In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree…
Marco Polo became famous by claiming he ‘discovered’ chopsticks, tea and silk during one of his walk-abouts, but on the way home got hopelessly lost, and somehow ended up in prison.
Keen on getting a lucrative book deal (TV series?) he conjured up fantastic tales of far-off lands, and recounted them to his cellmate, a popular romantic novelist of the time. Between them they compiled a book about his travels, cunningly titled The Travels of Marco Polo so as not to confuse people.
Realistically though, it was mainly bollocks. Okay, some of it was almost true, but he never even mentioned his trip around the southern tip of Africa while searching for the fabled chopstick tree from the east.
But let’s start at the beginning. He only met his father when he was seventeen. Pa and Oom Maffeo had been travelling since Marco’s birth, and had just returned to Venice from a mystical land in the east called Xanadu. Marco was stunned. Firstly, he had no idea Pa was that butt-ugly, but he was also spellbound by the stories told of a bloke called Kubla Khan.
Mr Khan apparently, was a local real estate developer – like Donald Trump, but honest – who’d built a stately holiday/golf resort on the banks of a river called Alph. You’d think he could’ve chosen a more enticing name, but Alph it was, and the whole estate was called The Pleasure Dome.
At the entrance they’d met the local tour guide with the nametag Sam T Coleridge, who was prone to smoking opium and writing rhyming couplets for the resort’s monthly brochures.
In Katmandu did Kobie Graaf, a campsite build among the trees
Where Ralph, his daughter’s chow-dog ran,
Through campers’ tents and caravans, in search of a place to pee.
Okay, it was his first attempt, and I’m sure you’ll agree poetry wasn’t in his blood, but after getting the names and the location right he gave it another bash. This second opium-fueled version was even more ridiculous, and these were the enthralling images Pa recounted on his return.
He also told of sallow-skinned people with narrow eyes and high cheekbones, who spoke in a mystical tongue, ate with long twigs and drank tea behind a great wall made entirely of china.
Marco pleaded to be taken on the next trip, and while the travel bug was still biting, Pa agreed and decided to set off immediately, if not sooner. This must have cheered Mrs Polo up immensely. She hadn’t seen her hubby in 17 years, and his return severely curtailed her 16-year-long affair with a bloke called Mickey Angelo, her interior decorator and general handyman.
Ants in pants and itching to go, Pa booked cabins on a cruise liner bound the very next morning for Constantinople. To celebrate, they all went down to The Goose ’n Lute (local Duck ’n Fiddle) and got hopelessly sloshed till they collapsed in a leaking heap.
In the confusion of the next morning’s babalas, exactly how Marco and Pa ended up on different vessels is still uncertain, but emerging from his drunken stupor later that day, he realised Pa wasn’t on board.
“Non problemo,” said the ship’s captain, Vasco Diaz. They were bound for Xanadu via the bottom-end of Africa anyway, and they’d find Pa when they got there. So Marco remained pleasantly drunk the entire journey.
On docking in Table Bay for supplies, he was convinced they’d reached the Far East. He encountered sallow-skinned people with high cheekbones who drank a tea called rooibos. He found no chopsticks though, and because he couldn’t click onto their language, very little was documented. From a nearby hilltop however, he spotted the egg-shaped Pleasure Dome far inland, which he said ‘glowed like a pearl in the sun,’ and set off to find Pa.
Sadly, he found nothing but vineyards, distilleries and a rugby field. Crestfallen, he returned to the ship and continued his journey east in search of Pa, Oom Maffeo and Ralph.
Next week: Marco – The Leg Down Under.