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.

ψ

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.

ψ

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)

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

  1. I’m puzzled by Cheri’s love declaration. The senior Calcagni stikes me as grumpy, possessive man and not very opened to his children’s wishes.
    But then, of course, he was an aristocrat albeit ruined if my recollections are right.

    Like

  2. @Cheri
    @Paul

    Calcagni senior was almost a Dickens’s contemporary, this has to be considered. And being an aristocrat doesn’t mean he was necessarily a bad man, Paul.

    Cheri, you may have interpreted the episode also as a mother. I too perceive the deep affliction of a father which explains his emotional (and Romanly simpatico) behaviour. On the contrary, he allowed his daughter to become an enclosed nun at 17 (!), a totally unwise thing in my view. They should have waited a few more years to test her religious vocation.

    PS
    And, whom am I kidding, I would despair if one of my daughters wanted to become an enclosed nun.

    Like

  3. I liked his honesty. I can understand why a father would be disappointed in his daughter’s career choice here.

    So many of us never say what we really mean.

    Like

    1. You were quicker than me Cheri. I replied a bit above. Yes, he was deeply honest, and yes, he couldn’t think of her daughter as an enclosed nun. As I said I would be terribly upset if one of my daughters did the same. Wouldn’t we all be?

      PS
      So many of us never say what we really mean.

      Romans, despite their (big) flaws and especially Romans of that time, tended /tend to say what they meant /mean.

      Like

      1. No, being an aristocrat does not mean being a bad man, I totally agree.
        I admit that respecting our children’s career decisions is not always easy and we sometimes disagree. Calcagni, at first, said no then recanted.
        There is a huge difference between discussing a choice and blocking it. Although for a young one the difference could be lost and the gesture interpreted differently leading to some misunderstandings.
        Also, saying what you think can put you in deep trouble…as Signor Berlusconi should, by now, know…but apparently does not.

        Like

  4. I’ll never understand this madness for children.

    I often think that people have children as an alternative to pulling up their own socks and making of themselves what they know they should. Then hector and harangue the children to do what the parent really wanted to do but was afraid to try.

    I personally wish people could be planted in pots and harvested at adulthood, without the misery of either being a child or having one.

    Like

    1. I often think that people have children as an alternative to pulling up their own socks and making of themselves what they know they should.

      One possibility, but not the only one I suppose. Humankind exists because people continue to make children. So there are strong and complex motivations, and they are biological. And, as I said at your blog, one cannot know what a child really is until one has one (having been a child is not enough I believe.) To my experience all people who didn’t have children have no patience with them.

      Like

      1. Well, I do know some people who have done what they loved, know how to enjoy the company of other adults, and also had children; they seem to be in a minority and their children are the most bearable. I’ve remarked elsewhere that I live in an area where people parade their children as achievements, another ingredient in their social climbing.

        But when I read stories like this one, about the visceral reaction to a child’s choice of vocation, I think of my observation on so many occasions that people have children as extensions of themselves and if the child does not fit that plan, so much the worse for the child. So everybody is unhappy.

        Like

        1. I’ve remarked elsewhere that I live in an area where people parade their children as achievements

          Although belonging to different cultures, this can happen anywhere I believe.

          on so many occasions people have children as extensions of themselves and if the child does not fit that plan, so much the worse for the child. So everybody is unhappy

          I don’t think Nino wanted his daughter to fit a plan, or if so, it was a very loose one: he wanted her to live and be happy. And picturing her at 17 secluded in a convent appeared to him – despite his religion – like contrary to life itself. But in the end her will was respected and she became a nun.

          Like

          1. I suspect that a nun’s life may have been the only respectable one available to someone who did not find marriage and children to her taste, in a lot of times and places. I’m reminded of Aretino’s dialogues. We will never know about this particular young lady’s inner wishes, of course.

            Like

          2. If you refer to that dialogue where women could only be nuns, wives or prostitutes, it was written 350 years earlier than Elvira’s time (she became a nun in the 1890s). And Aretino’s vision was a bit extreme even for the Renaissance, since to him the most respectable state for a woman was the prostitute, not the nun nor the wife.

