Calcagni’s memoirs. Lottery and Eccentric Passion for Horses (9)

Pincio Hill in Rome as seen from Piazza del Popolo. Click for credits and to enlarge

I’m continuing to obsess my readers with the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni (9th excerpt,) a true Roman born almost one and a half century ago. Read all excerpts posted so far in English or in Carlo’s original Italian text.

Here the original Italian text of this post.

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My father had been a very good rider in his youth and had passed on me a great passion for riding and for horses in general, of which even as a child I well knew breeds, coats, habits, qualities and faults that I didn’t hesitate to observe and to point out to the horses’ owners, much to my father’s bewilderment and great derision of others.

Before my father got married he had the good fortune of winning in the lottery an almost fabulous sum for those days: 30,000 lire.

What did he do? He set up a stable of riding and cart horses, not many but all beautiful and thoroughbred and he had great fun riding them and having friends and acquaintances ride them too.

He proudly rode on horseback or carriage at evening stroll time in the Pincio gardens [see the image above] and enjoyed that his quadrupeds were greatly admired by the Romans.

What happened? In short lapse of time the number of horses and carriages began to diminish since he sold and liquidated with great loss of course in order to meet the costs. He ended up with a saddle horse, then with a horse without a saddle that he rode bareback; finally this last animal disappeared and so did the stable.

His friends pointed out to him that he had been stupid not to start with only one horse that might have lasted for a long while. To which he readily replied:

“But I would have never had a stable, I would have never been able to choose and let others choose, I would have never had Lord Boilfourt as a client and admirer (an Englishman very well known in Rome as horse lover and connoisseur.)”

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When he was noble guard of His Holiness he used to enter the Corps’ then very well-stocked stable where he always chose the best horse, the most beautiful or most spirited and restless, and he then let it caracole while on duty behind the coach of the Pope with great fear from the popolino ignorant of the rider’s command and cunning.

What happened then was that the squad commander (l’esente) in order to avoid any possible complication and comments not always benevolent from the crowd gave order to my father to break ranks so my father happily went off on his own for a ride either in Pincio or in the country to enjoy time off with a magnificent horse that didn’t impatiently caracole any more but was docile and submitted to the knees and hand of the experienced rider.

Original version in Italian

Calcagni’s Memoirs. Born Puny Carlo Becomes a Strong Swimmer (8)

The Tiber, Castel Sant’Angelo and Saint Peter’s dome in 1890. Photo by Alinari

8th excerpt from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni, a true Roman born almost one and a half century ago. Here the original Italian text of this post. Read the previous installment and all excerpts posted so far in English or in Carlo’s original Italian text.

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I was born puny, a real peewee, since my mother during pregnancy had to suffer two severe afflictions: the death of her father and of her twin sister Giuditta. At baptism the names that prevailed were Carlo and that’s fine but Guido Ettore and Augusto I wonder why.

I was thus born so small I had the great merit of almost not making my mother suffer by coming to this world. Not only was I born frail but also had all possible and imaginable diseases.

My father, despairing for his first son’s extremely poor health, the son he had danced and sung for, took me to all possible doctors and specialists in Rome though obtaining from all of them but the most sorrowful and definite responses.

“But after all you’re so young you’ll soon have another child.”

Poor me what gloomy prognostications. Thus my father took an extreme decision. He got rid of doctors and medicines and took care of me in his own way, according to his common sense.

Fresh air, light, sun, bloody-rare steaks and red wine, swims in the Tiber, very ordinary and rudimentary exercise, running, walks, continuous motion. He saved me and raised me into what I later was and am.

The Tiber at the Ripa Grande. 1890. Photo by Alinari

At four and a half I could swim and at eight I swam across the Tiber alone without any help (though my father was keeping an eye on me on a boat). I reached the other bank with eyes popping out of my head, but I made it, to my father’s great pride.

He, a good swimmer, not a long-distance but an academic one I would say, had taught me to swim through a hard and brisk method and pushed me to progress by saying:

“What an ass! Dogs and cats swim, sheep and pigs, oxen, horses – and you still don’t know how to swim! Aren’t you ashamed!”

And I felt so ashamed that I cried. Imagine when I finally could float and could take a few strokes or kicks without drinking or drowning! I was like mad with joy and I did nothing but swim, as if they paid me for every kick.

And in fact I swam so much that I became a great long-distance swimmer: that is, I was like cruising in the river, in the sea, in Albano Vico Bracciano and Trasimeno lakes, in Bolsena Como and Maggiore lakes, for considerable stretches, always alone, without assistance from any boat or company: this to test myself and make use of my skills, to provide myself with the feeling and proof that water was really the most entertaining means of transportation, the aptest and the cleanest most of all, especially in summer.

The bathing season started for us on May 1, Labor Day and therefore school vacation, and ended in late November when with the first cold weather we couldn’t stand to stay in water any longer.

This swimming thing was very important to my father (stultus neque scribere neque natare scit, as Cicero said and as my father a bit emphatically repeated.)

Gigi the grenadier could also swim well and was very athletic in water but was subject to cramps.

Roman scene in front of the ancient temple to Hercules. Alinari 1890

Paolo was instead too nervous to be a good swimmer. Like Paolo, my mother and the females of the family were not aquatic, in the natatorial sense they were like irons my father said (“they fall into water and blum they sink”).

But it is very well explainable since at that time [end of 1800, MoR] women could not swim but in sea water where they did exercises fully dressed. And we never went to the sea-side since for economic reasons we never left Rome. Only every now and then we went on long enough excursions on a four or two wheel small cart which my father rented by the day.

This to us, Elvira and me, was a feast.

Original version in Italian

Tunis, the Port of La Goulette and a White-Bearded Old Taxi Driver

La Goulette, port of Tunis. Wikipedia image

We were here talking on how globalization also had the opposite effect, of reaction and rediscovery of cultural identities. Let me expand on this a bit with a few memories.

[This post has been originally written in Italian]

The White-Bearded Bon Père

I was working in Tunisia at the time the campaign for the second re-election of George W. Bush was about to start. I often wandered around Tunis with a taxi driver, this beautiful white-bearded old man I conversed with on many things, politics, culture etc. He greatly helped me to explore the city since he knew every alley, every aspect of it.

I almost always ate at La Goulette, the main port of Tunis (see an overview above) where many Italians emigrated between 1700-1800 before they even ever thought to leave for America.

An area of the port bears in fact the name of la Petite Sicile. There I enjoyed fresh fish that fishing boats carried almost to the waterfront restaurants.

Ah quel vie, quelle poésie, la francophonie sur la mer de Carthage, la cuisine locale, les vins, le délicieux poisson!

(My table-companions were Tunisian and Italian and we always spoke French. Unforgettable memories)

One of the roads leading to La Goulette. Tunis. Click for credits and to enlarge

One day, while the old man was driving me as usual to the port’s restaurants, I said to him:

“What if Bush had already captured Osama Bin Laden and pulled him like a rabbit out of his hat at the last minute so that his victory in the forthcoming elections would be devastating?”

“They are too intelligent to fall into traps like that,” the old man replied with shiny eyes.

Minaret of the Great Mosque in Tunis seen from an alley of the Medina. Click for credits and to enlarge

Such an answer, given like that, with dreamy eyes, from this dear and good old man whom everyone called le père for his wisdom and who strongly condemned terrorism, puzzled me. I dropped the subject (and perhaps I shouldn’t have.)

Well, I thought later, if this touches the heart of such a wise old man, it is not difficult to imagine what 9/11 may have meant for thousands of young people: a fire, a burst of renewed Muslim pride which swept them and drove them to follow the example (still partly does unfortunately) of the “heroes” of the Twin Towers who sacrificed themselves – for the sake of Allah, his prophet and the civilization they represent – in such an insane, ruthless but also immensely spectacular (to them) way.

Pride Refound and Terrorism

Until September 11 the Muslims had always been badly beaten – the war lost in only six days by their venerable Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, the West always trying to control their oil resources, Israel’s creation as guardian of the Middle-East and champion of the West etc.

At the time of the London bombings (7 July 2005) many had wondered how it was possible that almost adolescent, honest-faced youths had blown themselves up as suicide bombers thus killing dozens of helpless bystanders. Weren’t terrorists wicked, bloodthirsty killers?

Questions such as this show in my opinin a certain lack of understanding – of the human soul, of (fundamentalist) faith and of what the Islamic revolution meant to Muslims and especially to the Muslim youth, from the time of the Ayatollah Khomeini onward.

