Is Berlusconi’s Power About to Decline?

Berlusconi and Patrizia d'Addario. From the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica

The whole world is chatting about the Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s lifestyle. The news are full of details regarding alleged wild parties in his luxurious residences (see below Villa Certosa in Sardinia.) According to these reports all sorts of women attended these festas, including alleged under-age girls and paid escorts (see above Patrizia D’Addario) attracted to a possible career in TV or in politics (see Wikipedia for details.)

Berlusconi, sometimes depicted as a decadent Roman emperor (Mary Beard in the UK Times compared him to Tiberius,) is seen by many as possessing in ways grotesque the flaws usually ascribed to Italians, a lack of sexual restraint and a loose morality, among the rest.

And in fact many Italians voting for him say they like his way of life and admire him for being rich, powerful and for the number of women in his court. This is the way I am – he said replying to journalists asking if he was planning on changing his lifestyle after the scandals – and I cannot change at my age. Italians want me like that and support me.

Berlusconi's pharaonic mansion in Sardinia: Villa Certosa. Click for credits

Other Italians however vote for him because they prefer the right-wing coalition program to a left deprived of ideas and of real leadership. The opinion of a right-wing Italian fellow blogger, Wind Rose hotel, is that being a conservative doesn’t necessarily mean to be a fan of Berlusconi. I’m sure these Italians would prefer a more prudent behaviour by our Prime Minister, although it is to be noted that Berlusconi’s success owes a lot to his frankness which makes him different from the average byzantine Italian politician.

Traditionally Italians care little about a politician’s private life, his private vices being easily forgiven whenever his political action is deemed effective (we have discussed Italian cynicism and some possible historical causes.)

Many Italians are though starting to get embarrassed, to say the least. The line between the private and public sphere seems blurred to them if it is true that women’s sexual favours were /are later rewarded with a political career in the Italian or the European parliament. Someone is talking of Berlusconi’s possible resignation.

“Mr Berlusconi’s court – writes the British Independent – has no soothsayers to warn him of the Ides of March, but the sudden emergence of hostile noises from the Catholic Church is the modern Italian equivalent of that – especially as the Catholic Church continues to hold immense sway over public opinion.”

We are going to see how far Italian cynical indifference will go. Personally I don’t think Berlusconi will resign easily, unless something unprecedented occurs. He is still very powerful, though weakened, and he controls much of the Italian media, plus a lot depends on whether he will succeed in keeping the Italian economy going.

Whether these scandals are doing any real damage to him or not, the uneasiness of the Catholic Church – whose realpolitik is hard put to it – should not be under evaluated, although an additional element has to be considered in my opinion.

Berlusconi and Putin. Click for creditsBerlusconi’s ambition of playing as a separate negotiator with Russia, Iran and the Middle East is irritating both the EU and the USA. An example is Berlusconi’s support of Russia’s South Stream gas pipeline, seen as a rival to the planned Nabucco pipeline backed by the USA and the EU. The South Stream (see image below) is in fact considered dangerous by them since it would extend Russia’s blackmail influence over Europe.

A good example of Berlusconi’s foreign politics. He is so proud of being a personal friend of Putin, although it remains to be seen whether this friendship (or any other independent move) will prove profitable in the long (or even short) run.

South Stream gas pipeline map. GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2. Click for credits
South Stream gas pipeline project map

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If you want to know more:

Sex and the City (of Rome) which regards Italian sexuality and links to posts on this matter.

“Italians are Cynical, Amoral, Religiously Superficial”, on the possible roots of Italian cynicism.

See also:

Caesar, Great Man (and Don Juan)

Traces of Paganism in Italians

Calcagni’s Memoirs. Poverty and Father’s Funeral in Trastevere (4)

Piazza S. Cosimato in Trastevere, Rome, in a recent photograph. Click for credits

Fourth excerpt from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni, my grandmother’s eldest brother. He was a true Roman, born almost one and a half century ago. Read the original version in Italian.

