“When you travel, always take a philosopher with you.”
~ Sylvain Tesson
By Catherine Austin Fitts
Our movie for the week of April 18th was The Velvet Queen. The documentary, produced and directed by wildlife photographer Vincent Munier and filmmaker Marie Amiguet, follows Munier, Amiguet, and writer Sylvain Tesson on a journey across Tibet’s Changtang Plateau in search of the elusive snow leopard. Throughout the documentary, you hear passages from Tesson’s book, La Panthère des neiges (in English, The Art of Patience: Seeking the Snow Leopard in Tibet), drawn from his diary and notes written along the way.
The documentary was so moving that I was inspired to read Tesson’s book, beautifully translated into English by Irishman Frank Wynne. I was also inspired to order some of Munier’s book collections of still photographs. (Several are now out of print.)
Sylvain Tesson is no stranger to distant climes. His publisher bio reads as follows: “Sylvain Tesson has walked from Russia to India, participated in archaeological expeditions in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and wintered alone in a cabin on a lake in Siberia. He earned a diplôme d’études appliquées in geopolitics at the University of Paris VIII. One of France’s most celebrated writers, he has been awarded the Prix Médicis Essai and the Prix Goncourt de la Nouvelle. An international bestseller, The Art of Patience won the Prix Renaudot in 2019.”
Whether prose by Tesson or still shots by Munier, both provide additional, unique pathways into the experience in The Velvet Queen. We travel in our imagination into an extreme environment where life is elemental and the beauty of our planet and the animals who inhabit it replenishes our joy and rekindles our ancient memories.
It never occurred to me that a written description of this journey into Tibet in search of the snow leopard could be as deeply moving as the documentary, but it was. Tesson is a beautiful writer, and I can only assume that his translator also did a remarkable job. I do recommend watching the film first.
And if you ever wanted to learn what it is like to spend weeks working and sleeping in -25C temperatures waiting quietly for a dangerous wild animal who may never come, The Art of Patience is for you.
Buy the book: Penguin Random House
About the author: Sylvain Tesson
The Velvet Queen theme song: