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The Journey Starts Here for the 'Marco Polo Man'

He is known by many people as the "Marco Polo Man" for his adventure to retrace Marco Polo's route—without using a cell phone or air travel.

Explorer, world traveler, and photographer Denis Belliveau, subject of the Emmy-nominated PBS documentary In the Footsteps of Marco Polo, visited Pingry in early October as "Explorer in Residence," coordinated by Director of Experiential Education John Crowley-Delman '97. He shared history with students and engaged them in trade simulations along his version of the famed Silk Road...the same route Marco Polo had taken. Mr. Belliveau even constructed a yurt in front of the Basking Ridge Campus, to display many artifacts he had collected along his journey.

In Upper School history classes, students learned about the Catalan Map, whose information is taken from Marco Polo's book* (the book served as a guide for other merchants). The map includes passages from the book and, according to Mr. Belliveau, contains what might be the first image of Marco Polo. "He encountered controversy in his lifetime," Mr. Belliveau told the students, "because people thought he exaggerated about what he observed. But he described things they couldn't or didn't believe. He was proven to be accurate."

During classes, Mr. Belliveau also shared those artifacts, including a silkworm cocoon; spices (especially black pepper); porcelain; camel hair; Cashmere wool; horse hair; the golden tablet (considered the world's first passport); paper money; and holy oil from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The main event was a trade simulation, which he likened to a business game, with students visiting Venice, Tabriz, Kashkar, Samarkand, and Beijing to get a sense of how merchants conducted business. "You have to stay on the road, and you have to trade at every city," they were instructed. Mr. Belliveau added wrinkles to the process, interrupting at one point to exclaim, "There's been a disease. All horses are dead and not worth anything [in your trades]."

At the end of the week, a large group of students experienced the trade simulation along a trail in the woods, with cities spread out to give a sense of distance (appropriately, Beijing required the longest walk). Between each city, Mr. Belliveau planted "rest stops" with information that added points to, or deducted them from, the students' scores—as he put it, "things happen [when you travel], and there are risks along the Silk Road!"

Pingry hopes to expand this program with future visits by Mr. Belliveau.

*The book is known by three titles: The Travels of Marco Polo, Book of the Marvels of the World, or Il Milione.

Contact: Greg Waxberg '96, Communications Writer and Editor of The Pingry Review