Rome at dawn
Rome at dawn. Click for attribution and to enlarge

A man-to-man thing, after an earlier post on how different women and men can be (see the original in Italian.)


Rome, April 2004. 6 o’clock of a cold but bright morning.

I am looking at the Roman rooftops, sitting in my terrace. It’s almost dawn and I’m cold.

You know, I had two sisters and 8 female first cousins and I met him when we were 3-4. He therefore became my eldest brother.

My Eldest Brother

I have heard him on the telephone the night before after many years of silence.

So now on my terrace on the first shred of paper I found I’m quickly jotting down the words I have in my head for fear of forgetting them.

Words thrown spontaneously – and a bit savage too perhaps.

1950s-1960s remote, antediluvian stuff?

What can I say, we lived in immediate post-war Italy. Judge for yourself.

My 'brother' at 13. We had the same colours, green eyes and blonde hair, but he was blonder. They took us for real brothers

For My Eldest Brother

My friend, companion of happy adventures
during the prime of life,
at 6 in a Roman morning,
a cold breeze running over the rooftops
of a pagan city,
you, companion and brother,
I here come to celebrate
as in an ancient rite,
a pencil splashing words
rapidly on a page,
words alive, unlaboured.

You taught me to enjoy this life,
its primordial side and strength;
I, more fearful,
brought up in a world of women,
was taught by you manly ways,
the male attributes, or nuts,
that you always had,
and have: do not forget!

Oh fuck, male attributes,
may the Lord be thanked!
In a world full of empty
jaded and phony people,
you always were an example,
my friend and brother,
of strength and courage
much more than my father.
You – and my mother’s brothers
so dear and much much loved.

And my father,
who meant a great deal,
from him I took other things.
But you were so much to me.
One more year is a lot
when one is so young,
It helps to establish a primacy
that I always have recognized you.

And here, on this small terrace
of the city of Rome,
in front of the ancient temples
of our primogenial culture,
I honour you,
my eldest brother;
I celebrate you, that primacy still recognizing
not solely because of age.

At this point red wine I would drink
(but it is early in the morning…)
the full-bodied red Tuscan wine
of our wonderful winter evenings
in our countryside – do you recall? –
when, roasted meat over embers
the Dionysian pleasures
of meat and wine you delivered
and of the women
taken by the hair
and gently, strongly,
tenderly loved.

The breeze is now warmer.
Words begin to fail.

I only hope,
dear friend, my strong companion
and eldest brother,
to have conveyed to you
these memories, these emotions
during abrupt awakening
after a phone call.

[Translation by Geraldine]

[This sweet, generous Celtic woman
is not responsible for the ‘bad words’
that are mine since how
could she understand them
plus Google translator
doesn’t provide help on that]


My friend at 22 with his dad Michele. They had a very strong bond. While G's mum was Tuscan his dad was from the South, which meant a lot to both of us

Note. I had talked to him the night before on the phone, as I’ve said. We hadn’t seen or talked to each other since years.

That is probably why I woke with a start at 5:30 am with my head so full of that joy – the years of infancy and adolescence, any reader knows them: we spent them together in the Arezzo’s countryside every single summer of the 1950s-1960s .

Joys (and sorrows) but all lived with exuberance and almost violent intensity.

Arezzo and its country. There's a third friend and we were like the 3 Musketeers. Shot with my little cellular Nokia E63. Click to zoom in

He had a house across from mine but when we first saw each other over the wall (I was alone, he with his grandma, a gentle lady as of from an old-time painting, we had 3-4 years) we did not like each other at all. He looked prissy and too well-groomed to my taste.

Then one day his mother took him to our house for an official visit (the two mums were close friends). Disturbed we were a bit so we began to throw pebbles at a can placed at 10 yards from where we were on a stone table, just to kill moodiness. He was a year older.

The throwing-pebbles-at-a-can thing triggered ALL. We have never left each other since then (apart from a few intervals.) Thing being our brains knew how to fly together, and we laughed and laughed and we laughed out loud. His mind, odd and humorous, was rich with ideas.

In the picture below I am 18. From then on we had the first break. A long one.

Man of Roma at 18 (1966.) Our friendship was about to go on a hiatus. Pauline O'Connor, my piano teacher, had just arrived. Magister will also, but in 1972

Now that we are old (or almost) we feel even closer and there won’t be intervals any more.

It’s this desire we have to stay close at the end of a marvellous adventure we did begin together, in the company also of the loved ones from his side and from my side – who make our life more human (and who console us of its miseries.)

Related posts.
Read 2 of our first adventures with the ‘other sex’:

Sex and the city (of Rome). Season II.1

37 thoughts on “For My Eldest Brother

  1. @Readers

    the women taken by the hair

    I remember Clark Gable in many films just grabbed women’s heads (in elevators, at the frontier, in Atlanta, anywhere) and kissed them with force they trying to escape from his powerful grip but then both the force and the sweetness subdued them.