Read all excerpts posted so far in English or in Carlo’s original Italian text.

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Every day my father paid a visit to his sister who lived with her husband and their sole daughter Carlotta in via Panisperna – their ‘proper apartment’, as my father said with an untranslatable note. My father instead lived in piazza S. Cosimato in Trastevere (we are all trasteverini,) the district of the poor, since at that time the S. Lorenzo or Trionfale districts didn’t yet exist.

[see above a picture of the piazza as it is today, MoR.]

Another peculiarity of our family was a sort of dignified and reserved isolation. Nobody ever came to our home. Apart from really exceptional cases such as illness or an urgent need, we were always alone, always us, exclusively us. My father with an emphatic phrase used to call our home the domestic penetralia, our home was a sort of sancta sanctorum where no access was allowed to outsiders, to anyone.

Trastevere Today
A street of today’s Trastevere.

I believe that, in addition to a sense almost of jealousy and of sentimental reserve, we also nurtured the feeling and the consciousness of our poverty. Our apartment was extremely modest, with scarce furniture, only beds for sleeping, a table for eating on which we also did our homework, few utensils for cooking, no frill, no coquetry, a home of the poor, clean but bare, absolutely bare. And there we felt we were masters and arbiters. Arbiters of what? Well, arbiters of living in our own way, with our poverty not even gilded or disguised, with the consciousness of our union and our love, in an atmosphere of absolute intimacy.

The building tenants neither ever came to visit us. By common consent and by a pact tacit and accepted by all, the Count’s house was respected and seen as sacred and inviolable. All greeted us, were kind and amiable, but they didn’t approach us, there was no union, no similarity of relationships or habits.

Yet a strange fact. When my father died at 4 and a half in the morning (on Wednesday, September 22, 1909) our apartment after one second was filled with people we didn’t know almost – the tenants of the whole building. They did their utmost to comfort us, to give us a help with acts the most humble and welcome in such moments of anguish. Some brought coffee, some hot water, some an egg, some a fruit, in short a sight both comforting and touching, occurring naturally and unexpectedly, in the middle of the night.

And yet we had totally refrained from any display of showy grief or from asking for any help or assistance.

At my father’s funeral there were many or better all his friends who had returned to Rome from their holidays, all his relatives from his father’s and mother’s side, which is natural, and the whole of Trastevere as well. From piazza S. Cosimato to S. Francesco a Ripa the distance is not short, yet the coffin – followed by his sons, I in black (with a suit bought ready-made at Pola e Todescan), Gigi and Paolo in soldier uniforms – passed between two busy wings of people and common people, mute and respectful.

All stores and shops were closed as if for national mourning, better still, right for this reason. A spectacle that certainly I and the two surviving sisters cannot easily forget, the spontaneous and devoted homage to a personality, to a type, to a character which disappeared and which no one else could probably ever replace.

S. Francesco a Ripa, in Trastevere, where the funeral took place. Click for attribution

I didn’t hear those indistinct whispers, curiosities, those questions or comments that usually accompany the big funerals. Who is he? Who is dead? Everybody knew it and didn’t have to enquire or comment any further. The Count was dead.

Inside the Church [see above], Mass for three voices with excellent music: the corpse on the ground more nobilium, the last acknowledgement of birth and condition – a tardy one to say the truth.

The emblem of the Trastevere rione

Original version in Italian

Calcagni’s Memoirs. Perplexities About the Family Inheritance (3)

Medieval houses at Santa Cecilia, Trastevere, painted by Roesler Franz in 1880 ca.

Third excerpt from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni, a true Roman born almost one and a half century ago. Read the original version in Italian.

Read all excerpts posted so far in English or in Carlo’s original Italian text.

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I never really knew how these things went because my father shrank from talking about them and he used to say that all that didn’t matter since in this world one has to work for a living and must not count on others or on ephemeral hopes.

