Letter from Janine

About The English Patient Movie and the Cave of Swimmers

How wonderful that you too have been bitten by the lure of the Cave of Swimmers! I'm aware of your web site, Miles, in fact I was so worried when it was inaccessible since I thought that it would be able to give me the final clues on this place. But, it only added to the mystery! Let me tell you some firm facts I managed to gather so far. Where to begin? Firstly, go and have a look on Franky's JB site (for Juliette Binoche) which includes a most interesting paper by Dr. Steven Tstssy de Zepetnek of the Alberta University on the truth and fiction aspects of The English Patient:

The movies' screenplay (ISBN 0-7868-8245-X-51095) depicts some of the genuine swimming figurines from the cave, but I doubt whether these would be suitable for scanning purposes [don't worry!! read on] In the meantime I have found out where Minghella must have got it from - now this is a crazy story. Last February and April I met with two email friends (fellow fans of Ralph Fiennes - the actor playing Almęsy in TEP) in London when Ralph was on stage. About a month ago they went to Bernstein, the castle of Ladislaus de Almęsy's relatives (in fact this is where he was born), this is in eastern Austria. They were allowed a look into Almęsy's room and on top of his desk there was a beautiful drawing (he made?), named 'Schwimmer in der WŸste, 1935". As you may have guessed, there are swimmers in the drawing. Perhaps you will recall that in the movie Katharine at one time hands Almęsy some drawings asking him to paste them into his Herodotus. That drawing is a copy of the original Schwimmer in der WŸste drawing !!! You will also recall the movie's beginning - well the drawing made there of a swimming figurine does NOT resemble the original at all.

Finally, the most exciting news is yet to come. A German email friend of mine, who was kind enough to send me some copies from German newspapers on the Cave of Swimmers/ Zerzura/Almęsy issues, informed me that Almęsy's 1930s book Schwimmer in der WŸste will be reissued, with a short introduction by Raoul Schrott. According to the publishers, Haymon Verlag, it was to come out in August. Naturally I ordered it the minute I heard this, but it seems publication has been held up for some reason. No doubt this book will reveal all the secrets, and hopefully solving that mystery that's been haunting me: are Zerzura [the lost oasis, which Almęsy managed to locate] and the Cave of Swimmers one and the same thing, and it's bound to hold illustrations of the swimming figurines. BTW I have no idea if the book will be translated into English. I hope you are able to read German! With some difficulty I should be able to manage, but my German is a bit rusty these days.

From what I have been able to gather from the German papers so far, the Cave of Swimmers (Wadi Sura) is either situated in the Gilf K*bir plateau which is in the south-west of Egypt, or near the nearby mountains Gebel 'Uweinat (Uwaynat), Gebel Kissu or Gebel Arkenu. Use a proper search engine on the net and you will land at a wonderful NASA satellite picture of the three mountains. Unfortunately, as I said on the Speleo Scribbles, the 'Uweinat area is virtually inaccessible due to the presence of a great number of WWII land mines. Also, due to the constant sunlight the paintings' quality is rapidly deteriorating :-(

Some more (German) info on the book can be found on
http://www.buchhandel.de/cgi-bin/bksuche.exe?aktion=full&opacdb=VLB+Buchkatalog& lang=german&uid=VLB-20081997-12031400&II=1950805&dcaller=31452&aktionsort=on&sor tby=KT
Note: CGI URL's like this aren't usually accessible from outside a site, and I am unable to understand enough German to find the page...Miles Abernathy

All the other books Tstssy mentions, like Hoellriegel's 'Zerzura, die Oase der kleinen Vsgel' (oasis of little birds) or any other of Almęsy's own books are out of print. In the past months I have arranged for various people in Holland, the UK, Germany, Belgium, USA and Switzerland to conduct a search for those books, all in vain. So my advice is: don't even try because it's no use.

BTW, I presume you are aware that the cave used in the film was fake - the cave's entry is in Tunisia, but its interior was made of fibreglass set up in the Cinecittę Studios in Rome. Still I think they did a great job. IMHO that film is a true masterpiece. I have seen it seven times so far, and never a dull moment. The images are so beautiful. Can you think of another film that you would want to see so many times?

Janine, biban-al-harim@pi.net

A Note on Spelling: The above text contains quite a few words with non-English characters, that may not display properly on many / most web browsers. I hope this table will help clarify the true spellings:

When You See Here is How I Believe It Should Appear
Almęsy Alm-a accented-sy
Cinecittę Cinecitt-a accented
K*bir K-e accented-bir
Tstssy T-o with 2 dots-t-o with 2 dots-sy
Vsgel V-o with 2 dots-gel
WŸste W-u with 2 dots-ste

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