Pius IX (Pope from 1846 to 1878). He was followed by Leo XIII (1878 – 1903) already mentioned by Carlo Calcagni in Part I, ch. 6

10th 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.

Here the original Italian text of this post.


Pius IX loved to take long very long rides in the country making the coach horses march at a steady trot to the extent it was said he made several croak.

So the escort squad had to undertake really long trots that were deeply enjoyed by my father but not so much by several other guards who didn’t share his passion for horse riding. Therefore my father replaced the unfortunate through small fees especially when the schedule foresaw long excursions.

One day the Pope decided to go to Anzio [see the route below along via Nettunense] and the trip being very long it was planned this time that the papal coach horses were to be changed, together with the escort squad’s horses and with those too of the guards who were to replace the horsemen who had already gone half the trip.

Route from Roma (A) to Anzio (C) via Cecchina (B) on Google maps (37 miles)

Hence my father with a greater fee arranged this time that at Cecchina (‘B’ on the map above) where the change was to occur he would take the place of Marquis Del Bufalo who didn’t like riding at all also because he was said to have a fistula.

Once at Cecchina horses are changed and my dad spots a magnificent Piacentini horse, a beautiful golden bay that he mounts with great joy.

Immediate departure but after a few hundred yards the train unexpectedly halts at the squad commander’s signal.

“What happened?” the Pope inquired.
“It is Count Calcagni who broke ranks.”
“Why, what has he ever done?”
“He got into the meadow and started to jump the fences for fun while his strict duty was to closely follow the train. He will be put under arrest.”

This time though my father didn’t serve the sentence because he was pardoned on the spot by the Pope who smiled benevolently at the bold youth’s escapade.

Pius IX knew my father well personally and treated him with great familiarity and benevolence.

Pius IX talking to his noble guards

When my father got married he of course presented the bride in a special audience with the Pope.

Imagine my mother’s fear and anxiety for such a visit. She went dressed in black and my father in uniform.

The Pope asked her what her occupation was but she got so frightened she remained speechless and lost her self-control. And since my mother gave no sign she had understood or could in any case answer, my father readily:

“She is a piano teacher, Holy Father.”

My mother had never touched a piano key in her life.

“Ah! brava, brava.”

Meanwhile Pius IX with great benevolence and a very subtle smile was seriously slapping my father on the wrist a bit.

Original version in Italian

25 thoughts on “Calcagni’s Memoirs. Pius IX Pardons Nino then Slaps Him on the Wrist a Bit (10)

  1. Oh, dear, now I envision the newly minted Signora Calcagni as a sort of Italian Molly Brown, at least as she was represented in the silly Broadway musical, teaching herself piano overnight so as to avoid mortifying exposure.

    I can’t imagine the horror of even attempting to ride with a fistula. The notion of getting up astride a bloody great animal that can throw you yards through the air is frightful enough without it.


    1. Ah ah ah, yes, I never was familiar with horses either and will never be. And with a fistula …

      I checked Molly Brown but apart from the Titanic story I didn’t get much out of it.

      La signora Calcagni, Carlo’s mother (Rachele Angeli) was industrious, reserved, dedicated to her house spouse children (and to religion,) so no mortifying exposure necessary. Not that her husband Nino was familiar with the high circles instead, he just had glimpses of it being poor. His son Carlo’s memoir is though full of funny stories on prominent people (the Pope making horses croak, Marchese del Bufalo having fistula – a lot more will follow) but the Calcagni weren’t actually part of the upper echelons as Carlo observes in I, 4.


      1. In the dopey musical play Molly Brown gets her first job in a bar by lying and saying that she can play the piano. So in order to avoid being fired the first day on the job she stays up all night teaching herself crude box chords.


        1. I could never have guessed. You certainly have a great tradition of musical plays and theatre in the US in any case. And the real Molly must have been quite a character.


  2. Last week: un’improvviso pugnalata, this week: una tiratina d’orecchie! This is a violent place, your blog.

    I’m totally learning Italian now. You must have an expression for letting your hair down, right?


    1. We like to live dangerously 🙂

      I noticed someone read the Italian original version. I’d be surprised if you understood some of it. But you are very gifted with languages.

      You must have an expression for letting your hair down, right?

      Not that I can think of now in this gloomy Sunday afternoon. We may have. It is known languages do not overlap exactly. For example ‘tirata d’orecchie’ is ‘wrist slapping’ in English. Wonder if you also, like us, say ‘ears pulling’.


  3. “Pulling my ears” is you are teasing me, trying to fool me. In French, “se faire tirer l’oreille” means being reluctant to do something or give something.
    “Wrist Slapping” is taper sur les doigts, donner une peine (sentence) légère pour une offense ou un crime.


    1. “Taper sur les doigts”: c’est joli. We also say «bacchettate sulle dita» meaning more or less the same thing, from “bacchetta”, stick. Mais ‘taper’, I like better.


  4. Paul, Why does “se faire tirer l’oreille” mean reluctance to do something? I don’t get it. I don’t see the picture.

    By the way, we do give a “box on the ear” or a “cuff on the ear”, usually to get someone’s attention or to punish.

    And you just reminded me that there’s a great Russian expression that you can use when you think that somebody is kidding/pulling your leg:

    You’re hanging noodles on my ears.


    1. Probably comes from the fact that parents pulled their little ones by the ears to get them in the bath tub or to drag them to some unwanted chores, gently of course.
      Popular expressions as MoR has stated often can not be translated in other languages.


    2. Jenny,

      I was not sure about the involvement of ears, so I opted for a more certain “slaps on the wrist”. Then I added ‘a bit’ in an effort to render ‘tiratina’ (diminutive for ‘tirata’):

      Pio gli dà una tiratina d’orecchie ie Pius slaps him on the wrist a bit: not a great solution I’ll admit.

      ‘Noodles hanging on one’s ears’ is very evocative.


      1. Diminutives have the power to make me happy, in any language. I regret their absence in English. Such a stern language.

        It’s just one of things in Russian that delights me. I’m sure you experienced the endless variations on names that Russians employ.

        My daughter can get away with just about anything by calling me mamachka. I dig it.


      2. In English of course one can say “boxes the ears” but that is really a cruel punishment and does not carry at all the same tone.


  5. @Paul
    Popular expressions … often can not be translated in other languages.

    Which makes translation both fun and a brain-teaser.


    As for Russian diminutives I remember vodochka for vodka, Polinka and Polka for Polina, and Natasha and Natashka for the omnipresent Natalya.


    1. “Vodochka, Polinka, Natashka”

      Everyman’s trip to Russia.

      I’m pitching it as a movie concept to some producers this afternoon.


  6. On topic: A golden horse, a young fearless rider, a yellow meadow. Is this all suffering? I say, Non!


    1. @Sledpress

      A very good music apt for young horsemen.
      Carlo and his wife Bice were musicians but their preference was for Italian opera. They created a school of music and Carlo gave a contribution to the musical education of young artists such as Antonio Galiè and Galliano Paluzzi. I think they had separate schools, she for women and he for men. Her school was possibly more famous than his, he having another job. I though have to research a bit on this.


        1. Ah, pretty — a consistent tone sustained through all the registers, and just enough vocal inflection to sound uttered from the heart without going over-board.

          Actually I would quite like to hear that voice perform the first movement of the Mahler Cycle — “Dunkel is das Leben, ist der Tod.” It may be German, by a Viennese Jew even, but it’s got more in common with Italian tenor arias than most German song one hears.


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