11th excerpt from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni, my maternal grandmother’s eldest brother and 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.

Noble Guard of the Vatican in full uniform. Wikipedia

Another passion of my father Nino was to dress in full uniform (the beautiful scarlet red one with gold frogs, white trousers and very high black boots) and to ride about the Pincio gardens at stroll time.

He once wore it with the big white cloak on top for a very serious reason.

Carlotta [Nino’s niece] had been put out to wet nurse in one of the Castelli Romani, Ariccia I believe [see image below,] but she was sickly and the news of her not too good.

My father in uniform mounts a horse, pays a visit to his beloved niece and finds her abandoned by those put in her care, abandoned in a sty with the pigs.

Extremely indignant he grabs the baby to the cries of the terrified nurse, places her under his cloak and returns to Rome on horseback.

He rides to her sister’s house and handing her daughter on to her exclaims:

“Here is Carlotta whom I found among the pigs. Shame on you! Children should stay with their parents!”

Today’s Ariccia, one of the Castelli Romani. Click for credits and to enlarge

The idea of riding like that, in full uniform at public strolls or even worse outside Rome was of course prohibited so my father once back was put under arrest in quarters at the Palazzo della Consulta in the Quirinal Palace piazza [see image below.]

A guard put under arrest once the sentence was served had to report to the Corps Commander – Prince Altieri at that time – dressed in black coat and silk hat in order to be given a good telling-off so to speak.

Piazza del Quirinale. The Quirinale Palace, left, and Palazzo della Consulta (Supreme Court) in front. The Quirinal is the highest of the 7 hills. Click for a panoramic view and for credits

Another time, my father had gone to Palazzo Altieri [see picture below] to receive a dressing down by the Commander.

He was introduced into a large hall and was said to wait.

He waited and waited but the Commander didn’t show up so my father seeing a beautiful piano to beguile the time opened it and by using the soft pedal began to play a fashionable dancing tune, then growing in volume well-known arie from the opera repertoire.

Palazzo Altieri in the 18th century. Rome

Prince Altieri who in the meanwhile had arrived was waiting behind the door much uncertain on which behaviour would be appropriate in such delicate moment.

Finally he took courage and entered. Tableau! My father standing at attention and the Prince loweringly:

“What on earth are you doing with that piano.”

“Eh! Since I was waiting I started some playing just to entertain myself a bit.”

“Do you know why you are here? Not for serious or shameful things, certainly, but after all I think it’s already the third or fourth time in ten years of service that you have to come here to … receive my grievances for your conduct.”

“Well, what is it after all, not even twice a year … ”

“Get lost! Get lost!”

Since ultimately the Prince commander did not want to burst out laughing right in front of his guilty subordinate.


Perhaps in memory of the above skirmish and of the contrasts between him and the Commander, when my father already retired used to go to the guards’ club (still at the Altieri palace) for a flying visit during the very first part of the evening, he did not fail to linger pensively in front of a large oil portrait of prince Altieri (long deceased) and to always pronounce, halfway between vexation and compunction, the same usual words while looking at the oil painting:

“The Thirty Years’ War.”

As many as his years of service in the corps of the noble guards.

Original version in Italian

25 thoughts on “Calcagni’s Memoirs. Nino is Reprimanded by Prince Altieri for his Conduct (11)

  1. Hi Man of Roma,
    This little story made me laugh. Nino’s lovable qualities and sweet boldness lets him get away with much more than those with less winning personalities.

    It makes me think of other kinds of people who have gumption but also are intoxicated by vast wealth and power. What can happen? Some come to believe sincerely that they are outside the law of the land and so begins their descent.

    Thanks for releasing Nino. 🙂


    1. Thanks for reading Geraldine.

      According to Carlo and other relatives Nino was a ‘type’ whose eccentricity and humour were famous. This is probably why people flocked to his funeral: a Roman ‘character’ somewhat disappeared.

      I wonder if Carlo, the writer, over evaluated his father’s qualities out of love.