            Like

          3. Quite, Aretino was about contemporary with Columbus if I remember. And he enjoyed shocking people, obviously.

            However, times have changed very slowly for women, and the approved vocations were pretty limited in most cultures well into the 20th century. Even when I was a young girl in the 1950’s, “nurse” and “teacher” were about the only occupations presented other than housewifery. Of course you heard about women doing a good many other things, but they were always presented as remarkable exceptions. So I have to wonder what options an intelligent, contemplative girl might have had in the 1890’s.

            Like

          4. Probably people in the 1890s preferred that a woman got married, although things were not as rigid as centuries earlier.

            A woman who didn’t get married was considered a spinster (no ‘single’ concept then) but mostly treated with affection, and she often dedicated herself to others either in the family (as an auntie) or outside it.

            For example, two of my father’s aunties – therefore contemporary to Elvira – who didn’t get married devoted all their lives to others (as moralizers I guess). They were much respected. One of the two, zia Edvige, was stern, potent. They were Catholic but their mentality was Waldensian.

            Elvira, from my mother’s side, came from a totally different, more flexible world. I don’t think she disliked men or children. She just liked Jesus better.

            Like

          5. I have known Italian-American women like both of these descriptions. One of my good clients is an “auntie” and my good college friend had a sister whose intention to be a nun was clear from her mid teens. So I can see what you are saying.

            I do tend to have an instinctive reaction to stories about parents setting expectations for their children — I mean specific expectations that telegraph how much the parents will be disappointed if the child doesn’t want what he or she is supposed to want. I remember another college friend who summed it up with a short joke: “I always wanted to be a ballet dancer as a girl but my mom said I was going to take piano lessons. I took them for years and hated every minute. It’s going to be different for my daughter. She’s going to study ballet.”

            Like

    2. I’m interested, Sled, in how you ultimately arrived at these beliefs. I don’t know very many people who truly don’t like children.

      The babies of any species–be it kitten, colt, or pup–usually evoke the tenderest of feelings.

      Like

      1. They aren’t “beliefs,” they’re feelings. I have a harshly clear memory, and was exposed, inevitably, to children when I was one. I remember very little to like.

        I’m a quiet, thoughtful person and loathe noise, interruption and commotion, which is just about all that children seem able to generate — except for the one in two or three dozen who is also quiet and bookish and minds his or her own business. I don’t even like the smell of babies and very small children — there’s a cloying quality about it that gags me.

        I only ever met one child under the age of adolescence that I liked on sight — and she had had such a rotten childhood thanks to her narcissistic and shiftless parents that she had been forced to become a wary adult in an eight year old body. She spoke in complete sentences and assessed life and other people’s character with stark unsentimentality.

        As much as I have enjoyed men in my life, I’d have become a nun or the equivalent in any era that offered few other viable options outside marriage.

        I do like kittens.

        Like

        1. Hi Sled,
          Thanks for sharing these thoughts. I do understand the need for quiet and stillness, something impossible when around children (or yellow labs…)

          The little adult you wrote about is a sadness.

          I admire you for your honesty and clarity in your expression of it.

          Like

        2. Sledpress, we like you very much even though you prefer kittens to children. I also like kittens, but also puppies. Why not puppies? They are cute too.

          Like

          1. Puppies grow up into dogs, which bark loudly, run at you and bite you or at least slobber on you, very much like small children (the only difference is that small children usually cannot catch up with you while you are running in order to bite you).

            Like

  5. @Paul
    @Sled

    I admit that respecting our children’s career decisions is not always easy and we sometimes disagree. Calcagni, at first, said no then recanted.

    There can be many misunderstandings between parents and children, especially when children are in their teens. And children’s choices can be hard to digest, especially because parents – and in this Sled is a bit right in my view – may have a difficulty in considering a child as a totally separate, independent individual from themselves.

    Calcagni senior didn’t say no at first. He said: wait until you come of age (21 at that time). Elvira announced her intention at 16, became a nun at 17. Isn’t that too young for such a choice? I think her father should have stuck to his first idea of having her at least wait.

    Also, saying what you think can put you in deep trouble…as Signor Berlusconi should, by now, know…but apparently does not.

    Ah Berlusconi! My opinion is he should be particularly careful to speak his mind given both his position and les énormes (et archaïques) conneries he has in his mind.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s