, Chinese restaurateurs didn’t discriminate against Jewish customers. Joshua Eli Plaut writes in his book A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis the Season to be Jewish that the Chinese, as non-Christians, didn't perceive any difference between Anglo-Saxon New Yorkers and Jewish immigrants; they accepted all non-Chinese customers with open arms.

Jewish customers embraced Chinese food in return. The restaurants were conveniently located and inexpensive, yet were also urbane in their eyes. Jews saw dining out as an American custom that they wanted to try, largely because they sought upward mobility among other Americans. According to Yong Chen, a history professor and author of Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America, "[Diners] were attracted to Chinese food because, in their mind, it represented American cosmopolitanism and middle class status." And they weren't deterred by the fact that food in Chinese restaurants wasn't kosher. But they could easily pretend it was.

Dairy wasn’t a big part of Chinese meals, so Jewish diners didn’t have to worry about mixing meat and milk (a no-no in kosher diets). And non-kosher ingredients like pork or seafood were often finely chopped, drowned in sauces, or mixed with other ingredients, like rice. These elements were well disguised enough that they could pass for more permissible forms of meat. “You could kind of willfully ignore that there might be pork in there," Lohman says. "It’s like a vegetarian eating a soup that has chicken stock. If you’re a little flexible about your Judaism, you would just ‘not notice’ the pork in your fried rice.”

Chinese food was exotic and new, filled with surprising flavors, ingredients, and textures [PDF]. But for some Eastern European Jews, it also had familiar elements. Both Eastern European and Chinese cuisines shared an affinity for sweet and sour flavors and egg-based dishes. "[Chinese restaurants] had these pancakes, which were like blintzes,” says Joan Nathan, author of King Solomon's Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World, and the wontons resembled kreplach (both are meat-filled soup dumplings).

The fact that the Chinese and Jews were America’s two largest non-Christian immigrant populations brought them together, Jennifer 8. Lee, author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, tells Mental Floss. Unlike, say, Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants were open on Sundays and on Christian holidays. They also lacked religious imagery, which may have made them appear more welcoming for Jews.

Combined, these factors caused the number of Chinese restaurants in urban East Coast cities to skyrocket during the early 20th century. Jews soon accounted for 60 percent of the white clientele in New York City's and Philadelphia’s Chinese restaurants, Chen writes, and Chinese restaurants would often go out of their way to cater to these clients. The eateries delivered their food to Jewish neighborhoods and to individual customers.

Yet an unwavering affection for Chinese food wasn't shared by all Jews. In an example cited by Chen and Lee, a reporter for Der Tog (The Day), a Yiddish daily newspaper in New York City, noted in 1928 that Jewish diners were in danger of drowning their culinary roots in soy sauce. To take back their taste buds, Jewish-Americans should hoist protest signs reading “Down with chop suey! Long live gefilte fish!” the journalist joked.

But Jewish cookbooks had already begun including Americanized dishes like chop suey and egg foo yung, which Chinese chefs had specially created to appeal to homegrown appetites. And as Lower East Side Jews moved to different neighborhoods, boroughs, and suburbs, Chinese restaurants followed them.

By the mid-20th century, Nathan says, Chinese restaurants had become de facto social clubs in Jewish communities. Familiar faces were always present, children were always welcome, and eating with your hands wasn’t just encouraged—it was required. Everyone left filled with food and gossip, whether it was Christmas or an ordinary Sunday evening.

Thanks to immigration patterns, nostalgia, and convenient hours of operation, this culinary custom has stuck around. “Jewish guests want to go out and eat Chinese food on Christmas,” Schoenfeld, the Manhattan restaurateur, says. “It’s become a tradition, and it’s extraordinary how it’s really grown.”

This story originally ran in 2017.

You Can Gift Your Favorite Nerd a Subscription to Famous Letters From History

Letterjoy
Letterjoy

Letter writing may be a lost art at this point, but you can still give someone the gift of getting a great letter in the mail, without ever picking up a pen yourself. Letterjoy, a subscription service for historical letters, sends out a different archival letter each week, giving subscribers the opportunity to dig through their mail and find a work of great writing rather than a pile of junk advertisements.

As part of the service, Letterjoy sends out one authenticated historical letter or telegraph each week, according to monthly themes. The letters are largely drawn from the last 400-plus years of American history, sourced by Letterjoy founder Michael Sitver from historical archives and private collections. Previous monthly themes have included "presidents and the press," "the right to vote," "Civil War spies," and "the birth of aviation." The letters often come from famous figures like Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Clara Barton, and the Wright brothers.

Recipients don't just get a photocopy of an archival letter. Each letter is custom-designed by Letterjoy, either typed up on a Smith-Corona typewriter (for more modern missives) or handwritten by designers and enhanced with software. The goal is to make each letter look and feel as authentic as possible while maintaining readability—since the whole point is to read the letters, not just look at them.

Every letter comes with a context section that explains what the letter is and why it matters, including who the letter-writer and recipient were and the historical events surrounding its writing.

You can buy someone (or yourself) a yearly plan for $160 ($13.33 a month), a six-month plan for $100 ($16.66 a month), or a three-month plan for $50 (also $16.66 a month). Discounts are available for educators who want to use the letters in their classrooms.

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