    Ahhhh …those were the movies that nourished us I’ll be so silly to admit. We together saw for example ALL great US westerns (The Magnificent Seven; Rio Bravo; Seven Brides for Seven Brothers etc.).

    It all sounded clear to us, the well distinct roles of men and women in their fight for survival where gender complementarity stood out clearly: the women, as educators of the rough men, cooking and taking care of house & kids (and using a gun too occasionally); while the men hunted, fought Indians, defended the damsels in distress & the family & the country – all THAT stuff, that simple but tough morality totally mesmerized us.

    I discussed this a bit *with Lichanos* one year ago.


  2. The throwing-pebbles-at-a-can thing triggered ALL.

    Beautiful image. Yep, always those minuscule details remain glued to our heart and brain. And also trigger evocation, the Once upon a time of our stories, our beloved and single and unique stories. Must say I love this tone of yours, this personal shade intertwined from time to time in your blog. I like story telling…

    Abrazos hombreromano.

    pd. Pick up the phone during a dream, it works…
    ppd. and if you asked the feminist within me I also love to be taken by the hair…


    1. Thank you Ana! As I told you, Mexico and Latin America will have a bigger part in this blog, it cannot but be like that (and I know you will help me).

      Sure the dream (or empyrean) phone will work? 🙂

      Abrazos. Muchos


    1. Paul, did I ever say this blog was about modernity, was about the androgynous future we quickly are heading for lol (and not about mummies’ land)?

      Yes, it is comforting.


  3. Ana picked out the same image that lingers in my mind after reading this journey back in time, narrated from your Roman terrace.

    New young friends, not having much to say, engaging in a simple pleasure: skipping stones, one by one, across the pond.


      1. Si, mi amiga de mexico. Es verdad.

        I worship the legendary story tellers, a lost art in the current publishing world of money-driven quick fix lit.


      2. @Ana

        It may be presumptuous to think of it, but if you’re referring to a certain story teller 1) he is no big deal and 2) most of all he’s in no need of mothers, he having enough at home 😦


        1. Sorry to say so… but I was referring to Chery and myself lulling the storyteller within… us 😉


        2. I had suspicions I had been presumptuous. I’m not the one to be a writer. But, it was that ‘maternally’ that misguided me. Women have this maternal thing that drives men crazy (or makes them happy) :mrgreen:


    1. Very evocative, thank you Commentatorio (much to the point: we both liked water but he was the fishing fiend, not me)

      It Stoned Me

      Half a mile from the county fair
      And the rain keep pourin down
      Me and billy standin there
      With a silver half a crown
      Hands are full of a fishin rod
      And the tackle on our backs
      We just stood there gettin wet
      With our backs against the fence

      Oh, the water
      Oh, the water
      Oh, the water
      Hope it don’t rain all day

      And it stoned me to my soul
      Stoned me just like jelly roll
      And it stoned me
      And it stoned me to my soul
      Stoned me just like goin home
      And it stoned me

      Then the rain let up and the sun came up
      And we were gettin dry
      Almost let a pick-up truck nearly pass us by
      So we jumped right in and the driver grinned
      And he dropped us up the road
      We looked at the swim and we jumped right in
      Not to mention fishing poles

      Oh, the water
      Oh, the water
      Oh, the water
      Let it run all over me


      On the way back home we sang a song
      But our throats were getting dry
      Then we saw the man from across the road
      With the sunshine in his eyes
      Well he lived all alone in his own little home
      With a great big gallon jar
      There were bottles too, one for me and you
      And he said hey! there you are

      Oh, the water
      Oh, the water
      Oh, the water
      Get it myself from the mountain stream



          1. It’s a figure of speech of sorts. ‘It stoned’ me is a way of saying it shocked or touched me all the way to my soul. Like getting hit with a brick.

            At least, I think that’s the message here.

            The song’s melody and harmonies apply more than the lyrics with this post, I realize that but the pulse of your post gave the feeling of this song.


          2. Thank you Commentatorio. But I think also the lyrics apply somewhat to male friendship:

            “Me and Billy” ….they go fishing, this notion of water all around (the rain, the pond) is beautiful, and they jump in the pick-up together, and they see the man with sunshine in his eyes in his little home, and then again, together, they get water from the man ‘who got it himself from the mountain stream’.

            Very poetic. Thank you Ale

            Get ‘stoned’ we used to say at my time. Like a brick on the head in fact. It’s 40 years I don’t get a brick on my head (and it’s good it stays like that).


          3. My interpretation: Jelly roll is early 20th century African-American slang for, um, very nice parts of girls. And stoned is, well… stoned. Intoxicated on a few tokes of good cannibis. Flying. Euphoric (like parts of girls make some people.)


          4. Your interpretation is so seductive I want to know more. Which parts? I mean, at a certain age ones gets confused and needs help, a very natural process.


