Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Tuva or Bust

Richard Feynman's Last Journey


By Ralph Leighton
ISBN 0-393-32069-3
W.W.Norton & Company, Inc. 2000, 1991


Tuva or Bust

There has been a lot made of the PowerPoint contribution to the failure of the Challenger shuttle (see Edward Tufte.)

Before that was the Columbia disaster. Richard Feynman found the problem with the "O" rings, He too complained about PowerPoint like presentations:
"Then we learned about bullets — little black circles in front of phrases that were supposed to summarize things. There was one after another of these little goddamn bullets in our briefing books and on the slides."

This book however is about something altogether different.
As a stamp-collecting boy always fascinated by remote places, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman was particularly taken by the diamond-shaped stamps from a place called Tannu Tuva. He hoped, someday, to travel there. In 1977, Feynman and his sidekick — fellow drummer and geography enthusiast Ralph Leighton — set out to make arrangements to visit Tuva, doing noble and hilarious battle with Soviet red tape, befriending quite a few Tuvans, and discovering the wonders of Tuvan throat-singing. Their Byzantine attempts to reach Tannu Tuva would span a decade, interrupted by Feynman's appointment to the committee investigating the Challenger disaster, and his tragic struggle with the cancer that finally killed him. Tuva or Bust! chronicles the deepening friendship of two zany, brilliant strategists whose love of the absurd will delight and instruct. It is Richard Feynman's last, best adventure.



Quote
"Sure enough, occupying a notch northwest of Mongolia was a territory that could well once have had the name Tannu Tuva.
"Look at this," remarked Richard, "The capital is spelled K-Y-Z-Y-L."
"That's crazy," I said. "There's not a legitimate vowel anywhere!"
"We must go there," said Gweneth.
"Yeah!" exclaimed Richard. "A place that's spelled K-Y-Z-Y-L has got to be interesting."



More Tuva:
Tuva Movies and Sounds
The Tuva Trader
Friends of Tuva

Also:
Listen to the music of Tuva on this CD. Willie Nelson is on one track, but it does demonstrate two toned throat singing:

Tuva Throat Singing

Here's another great Tuva story:

Genghis Blues

" Paul Pena is a blind San Francisco blues singer who has played with the likes of John Lee Hooker and Jerry Garcia (he also penned "Jet Airliner," which Steve Miller covered). One night while listening to his shortwave radio, he picked up a Radio Moscow broadcast and heard the mesmerizing, gutteral sound of throat singing, which is peculiar to Tuva's region of upper Mongolian. Enthralled, he became a master of this obscure art form. Enter Friends of Tuva, a curious group that included Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, who likewise had become fascinated with Tuva. In 1993 they sponsored a San Francisco appearance by Tuvan singers. Pena was in the audience and met with the singers afterward. Pena so impressed the Tuvans that he was encouraged to come to Tuva and participate in its annual festival competition. Genghis Blues chronicles this incredible journey."




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