The Art of the Simple Life

In his novel "La pozza del Felice", Fabio Andina describes the life of a ninety-year-old man who lives alone in a mountain village in the Swiss canton of Ticino and makes his way to a rock pool every morning, usually barefoot, to take a bath in the icy water. The book was a surprise success in both the Italian original and its German translation, so we became curious. We visited the author with a Suzuki Jimny and spoke to him about the minimalist lifestyle and the luxury of getting rid of things. And, of course, about Felice, who also drove a Suzuki.
Text Michael Köckritz
Photo Marko Knab · ramp.pictures

Mr. Andina, do you ever bathe in ice-cold rocky pools like Felice?
Whenever I’m in Leontica, I always go bathing in Felice’s pool, the one I describe in the book. That’s how we keep in touch. But I also have other ways of cooling off. And it doesn’t matter if it is summer or winter, or if it is in an alpine lake or a stream. Though most of the time the water is so cold that I can only stay in for a few seconds.

Who is Felice? Does he really exist?
He really existed, though his name wasn’t Felice. I chose this name because it reflects his personality. Felice was a wise old man who died almost six years ago at the age of ninety-three. I had known him since I was a little kid. Our mountain houses are just a hundred meters apart. Now his house is empty.

What could we, as inhabitants of a complex, technicized, modern world, darkened by threats, challenges and doubts, learn from Felice if we were allowed to accompany him for a few weeks?
In the book, Felice’s daily life is a sort of meditation. Every little gesture is made to the fullest; everything has a reason to be. Things are done in a routine along with the change of the seasons. Felice’s life is the opposite of the so-called modern world, where everybody runs around and works and spends money without really living life. He doesn’t have a television, radio or phone. His philosophy of life is “less is more”, and minimalism is his religion.

"Walking around in the mountains with him, I learned how to appreciate nature. We sat down together and watched an eagle flying high in the sky. We walked in the darkness of a pine forest early in the morning and listened to the silence. He transmitted his sense of peace and calm to me."

What have you learned from Felice?
Walking around in the mountains with him, I learned how to appreciate nature. We sat down together and watched an eagle flying high in the sky. We walked in the darkness of a pine forest early in the morning and listened to the silence. He transmitted his sense of peace and calm to me. Being so deeply at peace with the world in which he lived in and with himself – that was the key to his happiness.

We learn a lot about Felice in the book, but little about the narrator. Why does he take a back seat in the story?
In the story, the narrator, myself, acts as a camera: he records what he sees and hears without commenting. My goal was to report on Felice’s life – and on the life of a village, of a valley – without any personal opinion, leaving this task to the reader. I also didn’t want to interfere with the flow of the story.

Did spending time with Felice change you in any way?
Spending time with the real Felice, and writing the story while he was still alive, helped me to better focus on some aspects of my life. I’m always looking for a minimalist way of life, and both Felice and this story give me the strength to pursue this path.

How did this book come about?
It was a cold winter in Leontica. The real Felice and I were spending time together, mostly walking in the snow, just like in the novel. And while we were walking or just sitting on a bench looking at the clouds passing by or the snowflakes falling down, I could feel the idea for a story building up inside my head. One morning I woke up and I had an inspiration, like the proverbial lightbulb above my head. I thought about the pool in the stream. I knew he always went for a bath in a pool, everybody in the village knew that. So I turned on my PC and wrote the first lines. At the end of the sixth day I had a first draft of about 150 pages.

"Felice shows us another way to be happy. The way of minimalism. Less is better."

Fabio Andina

What message does the story convey?
It is simple yet deep: Where do we want to go in this frenetic life? We are constantly running around to go to work, to go on holiday, to go shopping. We want a better job so we can make more money. We want the best clothes, the best car . . . What for? Is this what makes us happy? Felice shows us another way to be happy. The way of minimalism. Less is better.

What does happiness mean to you personally?
To me, happiness is the art of enjoying life the same way we used to do when we were kids. When you look at a kid playing and being so deeply absorbed by a game – that is happiness. Lying on the top of a mountain, looking at the clouds passing by, feeling as light as a bird, noticing you are smiling for no reason – that, too, is happiness. I can also be truly happy sitting on a chair for hours on end, writing and being possessed by the story I am working on.

