Thursday, February 4, 2010

These Are the Cities Marco Polo Left Behind

I was recently at the extraordinary Lilly Library, on the campus of Indiana University, for the opening of their Treasures exhibition, commemorating their fiftieth anniversary.

I saw Marco Polo's Buch des edelen Ritters und Landfahrers Marco Polo (Nuremberg, 1477), and one of my friends is suggesting that our book club investigate Marco Polo. It's another gap in my education, and would probably be fascinating on the heels of reading Charles Darwin (moving even further back in time, with the explorers). Here is a teaser about the book:
1298: Marco Polo was captured during a civil war between Venice and Genoa. During his imprisonment, he dictated a detailed account of his travels to a fellow prisoner. The resulting book (known alternately as “Il Milione,” “The Description of the World” or “The Travels of Marco Polo”) became a huge success in Europe, 200 years before the invention of the printing press.
It would also help me read more deeply into the poem here by Joyce Kennedy (my mother), once made into a beautifully illustrated letterpress-printed broadside by artist and printer Regula Russelle, also of the Laurel Poetry Collective in the Twin Cities (and one of my prized possessions).

       These Are the Cities Marco Polo Left Behind
– cities invisible on road of silk,
scattered into time, cities that dazzled
eye and mind, cities possessed
by passion for wealth, dense cities
of desire, and the lost cities of youth,
those of mirrors and illusion.

And not behind,
the one where we all live,
inferno of the living,
in welter of contradiction,
just city and unjust city
wrapped one within the other.

Crammed into time until the city pleads:

Learn who and what are not inferno,
then make them endure, give them space.

A just city for its children.

Visible, shining, on road of silk.

– Joyce Kennedy [all rights reserved]
              italics by Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities


Joyce said...

And then there is Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project, a beautiful and continuing one that celebrates the cultures and musical traditions of the countries that Marco Polo traveled. It features musicians from those various countries, too--an intercultural endeavor of enormous significance!

Lyle Daggett said...

Found an interesting article about the Silk Road online, here, in the website of the Earth Science Studies department of the University of California at Irvine.

The article gives a history of the various Silk Road trade routes, the geography and cultures of the vast region, and other information. There's a brief bibliography at the end of the article.

elena said...

Thanks, Lyle! There is a Silk Road connection here in Bloomington, too, through a wonderful music group called Salaam.