Sunday, December 27, 2009

Tuva or Bust

We have a super used bookstore on Main Street, Hyannis. I try to restrict myself to three books a visit. On my last visit I bought Tuva or Bust by Ralph Leighton. Published in 1991, it was about attempts made by Leighton, his friend the eccentric Nobel laureate in physics, Richard Feynman and assorted friends to visit the tiny country of Tuva mainly because it's capital has no vowels, Kyzyl however is pronounced as if the Ys are vowels. Tuva also contains a monument by a little known adventurer named Proctor who tried to visit the absolute center of various continents. Apparently by Proctor's calculations Tuva is at the center of Asia.

I tried to find a map of all of Asia that showed Tuva but failed. The map below is of Russia, Tuva is in blue, and you have to imagine beneath it Mongolia, then Tibet [okay, imagine all the territory China claims plus it's legitimate land mass, and below that India and all of the countries of southeast Asia. Then to the east beneath Russia all the countries we are now hearing more than enough about, the "stans" Iraq,Iran, and all the Middle Eastern countries. Makes you wonder if Tuva is really the center of Asia.

The book is a fun read from this distance because most of it is about trying to deal with late cold war Soviet bureaucracy. I did know about Tuva, partly from having gone to Mongolia and hearing a great deal of throat singing, which was apparently invented in Tuva. It's musically amazing!! Recordings are available. The difficulty was so great that Feynman actually died before the permissions came through. I love reading about travelers, especially when I can learn things I didn't know about the geography and people and politics of a place. Hurray for used book atores.

3 comments:

Conda V. Douglas said...

I too, have self-imposed limits when visiting ANY bookstore, June. And it sounds like your recent find is fascinating.

Kass said...

Throat singing is fascinating. When I listen to it, I hurt.

John Ettorre said...

How I'd love to be in Hyannis some Christmas.