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A strong but also humiliated culture, Islam, which resists globalization, but unfortunately when reacting with terrorism does the wrong thing totally, giving rise to distrust, hatred (and isolation) all around it.

Tunisians however (not only them) are good and moderate, friends of Italy and of the West. And a great number of them display self-critical attitudes:

Ouvrir les yeux sur soi et sur l’Occident suppose que le monde musulman cesse de se poser en perpétuelle victime. “C’est toujours la faute de l’autre, note Mohamed Charfi: le colonisateur, l’impérialisme, le système financier international, le FMI, la Banque mondiale. Quand amorcera-t-on l’autocritique qui permettra un diagnostic lucide de nos échecs ?”

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Related posts:

Pain in the Heart

Mare Nostrum, Patriarchy, Omertà. 2

The Southern Shores of the Mediterranean

Tunisi, il porto della Goulette e un vecchio tassista dalla barba bianca

Porto de La Goulette a Tunisi. Wikipedia file

[See the English translation of this post]

Si diceva qui di come la globalizzazione abbia avuto effetti anche contrari, di riscoperta delle varie identità culturali. Lasciatemi esplorare un poco questo tema.

Le bon père dalla barba bianca

Sono stato in Tunisia per lavoro al tempo in cui stava preparandosi la campagna elettorale per la seconda rielezione di Gorge W. Bush. Giravo spesso con un tassista di Tunisi, un bel vecchio dalla barba bianca, con cui parlavo di tante cose, di politica, di cultura. Mi aiutava ad esplorare bene la città perché ne conosceva ogni vicolo, ogni aspetto.

Mi portava quasi sempre a La Goulette a mangiare, il porto principale di Tunisi (nella foto in alto una veduta d’insieme) dove molti italiani emigrarono nel 1700-1800 ancor prima di recarsi in America.

Una zona del porto si chiama infatti la Petite Sicile. Là mi godevo il pesce fresco che i pescherecci portavano fin quasi ai ristoranti sulla riva.

Ah quel vie, quelle poésie, la francophonie sur la mer de Carthage, la cuisine locale, les vins, le délicieux poisson!

(I miei commensali erano tunisini e italiani e si parlava sempre in francese. Ricordi indimenticabili)

Via di accesso al quartiere de La Goulette. Click for credits and to enlarge

Una volta mentre il vecchio mi stava al solito portando alla Goulette gli dissi:

“Stai a vedere che Bush ha già catturato Bin Laden e lo tirerà fuori all’ultimo momento come un coniglio dal cilindro così che la sua vittoria alle prossime elezioni sarà schiacciante”.

“Sono troppo intelligenti per cadere in trappole del genere” rispose il vecchio con occhi scintillanti.

Tunisi. Minareto della grande moschea. Click for attribution

La risposta, data così, con occhi sognanti, da questo vecchio buono e caro, che tutti chiamavano le père per la sua saggezza appunto e che condannava fermamente il terrorismo, mi lasciò perplesso. Lasciai cadere l’argomento (e forse feci male).

Se tocca il cuore anche di un vecchio così, pensai in seguito, è facile immaginare cosa può aver significato l’11 settembre per migliaia di giovani: un incendio, una vampata di ritrovato orgoglio pan musulmano, che li ha travolti e spinti (e purtroppo in parte ancora oggi li spinge) a dare la vita imitando gli “eroi” delle Torri gemelle che si erano immolati in modo così folle, spietato ma anche enormemente spettacolare nel nome di Allah, del suo profeta e della civiltà che essi rappresentano.

L’orgoglio ritrovato e il terrorismo

Fino all’11 settembre gli islamici le avevano sempre buscate da tutti, la guerra persa in soli 6 giorni dal venerato leader egiziano Nasser, l’Occidente che ha sempre cercato di controllare le loro risorse energetiche, la creazione di Israele sempre a fini di controllo dell’energia e come paladino dell’Occidente ecc.

Quando vi furono le bombe di Londra, il 7 luglio 2005, molti furono sorpresi. Come è possibile che dei ragazzi poco più che adolescenti e con la faccia pulita si siano fatti esplodere come kamikaze uccidendo decine di passanti indifesi? Non erano i terroristi degli assassini assetati di sangue?

