'Pole to Pole' explores the globe from top to bottom

January 09, 1993|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

Television viewers could hardly choose a better vicarious traveling companion than Michael Palin, the one-time antic member of Monty Python's Flying Circus who sets out this weekend on a most exotic journey: a 23,000-mile trip from the North to the South Pole.

"Michael Palin's Pole to Pole" premieres at 8 p.m. tomorrow on the Arts & Entertainment Network, with subsequent episodes at 8 p.m. Mondays through Feb. 15. Viewers who recall Mr. Palin's previous travelogue on A&E, "Around the World in 80 Days," can look forward to sharing the same droll, revealing and very human ambulation.

For instance, in tomorrow's two-hour premiere, the BBC/A&E travel crew arrives by snowmobile at the isolated log hut of a trapper.

"The garden furniture's a bit grim," narrates Mr. Palin, as the camera shows a wooden rack from which hang the frozen carcasses of dozens of otters.

Later, en route to Tromso, Norway -- the northernmost city in the world calls itself "the Paris of the north" -- he takes a ship through the ice-choked Berents Sea. "There's not much to do, except walking and skating, which on this vessel tend to be the same thing," he complains.

The trip has some rules, Mr. Palin explains early on. His route south follows a single line of latitude, 30 degrees east, and wherever possible he must use means of transportation other than the easy one of flying.

Clearly, he also means to mix it up with local residents, offering a warm sense of varied cultures.

In the trip's first leg, he interviews crew members of a "factory fishing vessel" at sea, sips a beer-like drink pronounced "muck" with soccer fans in Tromso and, while aboard another vessel plying a Norwegian fjord, chats with a lighthouse keeper headed for his distant post.

Do not look for politicians and businessmen in "Pole to Pole." Such subjects of too many travel documentaries do not interest Mr. Palin.

What does intrigue him, although on an understated level, are environmental observations.

For example, he asks the polar trapper a tough question about the propriety of making a living by killing animals for pelts or meat.

Similarly, while observing tons of shrimp brought up in a fishing net, with very few fish in evidence, he notes, "I've an uncomfortable feeling that's all there is left down there."

Throughout, the camera work tantalizes, offering viewers a sense of almost having been to the same places. Mr. Palin's track goes through Russia, Turkey, Egypt and the heart of Africa before reaching Antarctica.

*

CLOSER TO HOME -- Maryland Public Television tonight takes viewers on a trip around the state with "The Best of Outdoors Maryland," at 8.

Marking the fifth season of the periodic series, the show &L presents segments from previous outings, including visits to a maple syrup operation, thoroughbred racing tracks, Poplar Island, the Gunpowder River and the Western Maryland mountains.

Repeats of the show are due at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow and 8 p.m. Jan. 13.

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