„Cumulonimbus“, Marcel Buehler, digital montage using “Portrait of a Man, Said to be Christopher Columbus” by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519, oil on canvas, 42 x 34 3/4 in. // 106.7 x 88.3 cm, The Metropolitan Museum Of Art, New York City.
What would tourism look like today if it weren’t for Christopher Columbus? Without that Italian in royal services who, 523 years ago today exactly, started his journey to India and found America? Not as the first person ever. No, approximately 500 years earlier the Icelander Leif Eriksson arrived there already. He was not even the one to spur this new discovery on. This needed Amerigo Vespucci, the newly “discovered” continent’s namesake.
But let’s start at the beginning. On September 3rd 1492, Columbus starts the first of four expeditions to the west to find an alternative maritime route to India – i.e. China – because everything that was located behind India was also India. Equipped with ample mathematical knowledge, sponsored by friends, patrons, and former employers and blessed with the impudence to utilize the then already common idea that earth is rather spherical than a disc, he actually started to search for said seaway. And he found his “India”. Which in the aftermath led to the well-known side effects: robbery; genocide and colonization of the “New World”; liberation movements of all kinds; more settlement and civil war and the ideals of freedom; Tinsel towns and Pied Pipers, especially the latter as revenants in moral disguise.
Today the adventure of these world-changing travels has shrunken to the casual tingling sensation during take off and landing from the “Old” (Europe) to the “New World” (the Americas). You don’t need courage to hop on a plane. Indeed, we take it for granted that this is standard for travel. When one thinks of the many achievements to technology and human philosophy, it truly is a marvel. But like the person flying from one continent to another, we take this for granted as well. Furthermore, it seems that a growing number of people walk around like sleep walkers – not even half aware of the advancements in knowledge around them and tempted to return to pre-enlightenment thinking and behaviors. Unfortunately, this type of journey is going in the wrong direction. The earth is still a sphere as in Columbus’ times. But sometimes it feels as if it gets flatter by the hour.