Goodbye Columbus



Almost exactly a quarter-century ago, James A. Clifton, an anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin, called me after seeing an article I had written in First Things, entitled “1492 and All That” (which later became a full-length book). We were then in a swirl of anti-Western and anti-Christian public emotion over the 500thanniversary (1492-1992) of Columbus’ voyages to the New World, and his alleged role in later mistreatment of Native Americans, slavery, and Christian imperialism.

I expected venom; he offered support. He had written a still fascinating book, The Invented Indian, that sought to distinguish the real achievements of Native Americans from guilt-driven idealizations. For his pains in service to truth, he reaped resentment and threats. In fact, one day someone dressed as an Indian – well, wearing a ridiculous jumble of articles of clothing from very different tribes – came to his front door with a gun. Professor Clifton laughed and turned away, saying: come back when you know something about Indians.

Some things never change. Especially the largely ignorant, suicidal rage that is now a regular recurrence in American culture, and which is spreading to other Western countries. Quite apart from the vile clash the other day between alt-right and alt-left in Charlottesville (which, as usual, also brought injury to innocents), we seem to have lost the Christian – and human – truth that we’re all imperfect beings. And that without a capacity for tolerating one another’s foibles and ultimately a chance at forgiveness, it’s simply impossible for us to live together.

Puritanical absolutism used to be the hallmark of extremist religious and political groups; now it’s come to infest the very places that should be most aware of differences and contexts, namely our universities and the media.

I learned my lesson about this back when I was trying to form a clear picture of the Age of Discovery. There were and are good historians, amateur and academic, of such matters. Broad-brush condemnations, however, which blur essential moral distinctions, get the airtime.

The great Dominican “defender of the Indians,” Bartolomé de las Casas – for example – described the “sweetness and benignity” of Columbus – in contrast to other Spanish explorers. Cortez could be brutal, though he ended in a monastery doing penance for his sins. Pizzaro was a psychopath. Period. Columbus was something else; despite the unprecedented difficulties he faced in the new cultures he encountered, there were few instances of his mistreating anyone. He was more typically uncertain about how to proceed, as we ourselves often are. Las Casas said of him, “Truly. I would not dare blame the admiral’s intentions for I knew him well and I knew his intentions were good.” Yet he became a cultural whipping boy.

Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519 [The Met, New York]

Except for the few near-pure monsters in history, great cultural figures are a mixed breed, like all of us. And we are very much in a position towards them like that of children who have come to recognize the sins and shortcoming of parents. Even when their flaws are quite large, we can still honor the good things they gave us, too numerous and deeply woven into our very being even to spell out. That’s why right after the Commandments to worship God alone, we have “Honor thy father and mother.” This isn’t Stone Age patriarchy (note the mention of mother). It’s simple justice: we have a debt to those who gave us life and nurtured it.

Our culture was created by imperfect, if great, people. And the standards we use to judge them – and ourselves – were not immaculately invented when our exalted selves came on the scene. When we had a truer picture of human nature, it used to be no great surprise that great public figures had great virtues and – often enough – great vices.

Abraham Lincoln sometimes opined, quite wrongly, that enslaved Africans could not be assimilated into white society, and would do better if they were returned to Africa. Do we want to jettison the great voice of Lincoln because of a mistaken judgment?

Similarly, Martin Luther King, Jr. did a fair bit of philandering. I once asked a Catholic priest who worked with King during the Civil Rights Movement about that. He admitted it was a problem, but given all the women constantly throwing themselves at him, it could have been much worse. Should we let that weakness overwhelm great achievements?

We used to get exercised over the fact that students were graduating from high school and even college without knowing in what century the Civil War happened or the dates of World War II. Now we allow a small number of radicals, given a big media megaphone, to make cosmic moral claims and counterclaims ignorant of the winding human paths of history.

Debate and even a certain amount of division are natural to democracy, but not the current demonizing. It’s legitimate to study (and argue about) the life of figures like Robert E. Lee. It’s even useful to examine the record – not to deface monuments, but think critically – about saints like Junipero Serra, who faced conditions that would break most of us, and yet was able to draw great goods from them.

Las Casas, a sometimes fiery critic of his fellow Spaniards, was also able to say of them that they, “performed astounding feats never before invented or dreamed of.” All of us, Catholic and Protestant, religious and not, need to step up at this moment. People suffering from cultural amnesia and self-deceived about their own moral purity cannot be allowed to set the terms of debate.

We’re going to have to be the people of memory, especially of how our civilization came to be, and how to defend it, despite imperfections. Indeed, we define those imperfections largely in term of the Western Christian tradition, the only real basis for our notions of the dignity of all human beings, rooted in our being made in the image and likeness of God.

Destroy that tradition and the war of all against all will follow. It’s already starting.