      There are in any case many family tales about him getting away with many difficult situations thanks to his wit, as also attested by Carlo’s pages.


      1. Bon Giorno, MoR
        Yes, Carlo’s account of his father’s funeral (in an earlier post) is moving. I loved it.

        “…Over evaluated his father’s qualities out of love.”

        We like him for this, no doubt. I do the same myself.

        ps. I know Carlo is the writer.


      2. I don’t know why, intuition maybe, but you appeared like a type who loved her father.
        Will my daughters love me like that? I don’t know. Flavia has been such a bright star to them she being beyond a doubt a type A woman.


        1. You’re tuned in to everything and happy so I imagine you and Flavia are much-loved already. This will only increase, as time goes by.

          Last year I lost a beautiful ancient proverb sent to me from China regarding the loss of parents. It was the most delicate piece of writing (even in translation) I’ve ever read in my life. If words could be ballet then this was it. It harked to a China we do not see.

          I remember it referring to the poignancy of love; when its richness and fullness of understanding is finally, acutely realized by the offspring it is too late. And,this is the natural order of life.

          Clumsily retold here. The proverb included willows.


          1. I once stayed for a while at the sea-side south of Rome since I needed peace and reflection. I had a neighbour from Genoa of my age. We made friends. He helped me to protect my house against sea humidity. He’d had a mother only, the father he didn’t meet but I may be wrong. He and his mother didn’t always get along well, their relationship was tormented. He then left Genoa and moved to Rome. After she died, he always felt, he told me, this awful regret as for all the things he could have said to her but hadn’t been able to.

            As in your proverb, when he realised the importance and the fullness of that love, it was too late.


          2. Perhaps somewhere there is a proverb or homily for those of us who had to repudiate our parents in order to live at all.

            I know there is a large tribe, because we find each other.


          3. We find each other? 🙂
            I talked about the schism with my father somewhere in this blog. Usually the offspring needs some contrast with parents to grow up. Hopefully it is only temporary or too much sorrow will ensue.


    1. That’s true, Paul. You have a winning personality.
      I doubt you’re speaking of the second guy. 🙂


        1. I know you were speaking of Nino, Paul. Just kidding.
          Prince Altieri was very gracious to Nino, I agree.


    2. @Paul
      I have always found in you, Paul, a humanity that somewhat reminds me of my mother’s family and that is peculiar of you only. Mind I am not flattering you man.
      You’ve been a warm & witty presence in mine and others’ blogs, I think everybody recognizes it.

      And since they met you through me, I think bloggers should pay me at least 5 dollars every time you comment on their blogs 🙂


  2. What a wonderful post. I followed links, and more links to read about the Papal guard and other papal armed forces in history.


  3. I had to read this three times before I began to realise what it was all about, and even then only after reading the comments.

    All that unnecessary agony trying to remember my history master’s lessons about the Thirty Years’ War!

    Seriously, I think I must be missing a large section of brain. Mind you, once on track I enjoyed it enormously.


    1. Richard, you made me laugh.

      Well, I had inserted a link to ‘The Thirty Years War’, “one of the most destructive conflicts in European history.” 🙂

      Thank you for your appreciation. Carlo and his sister Agnese, my maternal grandmother, are the most characteristic Roman thing we have in our family, so I thought it appropriate to post something about their (almost disappeared) world given the theme of this blog.


  4. I just love reading memoirs! No history can be understood until we see events through stories of people we can relate to.

    Hope everything is good with you on this new year.


    1. Everything’s is excellent Rosaria. The same I hope for you and your family.

      Yes, memoirs make history alive. I would add, they make us understand that history regards nothing but real people like us, millions of them.

      I remember what one great Italian thinker and writer wrote to his son just before dying:

      La storia ti dovrebbe piacere “perché riguarda gli uomini viventi e tutto ciò che riguarda gli uomini, quanti più uomini è possibile, tutti gli uomini del mondo in quanto si uniscono tra loro in società e lavorano e lottano e migliorano se stessi, non può non piacerti più di ogni altra cosa.”


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