America According to Americo

Erasmo Calzadilla


Near the end of the 15th century, and after 24 days of sailing, a man came to our continent who would give his name to it for centuries: Americo Vespucio.

We recognize that a month aboard a Spanish caravel without sighting land is much too long, enough to discourage even the most patient voyager – if not kill them of scurvy even before that.

So when Americo set foot on solid ground and saw so many beautiful, naked people, it went to his head.

His condition became so poor that he began to confuse everything, mixing up reality with fantasy to the point that scholars later began to doubt the veracity of his trip.

He had had to work under the pressure of finding gold and other riches; but being human, he couldn’t keep his eyes off of the half-naked “Indian” women (and perhaps the Indian boys, but he couldn’t tell that to his patron Lorenzo de Medici).

He also found the colors, scents, birdsongs and fruit flavors confounding, but above all there was the happiness that he perceived among the indigenous population of the continent.

Without any more rattling on, when he returned from his “second” (?) trip, we heard some things about Americo’s story concerning the Indians and how they lived.

“They don’t have woolen, linen or even denim clothes, because none of them need them.  Nor do they have their own property; instead, everything is commonly owned. They live together without a king, without authority, and each person is their own master…

“They live 150 years and rarely get sick.  And if they catch some bad disease, they heal themselves with roots and herbs. These are the most remarkable things that I learned about them. The air there is very warm and fresh, and from what I could learn from talking with them, there were never any plagues or disease caused by foul air, and if they don’t die a violent death, they live long lives…

“They all go naked, like they were born, but without any shame; it’s such that if I were compelled to say that they felt even a little shame, I would be saying something dishonest, so it’s best to remain silent…

“They take as many women as they want, and sons mix with their mothers, and brothers with sisters… and the traveler with anyone they find. We asked about how they end marriages, but none is observed. In addition they don’t have any churches, nor do they have any laws or even idol worshippers.

“What else can I say? They live according to nature, though they could more accurately be described as epicureans than stoics.

“As we were able, we tried to dissuade them and get them to change these evil habits, which they promised to give up.

“Like I said, although the women walk around naked and are lewd, their bodies are beautiful and clean.  Nor are they as ugly as perhaps some might suppose, because although they are fleshy, there appears no “ugliness,” which is usually concealed by their good complexions.  One thing seemed miraculous: Among them there were none with sagging breasts.  And as for those who had given birth, the shape and thinness of their abdomens didn’t differ at all from those of virgins, nor did other parts of the body (which out of my own shame I will not mention), but those appeared the same.

“When they could unite with the Christians, with great lust, all of their corporal modesty tarnished and dashed.

“Another custom among them that was quite appalling and beyond human credulity was that —with the women being lustful — they made the male organs of their husbands inflate so that they appeared misshapen and brutal.  This is done with some trick of theirs and the bite of certain poisonous animals, but because of this many of the men lose their vigor and are left eunuchs.”

Wow, a place without authority, where each is a master of themself, without laws, no churches or idolatry, long long healthy lives with beautiful women – lustful and licentious ones…!

No, no, wait a minute!  Now I’m going to take advantage of the Latin American integration process and take a little trip on the Orinoco River.  Though I’m not Italian or named Vespucio, I have a pulse.

Is there any problem that keeps Cubans from traveling to Venezuela?


One thought on “America According to Americo

  • Erasmo, it sounds like you want to recreate the experiences of the hero of Alejo Carpentier’s novel, “Pasos Perdidos.” In the end, however, he became alienated from both “civilization” and the tribal utopia he found.

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