He told us: birth doesn’t matter, only work and honesty do. Look at our Lord: he has worked, he has toiled as a carpenter in the shop of Nazaret and then aside, quiet, by himself: yet he was from the stock of David.

The important fact, that always has roused my suspicion about some wrongdoing, some abuse or indelicacy from our relatives in the division, or actual assignment, of the hereditaments of the Calcagni family, is this: my father, who was adored by his relatives for his qualities of character and festivity, and who was by them greatly sought after, never lavished much affection on them.

He paid visits to the rich relation, sometimes bringing us along with him, he remained a ten minutes, greatly rejoiced and rejoicing, then he suddenly went away without almost saying goodbye and all was postponed until several months later. Certainly there must be a latent and suppressed conflict, maybe of interests, which is most powerful to disunite, embitter and bring along grief.

There was actually an unbridgeable gulf between my father’s way of life and judgement and that of all the paternal relatives I have known.

Villa Mondragone, once a famous Jesuit school. CLick for credits
Villa Mondragone near Frascati, once a famous Jesuit collegio for young aristocrats. Click for credits and to enlarge

For example, when at a certain age the possibility was aired among the relatives of a first class collegio [boarding school or college, MoR] for the education of us small males of the kinsfolk more or less of the same age, a sort of family meeting was held. They told my father they thought of sending three or four young boys to Mondragone, the renowned collegio of the Jesuits near Frascati [see image above,] and they had my father understand that in case he wanted to send his boy (me) along with the others, as regarded the expenses they would all get together for a facilitation, for a helping hand.

My father replied:
“Thanks for the thought but I will bring up my son by myself.”
“Bravo!!! You will bring him up on the banks of the river …”
And my father:
“Yes, on the banks of the river, but with me … And we’re going to see who will better succeed.”

It is not to me to judge people who are partly dead and partly have drifted rather badly about the world; but certainly my education did not, and does not, suffer from any substantial deficiency compared to the education provided and received even in the best collegi. Quite the contrary …

The emblem of the Trastevere rione

Original version in Italian

Next chapters:

Calcagni’d Memoirs. Poverty and Father’s Funeral … (4)
Calcagni’s Memoirs. Elvira, the Eldest Sister … (5)
Calcagni’s Memoirs. Two Brats Meet Pope Leo XIII (6)

Calcagni. Suddend Death of Granfather. His father is Left to Himself (2)

Church of Santa Maria di Plestia, Serravalle del Chienti. Click for credits

Second excerpt from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni, a true Roman born almost one and a half century ago. Read the original version in Italian.

My family was then very big: 6 beefy children who needed so many things to grow up – food, clothes, shoes, manners and education. But, if as far as birth, parentage and social condition, my father was certainly above the average, high above it, as for financial resources he was really deprived of everything except the bare – almost too bare – minimum necessary for life. Why? How? I don’t know well because they never told me, my father always tried to pass over the subject.

A Noble Guard of the VaticanIn ancient days the family had lands in Velletri, where in the proximity to that town a hill exists that bears yet the name of Colle Calcagni and a palace in Rome near piazza Nicosia, the respectable and beautiful block which is now the Cardelli palace. My grandfather, count Filippo Calcagni, engineer, had been Noble Guard of His Holiness [see a noble guard on the left.] One day he resigned from the Corps and undertook the free career becoming among the rest engineer of the SS Palaces. When Gregory XVI [Pope from 1831 to 1846, MoR] went on a trip about the provinces of his State, the Palace engineer was entrusted to inspect the roads that the Pope would have to cover.

On the long slope which from Serravalle del Chienti goes downward to Tolentino my grandfather had a deadly coach accident. The horse took to flight down the hill. Two were on the coach, one kept himself glued to the carriage, paralysed by fright; my grandfather instead trying to save himself jumped out to the ground, hit his head and remained senseless. He didn’t die immediately. A few days later, a week perhaps, he passed away in the arms of his wife, who had raced to his bedside, without regaining consciousness.