"I am becoming more and more like Felice: I’m happiest when I can be by myself up in the mountains."

This issue of ramp is titled “5.0”. The focus is on revolutions, transformation and change. In what ways do you think our world should change?
In my opinion, the world is headed in the completely wrong direction and I don’t see a way out. I’m pessimistic. Too many bad things have happened in the past few decades. Well, bad things have always happened, but lately there have been way too many. We’re exploiting and destroying the land in the name of progress. And I don’t see any progress. We all know that. Probably the problem is that human beings are a selfish animal. Ideally, the revolution should start with each one of us. Going from being a selfish being to an empathic one.

Are you making that change?
I am becoming more and more like Felice: I’m happiest when I can be by myself up in the mountains. I don’t have a very good relationship with the present world and I’m running away from all the things that bother me. But in my own little way, I try to contribute to change as much as I can. I know it is like trying to empty the ocean with a spoon, but when I go to bed at night I want to think that I’ve done something positive anyway. There are eight billion people on this earth. Maybe with eight billion spoons we can empty the ocean after all.

Do you own any special things?
Most of the time I try to get rid of things. I don’t like owning stuff I don’t need or use anymore. When I buy something, it’s because I really need it, not because I want it. Of course there are some things I will never throw away. Like Felice’s umbrella. Sometimes I use it.

How do you see the car today? Is it still a means of freedom?
I don’t think so, at least not where I live. Today there are too many restrictions, too much traffic and too many police checkpoints. That just gives me a headache.

What would you drive if you could choose any car?
One without any electronics and that you could drive off-road. A small jeep like this Suzuki Jimny would do the job. These modern cars that look like spaceships totally freak me out. Recently, a friend of mine was driving one of these modern cars. He was waiting at a red light when suddenly, the car shut down. It wouldn’t start and he couldn’t open the doors or the windows. He was trapped inside his car and had to call for help.

"A small jeep like this Suzuki Jimny would do the job. These modern cars that look like spaceships totally freak me out."

Felice drove a Suzuki . . .
It was an old green Suzuki Alto from the nineties. He used to drive slowly and honk his horn at each curve. I made up the part where he had to push it to start it in order to convey the idea that you can also live quite well even if things aren’t perfect. Why should everything always be perfect in order to have a good life?

Tell us more about Leontica. In the book it is a lively, noisy microcosm. What is it really like there?
Leontica is a peaceful little mountain village, like an old man taking a nap under a pine tree. In the book, I describe it as a very lively place. It was like that when I was a kid, but not anymore.

Wie empfinden Sie das Dorf heute?
Immer wenn ich dort bin, kann ich mich regenerieren und die moderne Welt vergessen. In meinem Haus in den Bergen habe ich keinen Fernseher, kein WLAN. Nur ein altes Radio, das drei Kanäle empfängt. Allerdings nicht mehr lange, weil sie auf digitale Übertragung umstellen. Aber das macht nichts. Ich brauche kein Radio.

"Leontica is a peaceful little mountain village, like an old man taking a nap under a pine tree. In the book, I describe it as a very lively place. It was like that when I was a kid, but not anymore."

How have the people in Leontica reacted to your book and the village’s newfound fame? How real are the characters?
Felice is real. But the other characters in the story are a mix of reality and fiction. That means a character is made up of different people I know or used to know for real. Sometimes, one of the locals asks me, “Am I supposed to be that character?” And then I have to tell them what I just told you. But the people in the village are actually less interested in the characters from the book than they are about the tourists or readers who come looking and asking around about Felice. Sometimes I receive emails with photographs of Leontica. People go there after having read the book, and they want to know if the photo is of the right house, of the right pool or things like that. This thing is becoming a story within a story, and thinking that Felice’s memory is being kept alive by the readers makes me happy.


Fabio Andina (born 1972) is originally from Lugano. He studied film theory and screenwriting in San Francisco and now lives back in the canton of Ticino. He loves the mountains and the peace you can find on the mountain tops. He doesn’t drink alcohol or coffee and maintains a vegan diet. Andina started writing at the age of twenty-two and he’s never stopped, as he says. At the moment, he is working on three novels simultaneously. His latest book will be published this September. More ­information is available at fabioandina.com.


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