Friday, February 22, 2008

A million lies make historical tale

Pearson and Aldrin explore the sway of Marco Polo

Express Staff Writer

Buzz Aldrin

The theme for this year's Our Moveable Feast, to be held at the Community Library, Sunday, March 9, is travel, and there is no more storied traveler than Marco Polo, whose book of travels represents the Far East and its cuisine.

In 1271, when he was a teenager, Marco Polo traveled with his merchant father and uncle to the court of Kublai Khan. The Mongol emperor took a liking to the boy and employed him for 17 years as a linguist, a special envoy and in other roles.

When he returned after 24 years, he was called "the man with a million stories" because of the fantastic tales he told, which many considered pure fable. While being held a prisoner in Genoa, Marco Polo dictated a detailed account of his travels in the then-unknown parts of China to a fellow prisoner, a writer of romances named Rustichello da Pisa. His book was called "Il Milione," or "The Million," and eventually "The Travels of Marco Polo."

His collaborator added quite a few romantic embellishments, but the resulting book was perhaps the first to achieve best-seller status before the invention of the printing press. In time, more than 100 hand-written copies were passed out by Polo, some containing different versions of the same story, others entirely new stories. To this day, there are doubts about his stories, but history has proven the substance to be true, and the name "Marco Polo" is synonymous with the magical wonders of the Far East.

Two reviewers with close connections to Sun Valley shared their views on Marco Polo.

Buzz Aldrin is himself a kind of explorer. After West Point, he flew Sabre Jets in 66 combat missions in the Korean Conflict, and in 1963 joined NASA as an astronaut. Six years later he became the second person to step onto the moon when he and Neil Armstrong made their historic Apollo XI moon walk.

Since retiring from NASA and the Air Force, Aldrin has continued to be a major advocate for continued manned space exploration. In 1973, he released his autobiography, "Return to Earth" and later published two sci-fi novels "Encounter With Tiber" and "The Return."

As with many kids, Aldrin first learned about Marco Polo when he was a child. The difference for Aldrin was his close connection to rocketing and exploration. His father was an aviation pioneer, and Aldrin grew up with his father's friends such as Jimmy Dolittle, who bombed Tokyo, and Howard Hughes. In this heady realm, Aldrin devoured Marco Polo's stories.

Though there may be a more apt comparison between astronauts and Columbus, Aldrin feels a connection with both explorers due to what he termed the need to "explore or expire for mankind," and the "desire to learn of our universe."

Unlike Polo, there were no embellishments in Aldrin's report of his voyage to the moon.

"We were eager to tell what we experienced; all was reported accurately," he said. "We reported what we saw and discovered. I am a scientist and interested in facts."

Aldrin sees value in reading these chronicles from the distant past. "History is fascinating and repeated in modern and different ways," he said.


An explorer of the mind, author Ridley Pearson regards Marco Polo's writings from a literary point of view. Pearson is the best-selling author of 23 novels including, "Killer Weekend" a crime novel set in Sun Valley, the "Peter Pan and the Starcatcher" trilogy, co-written with Dave Barry, and 16 best-selling crime novels.

"While the translation can come off as turgid and glacial when compared with contemporary work, the soul of this classic memoir shines as a testament to one man's rugged determination to find the end of the rainbow," Pearson said. "It is as much a comment on 13th-century Europe's perception of China and cultures outside its own insular bubble as it is an exotic travelogue into regions never traveled.

"The work serves not only as a roadmap to the process of cultural diversity, but shows us the origins of true heroism. 'The Travels of Marco Polo' should establish itself on any bookshelf, and will reside there long after most other books have been traded out for newcomers."

Our Moveable Feast

What: A silent auction and dinner fundraiser.

When: March 9, 5:30 p.m.

Where: The Community Library, Ketchum.

Tickets: $100, with $90 tax-deductible.

Available at or at the library.

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