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Marco Polo


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National Geographic photojournalist Yamashita set off to retrace Marco Polo's 13th-century journey through the Far East, spurred on by the continuing controversy over whether the explorer actually made the trip-experts dispute that Polo made it to China on the grounds that his tales make no mention of bound feet, calligraphy, chopsticks, and tea, all of which the Italian explorer would have found unusual, to say the least. The route, return trip included, is one that "no one, as far as we know, had ever completed," writes Yamashita, whose effort to defend the Venetian voyager results in a fascinating in-depth interweaving of a photographer's present-day travels with Guadalupi's narrative of Marco Polo's historical journey. The greatest treasures of Yamashita's pilgrimage are his stunning photographs: at the point of origin, a crowded St. Mark's Square, the Grand Princess cruise ship in the background and pigeons veiling the sky; the "deep and sincere veneration" of a cow in Chennai; sadhus with coils of hair twelve feet long; one of the few remaining Chinese women with bound feet; the orangutans Marco Polo mistook for "men with tails... who live in the mountains and are a kind of wild men." Yamashita discovers that along much of the route, some regions have not changed in 700 years. His anecdotes both inform and entertain, while delving into his photographic process: "After three hours, there was still no break in the clouds. Then suddenly, the sun appeared for five minutes, all I needed to make the frame I wanted." (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

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