Good Vids: The Hobbit trailer

Gandalf: You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back.

Bilbo: Can you promise that I will come back?

Gandalf: No. And if you do, you will not be the same.

What’s this? Why is there a post about Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on a blog ostensibly about (soft) adventure and world travel?

Because for me, the hero of these blog posts, it all started here. Even before sailing school, even before army cadets, there were books: Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons; The Hardy Boys; Narnia; The Once and Future King; and, most important of all, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Tolkein’s fantasy stories opened up a world of possibilities for me: the world of imagination, of course, but also of history and of other cultures (the elves, the dwarves, ents, even orcs and goblins would be worth an ethnographic study if, like, they were real).

If I had to credit — or blame — any one source of inspiration for my peripatetic life, this would be it. I have spent most of my life looking for Middle Earth.

One difference between now and then: when I was young, I most wanted to be like Bilbo, and Frodo after him; the hero of the story. Now I’m older, it’s the wisdom and power of Gandalf I increasingly aspire to. In fact, my bike is named Shadowfax…

So here it is, the announcement trailer for The Hobbit, due out December 2012.

Good Reads: “Trudeau: PM, Patriot, Paddler”

Love him or hate him, many Canadians still have strong opinions about Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s 15th Prime Minister from the late 1960s to the mid 1980s.

Personally, I don’t remember much about his politics as leader of the Liberal party. What made Trudeau memorable for me was his larger-than-life public persona, his fusing of the sophisticated city slicker (dayjob: lawyer in Montreal) with an adventurous spirit (pastimes: skier, scuba diver, judo expert; motorcyclist; canoeist).

As Stephen Marche notes in his essay “The Meaning of Hockey,” published in the Summer, 2011 edition of The Walrus and online here,

It was Champlain’s dream to be French and worldly and a humanist, and also to belong to the wilds of North America, to be as like an Indian as possible. The power of this dream runs throughout Canadian history. Trudeau became an icon, despite his obvious failures as a policy-maker, because he captured this spirit more completely than any other figure in history, a citizen of the world and of the river.

Apparently, Trudeau was also something of a scribbler. In 1944, at the age of 25, this “citizen of the river” penned the essay “Exhaustion and Fulfillment: The Ascetic in a Canoe,” since republished on

The prose may be somewhat stilted, and the packing list rather anachronistic, but the spirit of the essay still strikes a chord in a sympathetic reader, even in the 21st century:

For it is a condition of such a [canoe] trip that you entrust yourself, stripped of your worldly goods, to nature. Canoe and paddle, blanket and knife, salt pork and flour, fishing rod and rifle; that is about the extent of your wealth. To remove all the useless material baggage from a man’s heritage is, at the same time, to free his mind from petty preoccupations, calculations and memories.

Substitute vacuum-packed dal curry and oatmeal for salt pork and flour,  and a digital camera for fishing rod and rifle, and you’re all set!

Good TV: Everest in HD

Channel surfing this evening (Monday, January 2nd, 9pm), we stumbled onto NHK’s broadcast of “Everest: the Highest Peak on Earth,” which may or may not be the first HD film successfully shot from the summit of the world’s highest point (8,848 meters, for the record).

Whether it is a world first or not (the English-language website claims “successfully captured in high-definition images by NHK TV crew for the first time ever,” which literally claims something considerably less noteworthy), the HD images of the group’s route through the Khumbu Icefall and the Western Cwm, as well as landscape shots of the surrounding peaks and the view from the summit, are breathtaking. I hope this one will be available on Blu-Ray (please take the hint, NHK execs)…