Roland Zoss: island beyond the moon

An Aeolian Tale

an award-winning story about one of the remote Aeolian islands

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What happens if a 23-year-old student takes his books and leaves Switzerland for the south of Italy? He finds an island – 9,5 km2 big – that others have left in search of work in downunder, Argentina or the USA. The villages on this island are ruined, looking like ghost towns, covered by ferns. Geckoes and snakes living in the houses.

The student works along the last inhabitants in winter storms and earthquakes. He makes wine or bakes bread. He lives with little money on the borderline of civilization. Roaming an untouched and wild nature.

One morning he's standing on a hill in front of a ruin and has the strange feeling of having come home. The very same day a contract is signed. The poet of the island sells the ruin to the young poet from Northern Europe.

That's the end of the dream of a house on an island. And the beginning of reality...

Questa piccola isola

Song of the Island (italian) (mp3|5MB)
1978 by Roland Zoss | Translation: Archibald McKenzie

I hear the bell tolling for the dead old Maria has passed away,
she who raised vine-shoots and mint is emigrating,
the last of the two thousand who stamped the fire into the wine
until hunger came to the villages

Evening rises in blue shadows to my place on the mountain
the mongoloid boy on his way home
sings his song to himself
how lonely I'd be without him on this small island

Tomorrow life goes on again Mr Doctor prescribes an aspirin
the priest passes the days playing cards
in the shadow of the church and Angela – aged thirteen –
is a virgin and expecting a child
of the Holy Spirit from Australia

Yet all will pray well at the Santo Stefano procession
under the sweet burden of the cross
the lads dream of America
and all sins are forgiven on this small island

Night comes black out of Africa a hot breeze washes gold in my hair
a scent of clay and coffee caravans cross the sea
a motor-boat howls in the harbour
abruptly I wake from my daydreams
in the village the gas-lanterns are lit already

The road back there is long badly damaged by weather and cattle have they all abandoned Paradise then, even the green angel in the olive tree? And I am but a stranger here on this small island!

«The island beyond the moon» | excerpt:
THE DIASPORA
«Evening throws the shadow of Montagnola over Peccorini village on the south face, like a bluish stole. As if to cover up your thoughts. As if to release the eye from the contemplation of tumbledown ruins, neglected pathways and bitten-down trees. The sky seeks its reflection in the puddles on collapsed flat rooftops. And suddenly, in the lonely alley to the church – where the disabled man sits like a memorial – you are seized by the hundred-times-over silence of the emigrants, the great loneliness.
And you have to sit down and stare up, up at the peak. These bands of soil, not ten meters wide, that rise interminably to the Fossa di Felci like stairs, these terraces, these millions of stones, which first made it possible to walk across and live on the island: these you must build again in your imagination, stone by stone, wall by wall. Until your hands are bloody and your back stiff under the merciless sun.
What an inconceivable, gigantic piece of work – from the sea to a height of 700 meters! Impossible to imagine that fertile vines grew in the rubble scree-sides of the causeway. Impossible to imagine that olive groves stood on the steep slopes where you stumble over burnt stumps and you can barely walk upright.
Who defied the wilderness to make this land their own? Who brought it to bloom generation by generation? And who finally gave it all up?»

Winner of 1993 literature award from the city of Berne.

«The author knows how to transform language into perfumes and sounds, into spirits and landscapes, embedded in intense and amazing pictures!»

The book

e-book in English available
Translation by Archibald McKenzie

Audio documentation to the book in German:
Aldo Gardini (Swiss Radio) has realized a fascinating one hour feature (in German) with the singing, working, living of the people of Filicudi

Audio for free:
Listen here to the Saint Stefano procession.

Documentary films:
Men & Stones (Italian)
Gisbert the Eremite