Yesterday I discovered my Fountain of Youth. For a year now I have been preparing my chapter on Marilyn Reed. With this discovery I will now try to get out my first book in a month from now. Posting on this blog will slow to a trickle.
Native peoples have declared cultural warfare on a mural, a work of art rendered by the mentor of the muralist, Thomas Hart Benton. I have found a Cultural El Dorado, a Civic La Brea Tar Pit that will allow me to establish ‘Little Bohemia’ in the Sawtelle that was recently renamed ‘Japantown’. Whoa! Not so fast! They should have consulted the Art Detective! How about a Master Augur? There are real rules one must follow. You just can’t lay new lines over old lines and rename cities, or, you are going to find yourself stuck in a cultural no-man’s-land, up to your neck in dinosaur goo.
The Roman historian Livy stresses the importance of the augurs: “Who does not know that this city was founded only after taking the auspices, that everything in war and in peace, at home and abroad, was done only after taking the auspices?”
The role of the augur was that of consulting and interpreting the will of gods about some course of action such as accession of kings to the throne, of magistrates and major sacerdotes to their functions (inauguration) and all public enterprises.
The Fountain of Youth is a spring that supposedly restores the youth of anyone who drinks or bathes in its waters. Tales of such a fountain have been recounted across the world for thousands of years, appearing in writings by Herodotus (5th century BCE), the Alexander romance (3rd century CE), and the stories of Prester John (early Crusades, 11th/12th centuries CE). Stories of similar waters were also evidently prominent among the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean during the Age of Exploration (early 16th century), who spoke of the restorative powers of the water in the mythical land of Bimini.
The legend became particularly prominent in the 16th century, when it became attached to the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León, first Governor of Puerto Rico. According to an apocryphal combination of New World and Eurasian elements, Ponce de León was searching for the Fountain of Youth when he traveled to what is now Florida in 1513.
There are countless indirect sources for the tale as well. Eternal youth is a gift frequently sought in myth and legend, and stories of things such as the philosopher’s stone, universal panaceas, and the elixir of life are common throughout Eurasia and elsewhere. An additional hint may have been taken from the account of the Pool of Bethesda in the Gospel of John, in which Jesus heals a man at the pool in Jerusalem.
Juan Ponce de León and his search for the Fountain of Youth included references to Bimini. Arawak and/or Taíno spoke of a land called “Beimini” where the fountain could be found. Although the location was erroneously associated with the Bahamas, the natives referred to a location in the Gulf of Honduras. Though de León’s expedition brought him to Florida, the fountain was rumored to exist within the shallow pools of South Bimini. Today there is a small freshwater well with a plaque commemorating the Fountain of Youth, on the road leading to the South Bimini Airport.
The connection was made in Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo‘s Historia general y natural de las Indias of 1535, in which he wrote that Ponce de León was looking for the waters of Bimini to regain youthfulness. Some researchers have suggested that Oviedo’s account may have been politically inspired to generate favor in the courts. A similar account appears in Francisco López de Gómara‘s Historia general de las Indias of 1551. In the Memoir of Hernando d’Escalante Fontaneda in 1575, the author places the restorative waters in Florida and mentions de León looking for them there; his account influenced Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas‘ unreliable history of the Spanish in the New World. Fontaneda had spent seventeen years as an Indian captive after being shipwrecked in Florida as a boy. In his Memoir he tells of the curative waters of a lost river he calls “Jordan” and refers to de León looking for it. However, Fontaneda makes it clear he is skeptical about these stories he includes, and says he doubts de León was actually looking for the fabled stream when he came to Florida.
Herreray makes that connection definite in the romanticized version of Fontaneda’s story included in his Historia general de los hechos de los Castellanos en las islas y tierra firme del Mar Oceano. Herrera states that local caciques paid regular visits to the fountain. A frail old man could become so completely restored that he could resume “all manly exercises… take a new wife and beget more children.” Herrera adds that the Spaniards had unsuccessfully searched every “river, brook, lagoon or pool” along the Florida coast for the legendary fountain. It would appear the Sequene story is likewise based on a garbling of Fontaneda.
The Native American Chumash and Tongva people living in the area built boats unlike any others in North America prior to contact by settlers. Pulling fallen Northern California redwood trunks and pieces of driftwood from the Santa Barbara Channel, their ancestors learned to seal the cracks between the boards of the large wooden plank canoes by using the natural resource of tar. This innovative form of transportation allowed access up and down the coastline and to the Channel Islands.
The Portolà expedition, a group of Spanish explorers led by Gaspar de Portolà, made the first written record of the tar pits in 1769. Father Juan Crespí wrote, “While crossing the basin the scouts reported having seen some geysers of tar issuing from the ground like springs; it boils up molten, and the water runs to one side and the tar to the other. The scouts reported that they had come across many of these springs and had seen large swamps of them, enough, they said, to caulk many vessels. We were not so lucky ourselves as to see these tar geysers, much though we wished it; as it was some distance out of the way we were to take, the Governor [Portolà] did not want us to go past them. We christened them Los Volcanes de Brea “the Tar Volcanoes”.