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Sick & Elderly Program of the Hill Ravioli Dinner Order Form

All proceeds to benefit the Sick and Elderly Program of the Hill. The Sick and Elderly Program is a home health care program providing medical equipment and supplies, free of charge, to the residents of the Hill Neighborhood for the past 40 years.

Ample parking is available in the Church Yard, The Owens Brockway lot on Hereford St (easy Access to the front door of the school), and the school play lot on the corner of Hereford and Bischoff.

Click here to enlarge picture and print

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Researchers Discover Oldest Wine in Italy

Archaeologists have now found traces of wine believed to be over 4,000 years old; it is thought that this is now the oldest evidence of wine in Italy. The residue of this ancient tipple was uncovered in a large, storage jar dating back to the Copper Age which was discovered in a cave in Monte Kronio, just off the coast of Sicily.

Wine glasses, with grapes and barrels.

Upon inspection, the residue highlighted traces of tartaric acid and sodium salt, both of which occur in grapes during the winemaking process. Researchers have stated that it’s difficult to determine the composition of many examples of residue because it would require the discovered pottery to be intact. However, on this occasion, researchers had luckily found the ancient jar in great condition.

It was previously believed that wine growing and production had started around 1300 to 1100 years ago in the Bronze Age, however, this new discovery could prove that it was around much earlier than this, and this significant discovery could show a whole new perspective on ancient civilisation in Italy. The next quest now for researchers is whether the wine residue they discovered was white or red.

This discovery is perhaps one of the most important in recent Italian history, particularly as wine is a fundamental part of the Italian culture. Each region will boast a range of types, and depending on which region you are in, the wine will be produced following different traditional methods.

Although the Italians were not the first to invent wine, they are arguably the most passionate about it. Its origins actually derive from ancient Mesopotamia in 4000 BC. The Greeks then brought the wine-making craft to southern Italy, and the Etruscans introduced it to the central parts of the country. However, it was the Romans who took the art of wine-making and refined it. In the Roman Age, there were 20 regions who produced wine, with the most popular choice, surprisingly, being white.

Experimentation of wine was a big part of the wine-making process for the Roman wine-makers who added various spices to wine and produced samples with much higher alcohol content than what we are used to in the present day. The Romans were even the first to age the wine to achieve a better taste. Upon the realisation of the ageing process, Romans would age their wines for between 10 to 25 years in wooden barrels or glass bottles with cork tops.

The Romans believed that wine was a necessary part of daily life, and the drink became important for international trade with neighbouring countries. The drink was also talked about in numerous writings from such renowned authors like Virgil. Romans placed such an importance on wine that there was a God in its honour, Bacchus.

The popularity of wine, amongst both the most privileged to the peasants, thrived and died with the Roman Empire. It wasn’t until the Renaissance era, the age of genius, that the taste for wine revived and became a staple of Italian culture. The Renaissance era can be defined as the rebirth of Italy, and it was at this point in Italian history that culture and traditions were redefined. As the trade increased, there was an abundance of wine being produced across numerous Italian regions, with each region using their own produce as a way of trading with their neighbouring regions. Families established their produce and their reputation in this period, some of which are still renowned today.

From the Renaissance period to this very day, Italian wine is considered the best in the world. This is not only down to the Italian’s strong historical ties to the drink, but their innate passion for it. So, why not settle in your Sicily holiday villas with a glass of fine local wine to celebrate this fundamental element of Italian culture during your stay?



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Eating like an Italian: Making moments out of mealtime

By Ginger Wodele

Ginger Wodele is a senior at Southwest High School in Minnesota and will go on to college in 2019 with interests in international development and medicine.

When presented with the prompt of “The Future of Food” for the 2017 EF Global Leadership Summit, I felt overwhelmed. There are so many issues within our current system, how can we approach all of these individual challenges in a way that completely reforms our way of thinking and, like Summit keynote speaker Raj Patel says, “change everything?” I was able to condense my hundreds of questions into one overarching thought: How can we feed our world in a healthy and sustainable way? I hoped to find my answer during my travels before the Summit in Italy, a country that certainly seems to place a high value upon food. I was not disappointed.



In Italy, food is a way of life. Food is culture, family, community, love and health. The amount of value people place upon food here is greater than I ever could have imagined. People truly love what they make, and they take pride in dishes that sometimes include the cheapest and simplest ingredients. This admirable aspect of Italian culture ultimately influences the effective ways they produce their food.

I had the opportunity to ask world-renowned chef and traveler Anthony Bourdain and food activist and author Raj Patel their thoughts on the relationship between Italian culture and food. They both unanimously confirmed my belief that yes, cultures that put more value on their cuisine model much stronger behaviors of a more effective food system. Dr. Patel spoke on the “Respect, love, and joy of eating,” an attitude that transforms the way a society deals with food. The more value and pride that a society places upon something, the more importance they will put on a system that supports and sustains it.

