The Portuguese Reconquista and New Jersey Bookies

baby huey

I learned to read when I was 7 years old and started a habit that continued even through high school. Every day after school I would sit at a soda fountain and order a coke and a pretzel for 12 cents and buy 4 to 6 comics for a dime apiece. When I finished reading the first comic book I would leave the candy shop and read the rest at home. And yes I had over 10,000 comics before I went off to college.

For variation, I would look for different candy shops to vary my comic selection. Scrooge McDuck, Archie, Superman, Wonder Woman, Little Lulu, didn't matter - if it was in a comic I read it, even romance comics which always, always had some girl crying big tears about some guy who done her wrong.

In 1954 I was nine years old and came across Angie's candy shop on 24th street and Avenue C in Bayonne New Jersey. The place was rather shabby and had a rather limited selection of comics and candies which made me feel sorry for Angie. I would sit there for hours and noticed that no other kids ever came in to buy anything and so I decided I would frequent her store more often than other fountain places.

As I said before, I was in the habit of reading only one comic before heading home but because I wanted to help Angie stay in business I would read a second comic and buy another soda and pretzel as well. I kept this up for two years helping Angie stay in business with my two cokes and pretzels and half dozen comics until it just closed up one day. Oh well - I tried.

I Finally Learn the Truth

Fast forward 40 years to 1994. I am now in the phonecard business and a fellow in Bayonne opened up a check cashing place and wanted to sell my phonecards there as well. He was an old wiseguy from the local Mafia in Hudson County and we got to talking about mutual friends. When he mentioned that he used to live near 24th Street back in the 50s, I started to tell him the story of how when I was younger I thought I kept this woman Angie in business, when suddenly he burst out laughing. "What's so funny?" I asked.

Wiping away tears from his face, he asked me if I ever saw any other kids in the place. I told him I never saw anyone buy anything or sit at the counter ever, kids or grownups, at least not while I was there.

"Do you now why?" He asked.

I replied, "No."

"You idiot," he started to explain, "Angie didn't want kids coming around, she probably couldn't figure out how to get rid of you. Angie is one of the richest women in Bayonne. She was running a gambling joint in the back of the store and the candy store was just a front. Your business didn't amount to squat compared to what she was making in the back."


It's amazing how naive you can be as a child. Things aren't always as they seem.

Now to the Portuguese Reconquista. Let's return to 1954 and we're studying European explorers and the discovery of the new world and the search for new routes to India. In the early 1400s most people believed that the geography of areas south of the equator, known as the "Green Sea of Darkness," was filled with monsters just waiting to smash ships and eat their sailors. And if they didn't get you, the boiling seas would set your ships afire, the sun would turn your skin black and if you survived all that, eventually you would fall off the edge of the Earth. I was thrilled to learn about Portuguese explorers such as Bartolomeu Dias (first to round the Cape of Good Hope), Pedro Álvares Cabral (first European discoverer of the sea route to Brazil) and Vasco De Gama (reached India via the Cape of Good Hope). In fact, the Portuguese established the first and longest-lived global empire in history lasting almost six hundred years and stretching from Brazil to Japan.

Alhambra by night
Alhambra by night
Flickr-User: vito_r_amos.
What they failed to teach me was the reason why the Portuguese were able to excel in exploration when Spain and Italy were larger and wealthier and more powerful than tiny Portugal. I suspect that today, with even more concern about not hurting the feelings of Muslims, our young children still will not learn the reason why.

Actually, It's quite simple: in a word, Reconquista.


The Reconquista (English: Reconquest) was the seven-and-a-half century long process by which Christians reconquered the Iberian peninsula (modern Portugal and Spain) from the Muslim and Moorish states of Al-Ándalus. The Umayyad conquest of Hispania from the Visigoths occurred during the early 8th century, and it is commonly held that the Reconquista began almost immediately, in 722, with the Battle of Covadonga, and was completed in 1492, with the Conquest of Granada.

Portugal threw off the shackles of Muslim rule more than 240 years before Spain and so had a head start that allowed them to have colonies from Brazil to Japan. It should be noted that on January 2, 1492, the last Muslim ruler, Abu 'abd Allah Muhammad XII, surrendered to Ferdinand and Isabella. I wonder what might have been the first thing these rulers decided to do in 1492 now they they were rid of Muslims?

I have not revisited the stories of the great European age of discovery since I was a child. It was never explained to me back then that getting rid of Muslims was the best thing that ever happened to Europe and the New World.

You may wonder what these two stories have to do with one another. Sometimes it takes 40 or more years to learn the truth about things you thought you knew as a child.

### End of my article ###

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