In the Newsroom

November 28, 2008
Two guys from Queens trace Marco Polo’s path

Web producer Stephen Puschel has been mesmerized by the travels of two guys from Queens, N.Y., who traced Marco Polo’s journey across the world. Stephen reviews the documentary “In the Footsteps of Marco Polo,” which was co-produced by WNET.org.

At Worldfocus, we cover the world. But Denis Belliveau and Francis O’Donnell literally covered it — on foot. Here’s a preview:
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In celebration of Marco Polo’s 700th anniversary in 1993, Denis and Francis were inspired to walk in the explorer’s footsteps — a mere two years and 25,000 miles — through war zones, vast deserts and across mountain ranges.

Fast-forward 15 years later, and their epic journey is packaged in a 90-minute film that’s a hybrid experience of adventure, culture and camaraderie.

They crisscrossed through some of the most remote places on earth, traveling by boat, camel, horse, truck and on foot.

In a Tajik village, they met residents who had never seen westerners. In Sumatra, tribesmen wore tattoos as clothes. In Iran, anti-U.S. protests filled the streets.

Perhaps the most memorable moments are the anecdotes that would be monumental lifetime stories for many. For Denis and Francis, those moments were incidentals along the way.

While in Afghanistan, Denis and Francis ask a warlord for help when crossing the most dangerous region in the country. The general says, “This part of the country is very dangerous. I’m going to give you a helicopter and you can pick up Marco Polo’s trail after that.”

Denis and Francis kindly decline the offer. After all, Marco Polo didn’t fly in helicopters. The general furnishes the duo with 25 bodyguards and eight jeeps to make the trek “safely.”

My only complaint is the tone of the narration, which sounded suspiciously similar to my Kindergarten teacher — a little spoon-fed and unnecessary at times.

Other than that, I highly recommend it. The people they meet along the way remind me of all the voices and places I don’t hear about on a daily basis.

So, at Worldfocus.org, we’re searching for bloggers who are writing and talking about these places.

– Stephen Puschel

Comments

6 comments

#6

Aw, come on, Harry. Denis and Francis made an epic journey. The planning, the executing, the documentation: they did the planning and layout of the trip on their own, got funding for the trip, and finally got a film outlet and the book. Two years on the road! They are a couple of my heros. I have been to many of the places they have–for short periods and stretched out over 25 years–they did good, I could not do what they did. Getting so picky belittles your own accomplishments, Harry. Their trip was no lark with a camera. Bravo to all travelers who do not damage where they have been and spread good will; and, share their experience. Harry, give them a “Fantastic journey, man!” and then continue with your own journey.

#5

Excuse me Harry, but nobody hear cares to hear about your accomplishment, otherwise we would be leaving comments on a page dedicated to your sole escapade. It might not be legit, but its way more interesting than your dull book.

#4

I watched this the other night and really enjoyed it. What a great story and really well done film. DEfinitely recommend seeign this for anyone who hasn’t.

#3

Dear Harry of Big Ego and little accomplishment
you must want to do yourself mortal harm , Knowing – that you and you life is a total sham & failure – everything you fancied yourself to be
has been shot to hell – Knowing there are two Real Hero’s out there that have retaced Marco’s entire route in one two year Expedition – While it’s take you decades and three trip to cover about one third of Polo’s journey – We are all very sorry
for you HARRY but it’s time to hang it up and close up shop !!!

#2

ouch!
you go harry!

#1

Re: In the Footsteps of Marco Polo by Belliveau and O’Donnell

Belliveau and O’Donnell Did Not Follow in the Footsteps of Marco Polo
By Harry Rutstein, FRGS

I have found many faults, misrepresentations and distortions in the new book by Denis Belliveau and Francis O’Donnell entitled “In the Footsteps of Marco Polo.” It is the story about two men who tried to follow Marco Polo. This is also the title of my first book published by Viking in 1980. “In the Footsteps of Marco Polo” by Harry Rutstein is a photo journal and diary of my 1975 Marco Polo expedition and is still marketed and distributed by Bennett and Hastings Publishing and the Marco Polo Foundation (marcopolofound.org.) It is available on-line and through the conventional book market. My new book published September 15, 2008 (Marco Polo’s birthday) entitled “The Marco Polo Odyssey” is a history wrapped in an adventure telling my story of authentically retracing the route of Marco Polo as he related it in his book.