Italians would never think to give you something to eat that they weren’t proud of, in particular anything that might make you sick. I asked Eugenio Gargiulo, an owner of a small family-run lemon grove in Sorrento called La Masseria, to explain why he didn’t use pesticides in his crops. (As it stands, pesticides are cheaper, more efficient, and could cut his labor time almost in half.) When I asked him why he doesn’t use them, he almost scoffed, and explained it to me simply, “We care about the families and the people eating our food. We would never want to harm their health with the use of these pesticides.”

Instead, in order to fight off pests, Eugenio uses a solution made of copper and lime, which is sprayed by hand on all of the products at his farm. This completely natural practice, Eugenio explained, requires much more labor than the use of pesticides, but the farm’s commitment to all-natural, healthy, and safe products makes the extra effort worthwhile. Why would they want to poison their customers with harmful pesticides? The idea is ridiculous to this Italian family, who truly cares about what you think of their food, because they see it as a representation of themselves, their culture and their country.



Food brings people together in Italy. Food here is not a chore or a quick bite between activities during the day. Mealtime is for laughing and enjoying company, not for scarfing down a drive through meal in a few seconds while checking your email and running off to the next thing. Food should always be appreciated to its fullest extent, as it’s the way to show respect for those who provided you with that meal. We learned from our tour guide Eleanora that many Italian cities have nearly two-hour breaks for lunch, enough time to go home and cook a proper meal that doesn’t need to be rushed.

Trying our best to practice this foreign concept, we took our time eating at meals, and instead of focusing on filling our stomachs as fast as we could, we took bites between the exchanges of stories. Through our adaption of this approach, it was clear to us that food is for family, a time where you can sit down with those you love and talk over a healthy and delicious home cooked meal.

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Taking these things I learned from my tour of Italy into the Summit, I was excited to see how other students would incorporate the values and best food practices they discovered in Italian culture into their experience at the Summit. I ended up seeing a great connection between those aspects of Italian culture that value food and the innovative ideas students came up with to solve issues within the food system. Student projects incorporated and addressed issues such as the fast food industry, obesity, and pesticide use. These projects all contained solutions that embodied core values already practiced in Italy. Even winning team member Francesca Edralin attributed her team’s success to some of the things they had seen within Italian culture: “Traveling to a country so rich in food and culture as well as hearing well-traveled keynote speakers like Anthony Bourdain and Raj Patel have opened my eyes to a common theme: people are proud of what they grow.”



How might we practice these ideals at home, valuing food like the Italians? Although simple changes, some of these things aren’t inherently taught to us, and will require thought in execution. Here’s a good place to start:

  • Know where your food comes from. As Eugenio said, in Italy it is simply wrong to be selling people products that could potentially harm their health through the use of chemicals or toxic pesticides in the growth process. However, here we aren’t so lucky to have all of our farmers, producers, and vendors looking out for us like this. This is why we must take it upon ourselves to be educated about where our food comes from and how it’s made. By doing this we can ensure that we’re eating healthy, whole foods, while at the same time supporting local farms like Eugenio’s that promote a healthier system of food.
  • Embrace mealtime. In Italy, mealtime means family and community. It means smiles and laughter and four-course meals that leave you sitting at the dinner table for hours, immersed in the company around you. Clock some hours at your local farmer’s market, talk to the people selling you your food, maybe even ask for some recipes. Let yourself be immersed in meals, from start to finish, and embrace everything that comes along with it.
  • Be proud of what you make. Everywhere I went during my travels I noticed how much pride people had in the food they cooked and served for us. Restaurant owners anxiously watching our facial expressions as we cut into a Caprese salad, telling us that the tomatoes were just picked today, and eagerly asking us if we liked it. People care in Italy. Can you imagine sitting at a McDonalds and an employee watching you take a bite of your cheeseburger, anxiously asking you if you liked it? Of course not. Because when you prepare the food from scratch, using ingredients you are proud of, you find a joy in food that never would have occurred through a frozen meat patty and a slab of neon yellow processed cheese. Food is sacred in Italy, and it should be treated that way in all parts of the world.

So, again I might ask, how can we feed our world in a healthy and sustainable way? Maybe it’s taking a few tips from the Italians, and really learning to value what we eat and how we grow it. Maybe the future of food is rooted in simpler, more thoughtful practices. And when I arrived home in Minneapolis, greeted by my friends and family after a long day of travel, all I wanted to do was share with them all that I had learned. I found myself applying these simple changes into my life at home, and noticing that they really did make a difference. It wasn’t hard to convince my friends either: grabbing some Chipotle between activities and scarfing it down at red lights could never and will never compare to a picnic by the lake, filled with fresh fruits, sun, and good company.


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