Ours is a culture driven by, and to, extremes, and by ours I mean Western Democratic Capitalism broadly—Euro-America, one might say. But much of the world also resembles this model. Extremes of wealth and poverty. Extreme amounts of work and extreme amounts of unemployment. Even the word most associated with the crisis of markets conjures an extremism of an earlier, medieval age: Austerities. To get away from it all, we take vacations (more often these days staycations). Vacations from our lives. Or as the Europeans call it, holiday. And who hasn’t once asked themselves, why isn’t life the holiday? And the painful “austerities” temporary inconveniences? I suppose it’s a naïve question, or just a thought experiment. Everyone seems to have some sophisticated answer or other. But everyone still feels the need to escape the exhaustion.
Gisbert, the man in the short film above, felt such a need. So 42 years ago he traveled to the town of Filicudi in the Aeolian Islands, Sicily. He dug a cave into the hillside with his bare hands, reinforced it with cement and lime, and he’s been living there ever since in what he calls, in his coinage, Paradisola, or, mostly just Paradiseland. Gisbert is a student of history, philosophy, physics… he’s no Rousseauean noble savage, ignorant of the ways of modern man. Maybe Thoreau in his Walden, but even Thoreau was an anxious character, always eager to explain himself. No, Gisbert has simply found peace where he is, and he offers no elaborate justification for it. In his own words: “When you start a career, you have to respect everything, because you are responsible. So I thought I could enjoy a vacation, to do whatever I like. And I keep doing so.” Is he “irresponsible” for choosing a life of whatever he likes over a career? This is one question film company We Cross the Line asks us to ponder. Gisbert: Paradisola makes no judgments and offers no answers. It simply shows us the life of a man who made his own choices and lives with them contentedly.
Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.