          5. But I still don’t understand why women keep saying they won’t give their jellyroll parts (very evocative) while they keep giving them ALL the time. A sort of ‘hide and seek’ game, yes, it must be like that.

            By the way, did I find the original Sweet Emma?


  4. I feel real envy at the thought of a friendship of that vintage, still continuing.

    I was very close to three other girls when I was young, whom I regarded as sisters, and all those friendships went to Hell in different ways — in two cases, because the other women ran off after some ignis fatuus and ceased to value old friendships. You are lucky to have this.


    1. There have been large intervals, during the 68 period for example – when we followed different paths, I realized my piano career was a failure and went into a neurotic phase after which I met my mentor who rescued me; Flavia had a role too.

      Now these forks are trivia compared to an entire life’s arch.

      Contact your girlfriends: infancy stuff is durable, but perhaps you’re still too young to complete the circle of life.


      1. Actually I did tag one of them. She was glad to hear from me, but the old magic was gone. The other I hunted up on the Web, and she’s still clearly entranced by the political mania that aborted everything we enjoyed together: I found her listed as an elected official of some wide spot in the road in Massachusetts. And they both had kids; this ruins female friendships for me.

        Some things, you have to let the dead bury their dead. I learned that from my parents.


        1. she was glad to hear from me, but the old magic was gone

          I’ll repeat: wait till you reach an age when ALL past will become more important to ALL of you girls 🙂

          A clear sign of senescence but you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

          Or, in the Italian equivalent – an osé allusion as it is our silly custom -:

          you can’t have the barrel full of wine and your man (or woman) drunk


  5. We’re a gang of 10 guys. Some of us have been together since kindergarten. We’re all still hanging out – restaurants, events, sports etc.

    We used to joke that we’d all get married on the same day with the reception in one gigantic hall. That’s how tight (though less than when we had no responsibilities of course) we are.

    Our parents still freak over how long it’s lasted. Old friends from school we bump into can’t believe it.

    In fact, I still get together with my French-Canadian friend I first met on my street every once in a while. The lasting memory there is his father had Montreal Expos baseball season tickets and he’d take us to games. I must have gone to 20-25 games for a few summers between 1981-87.

    The bonds of our roots remain in us it seems.


    1. Our parents still freak over how long it’s lasted.

      You know I like this language man.

      The lasting memory there is his father had Montreal Expos baseball season tickets and he’d take us to games

      I may sound a one-track maniac (I am) but this sounds pure JD Salinger to me.

      So you were Italian, French … which other nationalities? Canada is fantastic in that it preserves ethnicity cultures. I remember you once said one of your buds was from Tuscany, right? And how you realized his food habits were different from yours (game, meat cooked in a certain way etc.)

      I wish your infancy roots will be with you forever amico. One has to work for it a bit too though.


      1. We are friends and married many nationalities. You name it we’ve encountered it by way of marriage, courtship, sports, school friends, whatever:

        Central American, Chilean (my friend married into it), Brazilian, Cuban (a buddy who used to hang out with us, Jewish (you haven’t lived until you get to know them), Portuguese (possibly the prettiest girls in Montreal pound for pound), Lebanese, Egyptian, Irish, German (Jeff and Greg were the only two guys in our extended gang of German-Italian heritage), Greek, Palestinian, Mexican, Filipino, Burmese, Thai, Korean (my friend adopted two Koreans), French (from France), American, Native (the private college I attended had Mohawks), Armenian (awesome pizza), Hungarian, Polish, Croatian, Serbian, Moroccan, Jamaican, Haitian, South African, Kurdish (Long live Cobra! Cobra was the nickname to Richie the only Kurd in town), Indian – to name a few off the top of la tete.

        – You really like this Salinger connection, eh?

        -Yes, he is Tuscan from Lucca. And speaks wonderful Italian and Spanish now that he’s married Chilean. Different diet from us Calabrians/Campobassani. Exactly, more game. He makes sauce with boar and sometimes horse meat.

        Rooster with rosemary was delicious. His father also had an outside brick pizza oven. He’d make pizza “Tuscan” style.

        Troppo pesante per me il gusto.

        In fact, we’ll be meeting for lunch this week.

        He too has a reverence for my writing; and he’s a practical, no nonsense guy when it comes to art despite his impeccable sense of panache and style. He’s the type that wears a red jacket and looks super in a Fiat or Alfa-Romeo spider.


  6. Handsome males!

    My favourite line in your poem:
    “..a cold breeze running over the rooftops of a pagan city..”


    1. [update:I like that line too and you have well rendered it Geraldine]

      I know my ‘eldest brother’ is handsomer than I am, so now all the women will go to him. It’s part of the male-to-male thing, I accept it, no kidding 🙂


      I thank you very much Geraldine, you have been marvellous!

      G and / or his SPOUSE – La Sposa – might pop up here but I’m not quite sure. It’d be fun.


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