The Sahara, The English Patient and Adventure

Libya 4608 Idehan Ubari Dunes Luca Galuzzi 2007

Photo credit: Luca Galuzzi via Wikimedia Commons

In 1998, in the early days of our courtship, Darcy brought over a movie for us to watch in my apartment, which I shared with roommates. Luckily, they were out, so we stretched across the pink and white striped couch in the living room and began to watch The English Patient. Instead of bringing me popcorn, Darcy had procured a brown paper bag full of English peas, one of my very favorite foods in the world. And with that gesture, my love for him was cemented.

As for the movie, well. It is so dreamily romantic and lushly filled with desert vistas, burnished reddish blond sand and burnished actors and actresses as well. The tale of an adulterous passion of a Hungarian Count (Ralph Fiennes) for an aristocratic and adventurous Englishwoman (Kristin Scott Thomas always looks impeccably coiffed and dressed: her clothes blow in the wind in such a neatly, sensuous manner) is very scandalous, and yet very beautiful. Mostly, the movie is in love with maps: the map of someone’s skin, the maps of the desert and ultimately the notion of whether any country or nation should own any land.

Also, the pre-war period, with its spies and alliances and glamour juxtaposed with the violent events of the war itself is quite jarring. But the film got under my skin: I dreamed of wearing beautiful evening dresses while being intermingled and being involved with intriguing and important events. We moved to London less than a year later.

Of course, there are some serious moral questions: what of the husband, who takes his awful revenge? What of the advantage gained by the Nazis after the Count gives them the aerial maps of the Sahara, in exchange for retrieving his love, who had died while waiting for his return? What of the thousands who suffered because of that decision?

I don’t have any pat answers for these questions. In Casablanca, another desert-set World War II tale, Rick Blaine gives up his love for the good of his country and to oppose the Nazis. The English Patient’s hero goes back for his love and is consumed (punished?), literally, by fire.

On our way back from our honeymoon, we flew over the Sahara. Never has a landscape made so much of an impression on me. The distinctive sand can be seen in such a vibrant shade of reddish gold, even 36,000 feet above. The plains undulated beneath, as sensuous as the curves of many women. I stared at the desert, transfixed for an hour as we flew over such a parched, desolate and stunning landscape. I will never forget that as long as I live.

Has there ever been a book or movie that inspired you to travel or live elsewhere, or even inspire dreams of living there one day?


Filed under movies

5 responses to “The Sahara, The English Patient and Adventure

  1. I usually do things in reverse. I choose a place I want to go, and then I watch books and movies about that place. I do love reading and watching movies about faraway places though.

    I also love English peas. Mmmm.

  2. Mel

    I still — for some reason — have not seen the English Patient.

    Yes — the Happy Isles of Oceania by Paul Theroux. Though I still haven’t gotten there.

  3. I LOVE The English Patient, and what a coincidence – I saw it in the early days of my relationship with Jimmy too (although I didn’t see it with him, but he was on my mind). My cousin and I saw it together over Thanksgiving and sobbed like babies. I think I wrote a paper on it for the film class I was taking. Interestingly, I love reading books about France but they typically make me NOT want to live there even though we have talked about retiring there. I’ll have to think about this more and come back.

  4. I think I’ve said this before, but I love, love, LOVE The English Patient. Book and movie. I’ve always wanted to travel the world, but I can’t think of a particular book or movie, or a particular place, for that matter, that sparked this interest. I also have an attaction to foreign men–the accent gets me every time!

  5. My Hubby and I love scifi and fantasy. The Lord of the Rings and a lot of other movies and shows we watch are filmed in New Zealand. Every time we see the beautiful landscapes we are drawn to it. We promised ourselves we will get there one day.

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