Denis Belliveau and Francis O’Donnell had a great “two year romp” through almost all of Asia but they did not follow in the footsteps of Marco Polo as suggested in the title of their book…far from it. For the past seven hundred years, books about Marco Polo’s travels and translations of the original Marco Polo books have all agreed on the path Polo took across Asia. His 13,000 mile journey started in Venice and advanced to Israel, through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, across the Hindu Kush Mountains to China and ended in Beijing. According to their new book these two adventurers totally bypassed Iran and over three-quarters of Polo’s journey through Afghanistan. This omission is a total of 2800 miles or the equivalent of crossing all of the US, not “the few hundred miles we missed” as stated by Belliveau and O”Donnell on page 26 of their book. Instead of going to China from Afghanistan or Pakistan they went north to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, never visited by Marco Polo and entered China over 300 miles north of the place where Polo entered what is now China. In their distorted route they missed over 3,000 miles of the original Marco Polo journey just to Beijing. Their return route to Venice was not near the route followed by Marco Polo.

According to their story Belliveau and O’Donnell crossed many international borders either illegally or by deception. They acknowledged in their Preface of being smuggled across a border by car and incriminating Sgt. Mick Travers as the driver for this criminal action. This alone should disqualify them from making their claim of legitimately following Marco Polo across Asia.

My new book “The Marco Polo Odyssey: In the Footsteps of a Merchant Who Changed the World” is the complete story of my three expeditions following Marco Polo from his home in Venice to Beijing. According to all known written references and the Royal Geographical Society who have tracked expeditions of this type, I was the first person to have followed Polo’s journey to China. In recognition of this accomplishment I have received the title of Fellow in the Society (FRGS) and recognized as a Fellow in the Explorers Club of New York. The Explorers Club also gave me the privilege of carrying their flag on the final leg of my project.

To authentically follow the Polo path, my expedition was to stop at each place through which Marco Polo was known to have traveled. These sites have been documented in the hundreds of references I surveyed. These included places that have been lost in history that I researched, rediscovered and visited on my journey. Belliveau and O’Donnell did not attempt to stop at many of these historic locations along the Marco Polo trail.

A movie was made of the second segment of my journey through the Hindu Kush and Karakoram Mountains along the border of China. The first public showing was held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and exhibited at my lectures all around the world. A DVD of this movie entitled “On the Roof of the World with Marco Polo” is included with my new book.

There is a cryptic and disparaging reference to me in the Belliveau and O’Donnell book stating that I never completed my journey to China. “One writer in the 1970s published a book and never even got to China!” is printed on page one of their book. News of my accomplishment as the first person to have followed in the footsteps of Marco Polo was published in every form of media by the thirty or more media personnel who attended the news conference at the Beijing Hotel in Beijing, China on October 22, 1985. The story of my accomplishment appeared in newspapers and other publications throughout the world and on many radio outlets including NPR (Susan Stamberg et al) and TV stations around the country. Feature articles appeared in Smithsonian, Adventure Travel, China Pictorial and other publications. This as well as media coverage of my new book, references on Google and other search engines and the http://www.marcopolofound.org web site were apparently deliberately overlooked or ignored by Belliveau, O’Donnell and the editors and publishers of their book at Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

With regard to accuracy there were many mistakes that take away from the historical value of the Belliveau and O’Donnell book. I have not yet made a thorough investigation into the accuracy of all the statements in their book but there were a number of obvious errors. A photo is shown on page ten with a caption describing this picture as the front courtyard of the Marco Polo House in Venice. I have many photos of this house including the one in both my books on page 14 that shows the sign identifying it as the courtyard of Marco Polo’s house (Corte Prima Del Milioni.) Their photo is of a different place.

The writers attempted to confirm Marco Polo’s description with the discoveries they made in their travels by inserting excerpts from Marco Polo’s book. Many of these quotes were changed to fit their story. I found some of the Marco Polo quotes were not related to the places referenced. They also traveled through Tibet. Some scholars do not believe that Polo traveled to Tibet.

Belliveau and O’Donnell did not go to the village of “Niya” in the province of Hotien (Khotan) in Western China because as Francis O’Donnell is quoted on page 132 “It’s not a Marco Polo site anyway.” In their bibliography Sir Henry Yule’s book on Marco Polo was mentioned as a reference. Colonel Yule shows Niya (Nia) on his map of the route of Marco Polo and it is confirmed as a site in his text as well. This is another example of the author’s lack of credibility in following the route of Marco Polo.

They left China by boat from Hong Kong but the Polo family left China from the port of Amoy five hundred miles to the north. Details of their return voyage are vague and do not clearly define their return route to Venice by sea. Since the two travelers did not make an effort to follow Marco Polo’s route to Beijing I would also question the accuracy of their journey to follow Marco Polo from China to Venice.

After reading their book I was convinced that these were a couple of urban cowboys on a lark with a camera and using Marco Polo as a guide when it was convenient. The book has many beautiful pictures and there were many exciting tales to tell but they did not follow in the footsteps of Marco Polo.

# # # #

Submitted by Harry Rutstein,
Executive Director of the Marco Polo Foundation, Inc. (marcopolofound.org)

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