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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Pelicans in Venice

It's difficult to find a photo of pelicans in Venice, but I know they're there. In fact, take a look at this Byzantine Mosaic of Noah inviting pelicans into the ark from St. Mark's in Venice, Italy:

While his family waits to go aboard, Noah helps the animals to enter the Ark. Byzantine mosaic. 13th c.
There are two types of pelicans in Italy.

The Great White Pelican:


And the Dalmation Pelican:


In my book, Marco Polo, it was the very large Dalmation Pelican that stole the cucumber from the Polos on their journey to Acre. Pelicans don't eat cucumbers. He mistook the cucumber for a fish, their main source of food.

The Dalmation Pelican is the largest of the pelicans and one of the largest living bird species. It grows up to six feet in length and has a wingspan of nine to twelve feet! It is the heaviest of the flying birds and can weigh up to 25 pounds.

Pelicans are ornery and compete with humans for fish. As a result, they aren't well-liked by some fishermen.

Here's a neat video of a Great White Pelican that's the mascot of Mikinos, Greece. It will give you an idea of how large these birds are.


And here are some Dalmation Pelicans chasing a boat:

 

What would you do if a Pelican stole your fish?

What'a a muda?

When Marco Polo lived in Venice, he watched every spring as a convoy of ships, called a muda, left Venice in the spring and came back in autumn.

I wonder, did his mother wait in autumn for the return of his father, Niccolo, before she died?

I wonder, did Marco Polo run to the Grand Canal each autumn to see if his father would come home?

Venetian Ships, Source: Baldwin Project
This convoy brought merchants, goods, knowledge, ideas and culture to Venice. Marco Polo's life must have been full of new and fascinating discoveries as a young boy. It's no wonder he had a taste for adventure when so much of it kissed the shores of his hometown each year.

Marco Polo's Doge, Lorenzo Tiepolo

 
The doge was the supreme ruler, or duke of Venice. Lorenzo Tiepolo was the doge when Marco Polo lived there.

Tiepolo died in Venice in 1275 and was buried with his father in the church of San Zanipolo.

The doge of Venice lived in a beautiful palace on the grand canal. Today it is a museum.

Doge Palace, Venice

Doge Palace, Venice
But when Marco Polo was alive, this particular palace did not exist. One facade of the palace faced the Piazzeta of St. Mark's Square, and the other side overlooked St. Mark's Basin. You can still see a few traces of the old palace in the floor level floor and wall base.

The palace of the doge in Venice
How it may have looked in Polo's day
When you get to Venice, be sure to visit the palace and send me pictures! I'd love to see what it's like inside, wouldn't you?

Beautiful Acre, Israel

Acre is a city in Israel and is still a major port of trade and tourism today.

During Marco Polo's journeys, it bustled with the activity of knights, crusaders and noblemen who fought against Muslim invaders. 

It was especially known for its amazing stonework. In the sun, from a distance, the city appeared to glow.

Old City of Acre -- a UNESCO Heritage site
Look at the beautiful, almost perfectly square stonework. It was quite impressive in Marco Polo's time and impresses tourists still today. 

Remains of the ancient harbor -- perhaps Marco Polo walked here!

Fortified Sea Wall -- Marco Polo saw this, too.
Port of Acre today

Port of Acre today

Acre was the headquarters of many knights including the Knights Templar and Hospitallers Knights. 

Knights halls

Templar tunnel
Because Acre was a major trading port, the city made the crusader knights wealthy. They earned more money in trade in Acre than they did from their kings.

Wouldn't it be fun to explore all the secret places of Acre?

Marco Polo's golden ticket: the paiza

When Marco Polo's father and uncle returned to Venice after a fifteen-year adventure in the east, they brought with them a very important item called a paiza.

A Gerege in Mongolian script.
 The paiza was a tablet of authority that enabled nobles of Mongolia to travel safely through the land and access goods and services from people they met as they traveled. While Marco Polo traveled, if anyone saw the "golden ticket" they obeyed its authority immediately. If they didn't, they risked punishment by Kublai Khan.

Official pass with Mongolian inscription in 'Phags-pa script reading "By the power of eternal heaven, [this is] an order of the Emperor. Whoever does not show respect [to the bearer] will be guilty of an offence."

A nightwatchman's pass of the Mongol empire, with inscriptions in Persian (left), Mongolian in 'Phags-pa script (centre), and Uyghur (right). The Mongolian inscription reads "Announcement: Beware of evil-doers".

We don't know what Marco Polo's paiza looked like. But the above are some examples of such "tickets."

It would be cool to have one today, wouldn't it? You could show it to someone running a restaurant and they would have to give you what you ordered.

All for free.

Mmmmmmm, Koumiss!

Have you milked your horse lately?

A mare being milked in Suusamyr valley, Kyrgyzstan
A very popular and important drink in Mongolia that Marco Polo and his father and uncle drank was called Koumiss also spelled Kumiss. And it comes from a horse!

Did you know that hundreds of thousands of horses used to be kept in the Soviet Union just for making kumis?

Milking a mare isn't easy. The milker kneels on one knee and places the milk pail on the other. The pail is attached to the arm with a string. A foal is allowed to drink its mother's milk for a little while until the milk starts to flow, then another person pulls the foal way but continues to touch the mare so she thinks her foal is still drinking.

The milker wraps one arm around the mares rear leg and the other arm is wrapped around the front. Whew! Sounds tricky to me!


But that's not all there is to koumiss. After the milk is collected, the mare's milk is allowed to ferment by adding old, fermented koumiss to the new milk.

Koumiss is very good for you. Studies have proven what nomads have known for thousands of years. It has a lot of vitamins, and antibiotics that fight bad bacteria. Koumiss is good for the alimentary canal, metabolism, cardiovascular system, nervous system, blood-producing organs, your kidneys, glands, inner secretion and increases immunity. Wow, what a powerful drink!

Today kumis is sold in small bottles. People usually begin and end their meals with this drink.

It looks appetizing, doesn't it? What do you think it tastes like? Would you try it?





The Mongolian Ger

The Polos stayed in Gers while in Asia. Gers are also known as yurts in other cultures including the United States. They are mainly used as portable homes for nomadic people.

Here are some pictures showing how one is constructed today:







 It's impressive how the families work together to create their simple homes, including the making of the felt cover from the wool of their sheep herd. Watch the video below and see the process:



A man makes the wooden support posts for a ger--all by hand with no power tools:


 There are some excellent photos of a family and their gers here:  http://www.bluepeak.net/mongolia/ger.html

And more great information and pictures here:  http://mongolian-yurt.com/

Gers seem pretty cozy to me. I'd like to try living in one for awhile. How would you like living in a ger? How do you think the Polos liked staying in them?