Downtown alley by night in today’s Rome. Click for attribution

12th 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.


Having a small house and also needing more freedom our family had the men’s and the women’s departments. The males with my father, the females with my mother.

Only in the dead of night one could see my father (he suffered a bit from insomnia) wandering like a ghost around all departments, opening windows, letting pure and new air in and then closing all up again; and this invariably all nights, not just on one occasion, in summer and in winter, ‘to refresh the air’ he used to say.

The departments lasted untouched until some space was made due to the departure of two males for military service. Thus my father could have a room on his own while my mother remained with her two daughters, Agnese and Maria.

I on my own in another room since my father went to bed at 9 pm while I (by that time older and clerk) was a night owl and came back home at impossible hours and could therefore disturb my father’s extremely light sleep. My mother stayed up very late at night since when everyone was asleep she only felt free to collect her thoughts in fervent, long and exhausting prayer.

Then she prayed quite a lot for all of us, for her husband already much suffering, for her daughter, the nun, for us sons, for the other spinster daughter and also primarily because while in prayer she could well wait until I came back home so that she could serenely rest.

Every night one could hear this endless two-rooms-away duet between dad and mum:

“Rachele, turn off the light.”
“Has Carlo come back home?”
“Not yet.”
“What is he doing?”
“May the Madonna guide him and save him from danger. Turn off the light now.”
“I’m almost done.”

My mother at last heard a distant voice that was approaching and singing in the silence of the night. It was me who practiced in the nocturnal quiet in search of the best voice setting while phrasing some opera tune. Therefore when I entered our house I found complete darkness and the deepest calm, the only sign of life being Titino’s warmly and silent welcome (our dog.)

Sitting softly at the table without making any noise I ate the food now cold mum had prepared for me. The calm was though only apparent since my father certainly did not sleep and my mother perhaps neither.

Roman street lamp at night time. Click for attribution

At that point one could hear as light as a breath my father’s voice giving the family news, commenting for me on the facts of the day, criticizing me.

And I silent, without breathing a word …

“Yes, he (that is me) thinks he’s intelligent and understanding because he has studied (I was graduated in law) and instead he’s a twerp! Now he’s begun to study singing … but he has no voice!!”

And there followed the most ‘tactful’ allusions to my faults, to my manias or peculiar expressions.

“Well then, well then” was my pet phrase.

After which he softly and in spurts repeated excerpts from letters I had received, from invitation cards or postcards from my future wife that he had read, since he, the father, had the right to know everything, to read everything, even to open a letter addressed to me.

I remember that at Christmas time Bice, my future how future wife – at that time only our, or rather my acquaintance – sent me the cutest postcard with the image of a little angel knocking at a closed door, under which she had written:

“Unfortunately I do not know if I ever will be that little angel … “

And in the night my father punctual and in the silence of my very late dinner, with a petite voice full of intention, began to say and to repeat many times:

“Unfortunately I do not know ….”

Right. Unfortunately? Why then unfortunately … because I was my father’s real worry and continuous preoccupation. He talked not much with me anymore because I was grown up, I had studied, deemed myself self-sufficient and especially because he felt like a reticence to show his interest to me. I too felt a reserve and a sort of fear (pauriccia) towards my father; in substance I feared his caustic spirit and the power of his humour so much superior to mine.

However my mother told me that my father by coming home every evening minutely inquired about me and my doings.

“What is Carlo saying? What is he doing? Was he in a cheerful mood? Why doesn’t he take a wife?”

He cared after all a lot about me but didn’t want me to feel it, he didn’t want to confess it to me or, better still, he did not want to even admit it.

Original version in Italian

17 thoughts on “Calcagni’s Memoirs. Carlo, Night Owl, Comes Back Home Late. Night Scenes (12)

  1. Mothers who stay up till all hours praying! Do you suppose that it does as much good when I stay up till all hours worrying?

    One constant: nobody sleeps.

    Leaving comments on blogspot befuddles me still. Working on it. I don’t want to be left out.


    1. Jenny, on Blogspot you have to be patient and click several times when the comment comes up again until you get some characters to reproduce and a notice that your comment has beeen published. That would be about 4 clicks. Annoying, yes, but you are not then left out.


    2. @Jenny

      Paul has replied as for Blogspot.

      Worrying can be painful for the mother and maybe useless. But at least you care. If you do, kids feel it. Some parents just don’t care, or not enough. Much worse.

      You will not be left out Jenny.


    1. Great sculpture. I was introduced at 18 to Dali by Mariza, the Calif woman who taught me to speak English.
      It clearly suggests the Elephant with the obelisk on top in Rome’s Maria sopra Minerva. I well remember our discussion on it.


    1. @Sled

      … how anyone ever grows up sane

      Perhaps with fortune and virtue, as the ancients said. Id est (virtue) by striving to survive / adapt with all our qualities (talents, will etc.), mending / bypassing our flaws, creating our own opportunities; (fortune) the sheer luck element counting too though.

      As an example, the cards I was given were bad since I mostly lacked a mother and was always fighting against my father. The opportunities I missed are countless. But I survived sane until now being stubborn (mountain breed from my dad’s side).

      The future, at 62, I cannot predict. One needs a witch for that 🙂


  2. Hi Man of Roma,
    This is a new perspective on the father and son relationship. I wonder why generous-hearted Nino would become so critical of his son? Is it possible Nino had become tempermental because he felt neglected?

    Nonetheless, going through someone’s private letters is a sure way to cause a rift. This may be true in any century.

    Thank you for the post. I like the lamplight.


    1. Tomorrow dear Geraldine. I am about to post at this blog two musical ramblings to disprove the stereotype that Italians are always happy lol. Almost done, I just need to find a picture. Ciao and grazie for your presence.


    2. Dear Geraldine,

      I don’t think he was really critical of his son. It was sheer love, and a special type of (humoristic) Roman grumpiness in truth much generous-hearted.

      Certainly, here he was old and already sick, more anxious about his son, and, at the end of his life he possibly also ended up by paying a price for the humiliation of being impoverished and in contact with peers, the Roman nobility, people of great wealth.

      Moreover Carlo’s father died in 1909, so here we may be in 1900, or 1895, more than one century ago.

      So the letters opened… at that time a father had more power over his family, even if Rome had not much of a macho culture compared others parts of the country.


  3. has someone already commented that these memoirs would make a wonderful book?

    there is always something in the story to connect with, a century later.

    like jenny, i connect with the insomnia and worry. the opening and closing of windows in the night, such a familiar sound.

    also, a father who “fixes” things to show his love, rather than use words. dad still stiffens up when we go in for a hug.

    it is now common practice to “break something” (remove a battery or let some air out of a tire) before a visit to dad’s house so that he can have a chance to show his love.

    in college, i would sometimes get a letter from dad with the sunday comics in it, nothing more. now my son gets the same package from grampa.


    1. Hello Dafna,

      I think you captured quite well these little things that make family relationships: the worry, the insomnia (also noticed by Jenny), the stiffening up that only apparently is detachment.

      The flow of love between parents and children is no easy thing, it takes a lot of .. sensitiveness – you women are better in this -, and deep love cannot but imply sorrow. Lack of love is much simpler lol. Little things are important. I am sometimes bad at all this and too lost in my stupid dreams. Bad bad bad.

      1 century or 20 centuries later it doesn’t make any difference. We are still humans, have the same problems, poems are there to give us joy and prove that the core didn’t change at all.


Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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