Domande che mostrano una certa incomprensione dell’animo umano, della fede (fondamentalista) e di che cosa abbia potuto significare la rivoluzione islamica per i musulmani e soprattutto per i giovani musulmani, dall’epoca di Khomeini in poi.

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Una cultura forte ma anche umiliata, quella islamica, che resiste alla globalizzazione, anche se purtroppo quando reagisce con il terrorismo lo fa in maniera completamente sbagliata creando solo odio, diffidenza (e isolamento) intorno a sé.

I tunisini però (e non solo) sono brava gente, moderati, amici dell’Italia e dell’Occidente. E molte tra essi le voci autocritiche:

Ouvrir les yeux sur soi et sur l’Occident suppose que le monde musulman cesse de se poser en perpétuelle victime. “C’est toujours la faute de l’autre, note Mohamed Charfi : le colonisateur, l’impérialisme, le système financier international, le FMI, la Banque mondiale. Quand amorcera-t-on l’autocritique qui permettra un diagnostic lucide de nos échecs ?”

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Per chi vuole saperne di più:

Pain in the Heart

Mare Nostrum, Patriarchy, Omertà. 2

Scrivere come antidoto alla mente bollita

Rewriting a bit in my mother tongue. After more than three years of blogging in English I am starting to look for words when I speak in Italian. You may use an automatic translator if you will.

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Cominciai questo blog partendo da pensieri come questi:

“Vorrei riprendere a scrivere soprattutto come antidoto alla mente bollita. Scrivere in fondo è studiare, almeno per come lo concepisco io, e quindi è un ottimo sistema di autodifesa contro il pericolo di abbrutimento intellettuale che viene, almeno a me, dal lavoro di ingegneria dei sistemi informatici”.

Ora dopo tre anni di scrittura posso dire che la cosa ha funzionato. La mente è più agile e quella di tenere un blog di pensieri, ricerche e annotazioni è una cosa che consiglierei a tutti. E’ così facile abbrutirsi oggi, e a tutte le età.

Semmai nel caso mio particolare c’è un po’ di pena, ma nemmeno tanto, per l’uso continuo della lingua straniera e per quel poco di isolamento in più che un’attività del genere comporta, complice anche il retirement dal lavoro.

Calcagni’s Memoirs. Elvira the Eldest Sister Takes the Veil. Father’s reaction (7)

Villa Lante on the Gianicolo, Rome. Given to the Borghese in 1817, it was sold to Madeleine Sophie Barat, founder of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart, who turned it into a noviciate for younr girls. It houses today the Finnish Institute. Click for credits

7th excerpt from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni, a true Roman born almost one and a half century ago. Read all excerpts posted so far in English or in Carlo’s original Italian text.

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When Elvira at the very young age of 16 announced her intention of becoming a nun of the Sacred Heart (she had attended the School of Santa Rufina, an institute of those religious women, now abolished and located in via della Lungaretta, near Santa Maria in Trastevere where we then lived) my mother in her rigorous religious conception was happy about it despite she would have lost the great help Elvira was providing her with her activity and skills (she could do everything.)

My father instead was much afflicted by the news and flatly denied consent.

“Let her wait until she’s at least 21, after which she’ll do whatever she likes.”

Then we don’t know how and why, one day he comes home and says to Elvira:

“If you are still determined to go, go then … I give you my blessing.”

It was the festa of the Immaculate Conception. Elvira so entered Villa Lante as an aspirant.

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When we visited her each month my father was never able to resist all the time of the visit. At one point he became red in the face, stood up abruptly and went away almost without saying goodbye to his daughter. The fact in itself moved him.

“A good-looking girl like that, a nun?”

What happened again at Villa Lante when Elvira after her novitiate in Paris made her religious profession, there including the cut of her gorgeous chestnut hair, it cannot be said. We were all moved but my father was unrecognizable and I do not know how he resisted not to give into theatrics. At one point I remember he fled from the church.

For us, for his children, he had a deep, exclusive, jealous love. To him we were the best, the most beautiful, the most intelligent of all children, although he never said this to us.

When my mother, as it sometimes happens to mothers, saw a beautiful child on the street and spontaneously said “look what a beautiful son, Nino, what a beautiful baby!” he replied cloudily “watch your own children who are the most beautiful.”

Original version in Italian

Related posts:

Calcagni’s Memoirs. Elvira, the Eldest Sister, Makes Someone Behave (5)