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.


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.)”


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

35 thoughts on “Calcagni’s memoirs. Lottery and Eccentric Passion for Horses (9)

  1. Since I am still researching the Medieval warhorse (and horses and Ladby ships are on my mind), I enjoyed reading about Calgagni’s fathers’ stable of spirited horses.

    I wonder what breeds of horses he owned.


    1. I wonder what breeds of horses he owned.

      I don’t really know Cheri. Carlo doesn’t say it in his memoirs and my grandma Agnese, her sister Maria and my mum were not much interested in horses. I met Carlo when I was 2-3 years old and have a vague souvenir of him.


  2. The logic behind his buying of the stable goes with what other people have done here while winning a (smaller) lottery. They all want to live like Kings for at least one day! Perhaps, the logic behind it is that, the money was not earned by them, so why not spend it ravishingly at least for one day? 🙂 BTW, I am tagging you on the topic ‘My top three movies of all time’ – Pls do if you have time…

    Destination Infinity


    1. Hi DI, welcome back!

      Yes, I think he wanted to indulge in his whim for horses, living like a rich Lord at least once in his life.

      I’ll see what I can do about the tag. Cannot promise though, this blog has apparently its own will.


      1. Hi MOR,

        No problem. If you don’t want to do it in your blog, just do it in my comments section itself, and I will publish it in my post. We just want some recommendations for good Italian movies, of which we have no idea in India!!

        Destination Infinity


    1. Yes Paul, even though I guess a horse was better being a living creature with a personality. I heard my maternal uncles appreciate motorcycles (in their time here mainly British and Italian) and cars, but not horses. Not that they had many cars and motorcycles, a few but not many. My mother’s side, they were not good at making money.


  3. Hi Man of Roma,
    I’m now caught up with the life and times of Nino as seen by Carlo.

    Nino’s reply to his relatives shows how much he loved his son:

    “Yes, by the river, but with me.” Those are simple and great words.

    The description of the atmosphere in their home is touching. To paint his home memories with such dignity tells me Carlo inherited his father’s confidence and pride.

    I can’t imagine Nino (before he married) starting off with only one horse after his windfall gain. Thinking cautiously and small would not be in his nature. This little story is full of charm.

    Carlo also marked the precise time of his father’s Nino’s death. How old was Carlo when this happened?

    MoR, nothing is lost in your lively translation. 🙂 Mille Grazie.


    1. Hi Geraldine.

      How old was Carlo when this happened?

      He was around 35 more or less when his dad Nino died.

      I understand the posting of these memoirs may appear self-indulgent. We discussed this and other related stuff *here* with readers. My wife for example is getting impatient every time she hears these old stories lol.

      But, given the theme of this blog, I saw these unpublished memoirs as a small contribution, as an opportunity to show a bit ‘the Romans the way they were’ to readers who are interested, since today the world is getting standardized.

      As for the translation I thank you Geraldine and your praise makes me happy but I believe my not complete command of the language makes it impossible for me to render Carlo’s vintage Italian into an English equivalent. But translation is great fun in any case.


  4. I’ve just read the 2009 conversation on this topic. How I missed this I do not know.

    “Self-indulgent” Not at all, Man of Roma.

    Memoirs transport us back to another time without the snobbery and judgments of our own time. One of my history teachers used to bellow: “Remember, it was the present for them!”

    In the past, I’ve heard my grandmother say while shaking her head, “His ilk is a dying breed” perhaps; this is a common expression but I like it because it gives pause.

    Old footage, photography, history, etc., of Rome, in this time period, would not give me the vividness and small details that Carlo’s stories do. The memoirs are more like a gift than self-indulgence.


  5. Spend your money, buy the horses, the carriages, the stable; strut around town; share it all with clever and charming people.

    Who cares that you have to sell it off along the way?

    That’s living. I try to do the same, metaphorically.


    1. Metaphorically is safer. As I said, the Calcagnis were not good with money, and they had other values (as these memoirs are showing a bit). Which is ok, having other values, even though money is important, especially when you have the tendency, as they had, to make a lot of children.


    2. PS

      By other values I meant moral values or passions like music and literature more than dissipation. But certainly they lacked any entrepreneur mentality and missed a few opportunities.


    1. Hi Zeus,

      The noble guard was abolished by Pope Paul VI in 1970 (while the Swiss guards still exist.) No horses any more in any case.

      As an example of the said lack of practical mind, entering the corps was foolish if one was not already rich, since it provided little or no salary.


  6. Well, MoR, we have something in common. One of my ancesters, on the French side of the family, was one of the 200 “chevaux légers” of king François 1er. I take it he was riding not being ridden. He was Jean de Coppequesne Sieur de Ponthieux, that means he became a tax collector as a reward for his services to the king.


