It’s funny how one seemingly insignificant event or experience can change the course of one’s personal history….We all have those moments, from meeting a special someone, to discovering a hidden talent, to stumbling across a piece of information at exactly the right time.
In the span between my previous post and now, I attended a beautiful wedding, solidified my moving day plans, became a licensed driver (my late start on this was the result of many years of living in Toronto and ample public transit!) and I celebrated a birthday (number 34 to be specific)! I’ve been thinking a lot about journeys and what has shaped my life up until now.
My birthday was a wonderful sunny day spent in Toronto, and the high-lights of it include a pleasant dinner at my favourite Toronto restaurant, Le Select Bistro, as well as a visit to the Gardiner Museum in Toronto, which is a small yet very interesting and inspirational museum devoted to Ceramics.
Birthdays are a celebration of the Self and it’s a no-brainer that many people take a few moments to contemplate themselves, their interests and their accomplishments on their special day.
Spending the better part of a day enthusiastically checking out ceramics with my Sweetie may seem either super dull or super exciting depending on your own interests. It’s pretty exciting for me as you probably can tell by my previous posts about Bjorn Wiinblad, Doris Bank and other less known ceramic artists. I like the symbolism and tactility of ceramic work: enduring yet fragile objects of both utility and beauty are created out of the earth, sculpted and sometimes painted by the artist. It’s a beautiful metaphor for the creation of one’s own life. But probably if you’re still reading this and have been a regular follower of my blog, you can at least relate a little. As you likely are as well, I’m a tremendous art, history and geography buff, and while I believe I was naturally inclined to have an interest in these subjects as most children are, I can pin-point where my lasting and devoted interest in these topics sprang from….
I forget exactly how or why I first picked up a copy of Gary Jenning’s epic tale of the fictional journey of Marco Polo, aptly titled, “The Journeyer”, but I was about 15 or 16. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down until all 800 pages were devoured.
The story relays what is known about the famous journey of Marco Polo, the son of a Venetian merchant, who sets out in 1271 to explore the Eastern lands, and adds some historically probable “meat” to the bones of the tale in order to make it interesting and readable. This is historical fiction at it’s best and it took Jennings many years of research and travel to weave this splendid story.
Written from the perspective of a young middle class European man, the story is steamy, brutal, racist, intriguing, humorous, and more than a little ignorant in some places, but it is fitting to what someone of Marco’s time and background may have thought about all of the “exotic” encounters and customs that were prevalent at the time outside of medieval Italy. It is likely that he experienced or was aware of many of them through his journey.
Credited with bringing that seemingly quintessentially Italian dish, pasta, to Europe, this story exposes Marco and the reader to all sorts of architecture, customs, foods, medicine, science, beliefs, inventions and practices that were part of the rich, highly advanced and diverse cultures of the medieval Middle East and Asia, many of which in turn shaped Europe after Marco Polo returned to Venice as an old man.
It is said that Marco Polo was exposed to so much during his time away from Venice, that whenever he attempted to share his tales he was increasingly labelled a liar, to which an old and frail Polo finally retorted, “I have have not told the HALF of what I saw and did!” Certainly this is a very bold and intriguing statement, and Jennings states that this famous quote was the inspiration for the writing and many years of research that went in to the creation of the story.
The story itself is solidly written, well-composed, and a fairly easy read. The language Jennings uses paints some truly vivid and detailed pictures and it is a joy to read.
I will admit here that there are many people out there who would discredit this book as it does contain some pretty graphic depictions of sexuality, and not all of them are necessary to the story. Yes, there are sex scenes that have been added purely for the sake that sex sells. Frankly, I was a little embarrassed by this as a teenager, but reading these scenes didn’t corrupt me into an amoral pervert. Let’s face it. People like sex. People have sex. That enjoyment is the reason we are all here and able to enjoy the multitude of other things that being here allows! Sex is a component of this book just as it is a component to life.
I have to say that growing up in a fairly conservative, rural and predominantly Christian-rooted Canadian small town in the 1990’s (before the Internet was a house-hold fixture!), this book made me begin to ponder and appreciate so much of what was around me and made me want to seek out more. In short, I began to see my life in a new light. Some of the facts outlined were so strange and interesting to my young mind that I felt compelled to do further research, a habit that I am still enthusiastic about today.
Reading this book was an amazing eye-opener and I have to credit it for sparking within me a real interest in history, art, food, religious and spiritual studies, chemistry, math, design, geography and the development of language. My love and interest in ceramics was also a direct development of this book!
This book set me on the journey of life-long learning be it self-directed or formal–it was a gateway to so much of who I am and what I enjoy doing today, almost 20 years after I first read it. It opened me up to the range of humanity and made me think about how far we’ve come and what we still collectively have to realize. I really owe a lot to reading his book and find it pretty incredible how something so trivial can have such a lasting and rewarding impact. These connections make pondering my own journey all the more enjoyable.
And fittingly, despite all of what Marco undoubtedly saw and experienced on his journey, the only known surviving object from his epic adventure is a modest Chinese porcelain incense burner, which is now housed in the Louvre in Paris….It seems to echo my sentiments so well.