He is buried in the church of Serravalle; a big gravestone on the middle of the left-side wall calls to mind the sad event with emphatic style. My grandmother, countess Carlotta Negroni, was just 23-year-old at that time, and she had my 3 year-old dad only and was pregnant of my aunt Maria.

My father therefore did not receive any education from his father and lived between his mother, inconsolable widow, and his sister Maria whom he greatly adored, a well explainable idolatry. As for material means, none, or very little, received from the rich relation, very little indeed I believe, while certain and definite was the very miserable condition of the poor relation, uncomfortable and painful.

Naturally – it is well understandable – all care and moral and material help from the rich relation were provided to the benefit of the female, aunt Maria, very young and very beautiful, while the male, Nino, my father, had to do things himself.

And in fact he did: as soon as he was 19, not having completed his studies at the celebrated Collegio Romano – studies of grammar, rethoric, philosophy and humanities – he applied for joining the Noble Guard Corps of His Holiness. His application was accetped.

[Next time: Calcagni’s Memoirs. Perplexities About the Family Inheritance (3)]

The emblem of the Trastevere rione

Original version in Italian

Carlo Calcagni. Memoirs of Youth, Maturity and Old age (1)

The Santa Bonosa Church painted by Roesler Franz in 1880 ca.

After some hesitation I have decided to post a few excerpts from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni, a Roman born almost one and a half century ago, and a person very close to my mother’s mother (her eldest brother actually.)

These pages offer a lively cross-section of the social and cultural life of Rome spanning from the first half of 1800, at the time of Calcagni’s grandfather, Count Filippo Calcagni, until the All Saints’ day of 1947, the date Carlo finished writing his memoirs.

Additional information, plus a link to the original Italian text, is provided at the end of today’s first excerpt.

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Read all excerpts posted so far in English or in Carlo’s original Italian text.

Birth, Look, Health.
First Teachings from his Father

I was born in Rome on the 12th of August a few years after 1870, the date of the Porta Pia breach, in a house at the foot of the Janiculum, in via Garibaldi. I don’t want to say the exact year of my birth for a residue of reasonable reserve. Why this reserve, a weakness, a coquetry quite odd in a man? I don’t know but I will not tell you. I am old, that’s enough.

I am 1.75 cm. tall (I have not been able to enter the grenadiers as did my brother Gigi, who was 1.82 tall) and I weigh 84-86 kg: I am therefore rather well built – with not too much belly also, a strong type in short and muscular. I was in fact very strong and did practise all sports when nobody was speaking of ‘sports’ yet and people thought I was half mad. My bearing – erect, frank and easy – I  owe perhaps to these exercises.

My eyes are cerulean, almost pale-blue once, and my hair is light brown – which is a bit uncommon for an Italian. My nose is perfectly straight, bending neither to the right nor to the left, a thing unusual they say since generally noses are slightly bending somewhere.

Now naturally at my age my hair is white. My face was once regular and fine, with open and calm expression, rather exotic both in features and complexion: somewhere in between an English and an American, so that I was often mistaken for a foreigner from those lands.

Robust health, capable of bearing whatever toil and discomfort, even unexpected and without preparation, capable of not eating and not drinking, whenever busy or occupied in something that completely absorbed my attention. I was after all the son of my father who, among his numerous aphorisms (many will arrive soon,) repeated almost continuously to us: one must eat what is necessary not to fall headlong.

And he always had preached and showed us how the body must be accustomed to serve us in everything and not to be our master. During our usual walks on foot “Dad I am hungry”, “Dad I am thirsty” we often cried.

“Shame on you, you are what, an animal? If you are hungry put a small pebble into your mouth. If you are thirsty hold a blade of hay or straw between your lips.”

“Dad I’m tired” and he started to run with gymnastic pace to urge us to follow him and not be left too much behind. In those days we were very small, 9-10 year-old.