    1. We always had something in common. The Commentator was very perceptive 🙂

      I found some trace in Google of Jean de Coppequesne. Can you give us any precise link?


      1. Try to follow me: the earliest mention of de Coppequenes in my genealogy is Firmin married in 1419 at Friville-Escarbotin to ? Vasseur; they begot Jean married to Jeanne Houart; they in turn begot Jean born 23/7/1546, died 31/7/1587, married to Claude de La Badde; they begot Gilles Married to Anne Tillette; they begot Aloph, died 16/03/1664, buried in St-Sulpice in Paris, married Honorée de Nointel: they begot a daughter M. de Coppequesne, she married Jean Gateau, in Montreal in New France 3/2/1687.
        She belongs to the Guindon line of my French-Canadian half of the family.
        That is as precise as I can get. The registries that far back are rather sketchy.


        1. I found many traces of these people on the web although it is hard to discern possible cases of homonymy. This all is fascinating, and I’d also love to know the motivation of their landing on New France (what a wonderful name). Why don’t you write down some of these old stories? It is for the young, so they know where they come from.


          1. All I have is a list of names without other infos so it is difficult to tell their stories without much research…I’m not sure that I have the motivation to do it. After her marriage, my female De Coppequesne ancestor faded into anonimity and none of her following made it into history. Just ordinary pioneers.


        2. I know this is an old thread, but these are my ancestors as well. From Jean Gateau, came a daughter, Catherine, whose son (Ignace) left Quebec for Detroit, where he died in 1751. Ignace’s son, Jacques, was known as St. Aubin in Detroit, St. Aubin street is named after the family that had a ‘ribbon farm’ there before it was a city.


          1. Wow, so interesting. No problem if this is an old thread, since threads do not age, like us 🤭 Are you a Québécoise, too?


  7. My dad was in the Cavalry, in WWII, never called to action, but always ready for it. Horses were most important up until then, before cars and public transport.


  8. I did some more digging on Mlle de Coppequesne. Marie-Charlotte de Coppequesnes came to New France as one of 1000 “filles du roy”, 38 of them were listed as belonging to the high society (ruined that is). The Royal cassette provided them with a 50 pounds dowry and contracted marriage and shipped off to the colony. It was an effort to populate the slow developping colony where men severely outnumberd women.
    For a long time those girls were viewed as prostitutes. Recent researches have rehabilitated them and their true stories are now coming out. There is even a recently created “Société d’histoire des Filles du Roy” in Québec City, our provincial (others would write NATIONAL) capital.


    1. J’ai lu l’histoire des ‘filles du roy’ dans le wiki.

      Evidently la Nouvelle-France avait besoin de filles. Tout cela j’ai aimé beaucoup and found remarkable. I would love to read a good novel in French or in English and set in New France, that is to say, I’d like to find a Canadian or French James A. Michener (he narrates the creation of numerous US states in his novels.)


  9. A quick look on our bookshelves produced these titles. Two are historical novels, not Michener level but good nonetheless:
    By Pierre Caron, Thérèse, la naissance d’une nation, VLB éditeur, Montréal, 2004, about une fille du roy.
    By Robert de Roquebrune, La Seigneuresse, éditions Fidès, Montréal, 1977, built around our 1837-38 troubles.
    Both authors are historians.
    Then we have “Lettres au cher fils”, correspondance d’Élisabeth Bégon avec son gendre retourné en France (1748-1753), compilé par Nicole Deschamps, éditions Boréal, Montréal.

    By Émilie Chicoine, C.N.D., La Métairie de Marguerite Bourgeois à la Pointe Saint-Charles. The history of les Dames de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame in the young colony. Éditions Fidès, Montréal,1986.
    Finally, by Jean Provencher, an historian, Les Quatre Saisons dans la Vallée du St-Laurent, éditions Boréal,Montréal 1988. A chronicle of the seasons modulated life along the St-Lawrence river in the mid 1800s.

    We will keep looking, but these, should you find them, should keep you busy for a while.


    1. Tomorrow I’ll better parse and reply. Although I cannot read all of them, so you have to guide me a bit.
      Tomorrow in any case, amicus meus.

      And I am not a Roman Casanova, quite au contraire.

      And you people from the New World would be perfect hadn’t you this problem with sex and with conversation about it.


    2. Paul, what great stuff! My imagination has run wild. I have to get one of these novels.

      Roma, keep denying it. It only adds to the appeal.


  10. @ Paul,
    C’est tres interessant, “filles du roy”. Je voudrais savour plus. Je vous remercie pour votre information.


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