I really don’t have much to say this week so I was thinking about a guest blogger. Unfortunately, I don’t think it would be too cool to call up someone at 10:30 on Tuesday night and try to sell the idea that it would be such a great honor to be my guest blogger for Wednesday.
That got me thinking. Who would I like to have as a guest blogger out of the pages (or dustbin) of history? If I was going to pick someone I couldn’t probably pick someone more interesting than Marco Polo. I’m sure he would have a lot to say about his world and maybe about our own world. I wonder what he thinks of that silly little game kids play in the swimming pool…Marco! Polo!. So I used my various contacts and magic potions and (Surprise!) here he is!
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Ciao! Quanto tenpo che no se vedemo!
Allow me to introduce myself. I am Marco Polo, a merchant of some renown from the Republic of Venice. You may have heard of me, especially if you are acquainted with the many fine wares that I have brought to market from Constantinople and beyond. I do a lively business with those eastern lands. My father and my uncle once established a trading house and lived in that city for some time before venturing across the Black Sea and to many places far to the east. As you may know, I accompanied them on a later trip, one that lasted for twenty four years. That was a grand experience…un epico viaggio…which took me to many lands and, I can now say, proved to be the lasting achievement of my life.
I was born a few years after the fifth crusade, I think…I lose count of such things…and I was raised in Venice, a beautiful city at the head of the Adriatic Sea. If you have never ventured to Venice I strongly urge you to go there at once. There is no city quite like it. You will be amazed and it will dwell in your heart for the rest of your days.
I mentioned the fifth crusade but there were many different crusades beginning around the year 1095. These military campaigns, supposedly intended to gain and keep Christian control of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, were exceedingly foolhardy, expensive, disruptive and, in the end, unsuccessful. I’m happy to say that I have lived long enough to see this foolishness ended. I hope we learned not to meddle in that part of the world. Many merchants, yes, many Venetians, grew rich because of the Crusades. Many more people suffered and died. The only lasting benefit came from the exposure to new ideas and new products from as far away as Persia and even India. Was that worth many generations of religious war? Time will tell but I wonder if the same outcome could have come through peaceful trade and commerce. How foolish we can be.
My journey to Cathay, you might now know it as China but to us it was always Cathay back then, and to the imperial court of the Great Kahn brought me into contact with many new things. Paper was used as currency in the Kahn’s lands. Yes…paper instead of gold. They also make use of a black stone which they bring up from the depths of the earth and use for heating or cooking. The stone burns just like wood. They are able to send letters or messages great distances in a single day by special emissaries who race from horse to horse along the designated route.
I lived and worked in Cathay for seventeen years and was a friend and advisor to Kublai Kahn, the great Emperor. Although he was the undisputed ruler, he was as much a stranger to Beijing as I was. He longed for the open grasslands of his Mongol homeland as much as I longed for Venice and the Adriatic. On my journey home I learned with sadness of the Kahn’s death when I reached Persia. This was almost two years after we set sail from the coast of Cathay. I knew then that he never again gained sight of his homeland and I feared that I, too, would be finally deprived of my homecoming. But God, and a passport from the Kahn, protected me on that journey until I was almost home. I reached Venice but my lasting homecoming was delayed. Venice was at war with Genoa and I, foolishly, went to war. I was captured and imprisoned for two years but I used that time to dictate the story of my travels. Eventually I returned home to a Venice that I left almost a generation earlier. People I once knew were dead or gone. There were not many who personally knew me and still fewer who believed the story of my travels. Even today there are those who say I made it all up or that I did not go as far or see as much as I said.
In my last years I have been content to stay in Venice and let others do the traveling. I am a successful merchant…you may know me by my wares. I live a comfortable life. Little by little the travelers and traders come home to Venice to say that “Yes, it’s true – Marco was right all along”
Adìo e Bona Fortuna! .