The emblem of the Trastevere rione

Original version in Italian

[tomorrow another page by Carlo Calcagni regarding his grandfather’s sudden death in a coach accident, which left his father a 3-year-old orphan]


Additional note. Carlo Calcagni’s memories have so far circulated only among relatives and friends. Now that nearly all these people are no more I hope I won’t hurt anybody’s feelings if I let some excerpts be known outside such restricted circle.

I think nobody was more Roman than Carlo, gifted with intelligence, humour and a good nature typical from here but also peculiar to him alone.

He tells us of a disappeared Rome while he vividely depicts the three social milieus that made up the Roman people of his time: the aristocracy (to which he belonged though deprived of financial means,) the generone (a middle class of business people and tenants of the large estates owned by the aristocracy,) and the popolino or populace – described so glowingly by the Roman poet Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli – he had contact with since his family lived in Trastevere, at that time the slums of the city (the painting above depicts the church of Santa Bonosa in Trastevere, destroyed in 1888 during the construction of Piazza Sonnino and of the high stone embankments of the Tiber.)

[Rome between 1800-1900 had no industry nor any class related to it. Industries were discouraged by law since the Italian monarchy was afraid of the ‘socialist mob’]

I have provided above a link to Calcagni’s original text, written in a delightful vintage Italian with a Roman scent. My English translation is inadequate and is a work in progress.
These memoirs are posted for no commercial purpose. The copyright belongs to the author’s relatives.

From Friendship to Asking Mamma when Looking for “Mr Right”

Best friends. Click for credits and larger image

According to Country Philosopher friendship (no 4 in his list) is an important factor in the pursuit of happiness.

“True friendship is the most solid, the highest, the most disinterested, passionate and honest feeling that can link two persons. It implies sympathy of feelings, conviction to have found a twin soul, it is the most durable way of loving and being loved, … it is a fundamental component of happiness and, according to Epicure, the most precious good.”

“On the other hand – Bernazza adds – we cannot call authentic friends mere acquaintances ruled by feelings which are occasional, superficial, opportunistic, basically selfish. In this type of relationships liabilities are greater than assets and the final result is sorrow, most of the time.”

(his judgement on acquaintances is a bit extreme since many acquaintances in my opinion don’t necessarily end up with sorrow)

How can we attain true friendship?

“It is a construction to be built little by little, day by day, with patience and perseverance, with affection and intelligence, considering it is an achievement among the most complex, long, delicate that heart and mind together can accomplish.”

Friendship impacts on 3 points of CP’s list. Which list? A list regarding 20 major existential issues which, according to Dario Bernazza, we should address in the best possible way in order to diminish life liabilities and live a happy life. Friendship in fact regards points 4 (friendship), 5 (marriage) and 6 (children).

True friendship –  Bernazza states – is the only factor that produces a good marriage or union between two partners.

True friendship is the only key to success in the relationship between parents and children, allowing mutual respect and the mutual fulfilment of rights and duties.

Bernazza’s idea of friendship is surely dated and it includes a wider range of affectionate relationships than the modern friendship concept does, being not far from Montaigne’s amitié, connected to the Latin amicitia and the Greek philìa.

On the other hand, romantic love to him is important only to a certain extent. Life to CP should be a careful construction.  So I wonder if he would be for arranged marriages. Well, yes and no, since to him each person must be the real planner of his/her life.

Reva Seth's book on arranged marriage wisdom

[By the way, the Western romantic approach to marriage is just one possibility: arranged marriages thrived for thousands of years and are today still common in many parts of the world. Discussions on this theme by Indians can be read at Nita’s blog: 1 and 2]

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Bernazza is an interesting example of cultural isolation. His thought is organic like the wine one finds directly at the farm, surely inferior to the big wines, but with a genuineness and that special patina which smells of the past.

But I’m asking myself: 1) is friendship really so important in the relationship with a partner and in parenting? 2) should living our entire life with a partner be the fruit of a thoughtful decision and a careful construction (when looking for “the one” why don’t we ask mamma, someone wrote) or should all be decided by attraction and romantic passion only?