These waters make men and they nurture their courage or their arrogance.
The heart of the islands is like the heart of the sea: it beats with
the swell and it is sheltered in the chest of all young men, whole crews
of sailors and pirates, frequented by sirens, with their shoulders loaded
with exotic birds and dreams.
The Island of the day before
Once in the Pacific Ocean, they had docked on an isle where lions were
black, hens wore wool, trees did not blossom but at night, fish had
wings, birds had scales, stones swam and wood sank, butterflies shone
at night, waters intoxicated like wine.
On a second isle they saw a palace made of soaking wood, dyed in colours
which were a real eyesore. They went in and they found themselves in
a room lined with crow feathers. On all the walls there were niches
where, instead of stone busts, they could see funny human beings with
lean faces, who had been born legless due to some freak of nature.
In a most filthy throne sat the King, who waved for a concert to begin,
a concert of hammers, drills which creaked on the stony floor tiles,
and knives which squeaked on china plates, whose sound had made six
men appear, all bones and skin, with an abominable squint.
In front of them six grossly fat women had appeared: once they had greeted
their partners with a bow, they started a dance with made their deformities
and disabilities stand out. Then, six braggarts came out; they seemed
to have been born of the same womb, their noses and mouths so big and
their shoulders so hunchedbacked that they looked like lies of nature
rather than creatures.
After the dance, not having heard a word yet and considering that on
that island they would speak a language different from their own, our
voyagers tried to ask questions through gestures, which are a universal
language to communicate even with savages. But the man answered in a
language which sounded more like the lost Language of Birds, made of
trills and warbles, and they understood as if he’d spoken to them
in their own language. Thus they understood that, while beauty was appreciated
elsewhere, in that palace only extravagance was highly regarded. And
they should expect so should they want to resume their trip through
lands where certain things are down which in other places are up.
After resuming their voyage they docked on a third isle with looked deserted
and Ferrante had gone deeper into it, only with Lilia. While they were
going in, they heard a voice advising them to flee: that was the Isle
of the Invisible Men. Immediately there were many of them around them,
pointing their fingers at the two shameless visitors in front of their
eyes. For those people, indeed, if one was looked at, he was seized
by the look of another one and would lose himself, becoming the opposite
of what he was.
On the fourth isle, they found a man with deep-set eyes, a subtle voice,
a face which was all just one big wrinkle but with fresh colours. His
beard and his hair were fine as cotton, his body so numb that he had
to turn on his heels completely if he wanted to turn round. He said
he was three hundred and forty years old and in that time he had renewed
his youth by drinking water of the Boric Spring, which lies precisely
in that land and prolongs life, though not longer than his three hundred
and forty years; therefore, in a while, he would be dead. The old man
urged the voyagers not to search for the spring: living three times,
becoming double and then triple of oneself, was the cause for great
sorrow and in the end, one did not know who he was. Not only that: living
the same pains three times was a distress, but it was a bigger distress
to relive the same joys. The joy of life comes from the feeling that
both happiness and grief do not last long; so, poor us if we get to
know that we can enjoy eternal beatitude!
But the Antipode World was beautiful for its variety and, sailing a thousand
miles more, they found a fifth isle which was all swarming with ponds;
and each of its inhabitants spent his life on bended knee looking at
himself, considering that if they were not looked at, they would not
be at all and if they looked away, ceasing to see their reflection on
the water, they would die.
Then they arrived on the sixth isle, further west, where its inhabitants
talked to each other incessantly, one telling the other what he wanted
the other one to be or do, or vice versa. Those islanders, therefore,
could only live if they were told; and when a transgressor told unpleasant
stories about the others, making them live those stories, the others
would not tell anything about him any more, and so he died.
But their problem was to invent a different story for each one: indeed,
if they all had had the same story, it would have been impossible to
tell them from each other, as each one of us is what his work has produced.
That is why they had built a big wheel, which they named Cynosura Lucensis,
set up in the village square. It was made up of six concentric circles
that spun individually. The first one was divided into twenty-four squares
or square pigeon-holes, the second into thirty-six, the third into forty-eight,
the fourth into sixty, the fifth into seventy-two and the sixth into
eighty-four. In the different squares, according to a criterion that
Lilia and Ferrante could not work out in such short time, were written
the names of different actions (such as go, come or die), passions (hate,
love or be cold), and then moods – like good or bad, sad or joyful
– and places and times, for example, at home or next month.
Making the wheels turn they came up with stories such as “yesterday
he went home and he found his enemy in agony and he helped him”
or “he saw an animal with seven heads and he killed it”.
The inhabitants believed that with that machine they could write or
create seven hundred and twenty-two million millions different stories,
and that could give their lives sense for as long as they lived, which
pleased Roberto, because he could have built a similar wheel and think
of countless stories even if he had stayed onboard the Daphne for ten
The Island of the day before. Umberto Eco.