Sickness hit us crossing the rutted tracks of the Dasht-e-Lut salt desert, and euphoria when one richly glowing afternoon we were welcomed into a colourful Kurdish encampment – Daniel nearly killed me when he realised I had failed to properly load the film into the cameras, so no photos. We discovered the sleepy, forgotten Mediterranean village of Yumurtalik, once a thriving port where Marco Polo disembarked to begin his trip to China in 1271, noting ‘all spices, silk, gold and wool from inland were carried to this … city good for trade’.
And strangest of all, whilst seeking film permits in Tehran, we were invited to the inauguration of the Shah’s sister Princess Shams’ latest extravagance, a conch-shaped palace on a bend in the river designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, glittering with curved mosaics, fountains and crystal. Scrubbing up and finding something to wear from the back of our dust-encrusted vehicle, we mingled with the royal bejewelled crowd, gloated over the indulgent interiors and incomparable Persian carpets, tucked into the caviar and champagne, admired the shimmering skill of the celebrity belly dancer, and bowed low when presented to the King-of-Kings himself.
Succumbing to such arbitrary extremes is the essence of travel, and Daniel and I had the best of times with that Marco Polo project. Due to the vagaries of political boundaries, journeys in the footsteps of Marco Polo have been impossible to re-enact since the days when he travelled under the safe passage of Kublai Khan’s engraved tablets, through the enormous expanse of the Mongol empire. Inspired by Marco’s travels and exploration, several films have been made before and since, but ours was not one of them.