Second and last part of Pedro’s story. As I said in the first part of this story I am impressed by Pedro’s personality, by his intelligence and extreme hardiness towards fatigue or any kind of climate. He has a lively and authoritative look. He’s pensive sometimes. Not the gloomy pensive, though. The optimistic pensive. He hums while he works.
Pedro directs a team of 10-15 workers, some of them appearing as impenetrable Inca masks to me.
There’s regret in him that the Peruvian ancient cultures were wiped out. “How could they treat the Inca civilization like that?” he laments. Even today – he says – there’s a lot of gold up there. The mountain peasants are poor but they’re surrounded by precious minerals.
“You dig the mountain and you see gold, you see copper. I have been working in the mines. Then foreigners arrived who took away everything. The people, who were poor before, are still poor today.”
His eyes lit up when he saw we speak English at home now and then. He’s therefore started to take English classes.
“We’d be a strong community in Italy had we harmony. There’s envy and jealousy instead towards those who have success.”
One interesting thing he told me about Chile. “After the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship the people have straightened up and now they respect the rules, while everybody in Peru is tricking everybody and there’s total anarchy. A folk sometimes needs some straightening up.”
This final observation – let me digress – reported by an ex 1968 student like me who saw Augusto Pinochet as the devil incarnate … Things must be seen from many view angles, and generally speaking democracy isn’t a plant that adapts itself to any terrain, I believe.
I’ll postpone the final part of the Roman Jews writing and will speak about Pedro today.
Pedro is a 49-year-old Peruvian emigrated to Italy long ago. He has created a small construction firm that takes care of everything – masonry, electrical and plumbing infrastructure etc. The work done is professional and accurate.
I find Pedro’s personality impressive. Here are bits of his life story, told trying to use his own words.
His father died when he was 8 so his mother had to roll up her sleeves. She has been a great woman. Pedro as a boy was busy doing any possible job in the streets of Lima, washing windscreens, polishing shoes – he had to be ingenious in many ways.
When coming back to Lima years later and meeting again his former street pals he found out many had ended up in drugs and some had died.
In Peru too, he says, there’s this street children problem and the cleanup squads that murder them. But he committed no crime on the street. It’s his mother – he says. She raised him the hard way. Iron-willed she borne them all completely by herself, tied to a rope fastened to a beam, with the babies being brought to the world and she cutting the umbilical cord with her bare hands.
She is over 80 and sick now. Pedro’s brother phoned him to ask him to come back for next Christmas or he won’t see her again.
Pedro’s parents were from the Andes. They weren’t native Liman. You’ve got the plains over the ocean, the big mountains and the jungle in Peru [see the picture on the right.]
They teach humility, honesty and hard work in the Andean mountains, he says. That is why when this folk get down to the plains they are too naive and get easily cheated. These people meet a world where cunning and dishonesty are winning. This creates confusion in their heads, he says.
The Andean is more active, has a tougher character and is most resistant to fatigue. At the big markets in Lima lots of them manage the stands. Their bodies are smaller and their skin darker. The native Liman has lighter skin and a bigger body instead.
The Peruvian from the Andes in Italy aren’t usually working in the Italian families for housework. They set up construction, cleaning or transportation firms. Pedro always tells his compatriots to learn a job well instead of trying to figure out how to make money quickly. “It’ll be your wealth” he says.
He is happy when there’s problems to solve. “I love le grane! [trouble]” he keeps saying while shaking a head a bit too large compared to the body. Difficulties do not discourage him. They make him more resourceful instead.
He has learned both from his mother and from the street.
His mother Maria was a strict woman and when she wanted to punish her children and they fled away like lightning she caught them while asleep in the deep of the night and beat them up soundly. I didn’t ask him whether his mother remarried or not. He told me that, with the years passing, life had become a bit easier for his family. This made his brothers different. They didn’t have to fight as much as he did.
Having a good head is all that matters in life, he says.
He regrets not having had any education, nor having read enough – he saw the piles of books in our apartment. He’s glad his children had the opportunity to study. One of them will soon be an engineer.
His sons and daughters ask him:
“Papà, had you been born again, what job would you do?”
“Papà, the mason again?”
“Yes, the mason. That’s the thing I love most.”
The previous post on the Roman Jews had kicked off an interesting conversation with readers and especially with Lichanos on a theme central in this blog: Romanness past and present.
Huge topic, I know.
Lichanos’ energizing comments have though compelled me to clarify and integrate what I had in mind. I really thank ALL my readers for their contribution. Discussion helps to clarify and enrich lumpy mind stuff still at an intuition stage (see my method post.)
My friend Mario has told me recently: “You are exploiting your commentatori”.
Roman-like, and using polite words in my translation, I told him he better shut his helluva mouth up.
So what Davide Limentani said is probably true: the Roman Jews are the most ancient Romans surviving. The origin of their roman-ness appears to be prior to the era of the Flavian Emperors. Actually Jews have lived in Rome for over 2,000 years!
I don’t understand why you say the Jews are the most ancient Romans. What about non-Jews whose families have been in Rome just as long? Or are there none, what with migration, free movement, and the currents of history? Are you saying that the ghetto and the social restrictions on Jews kept their community intact all that time while others dissolved? THAT would be quite an irony!
Yes, the ghetto, the social restrictions and the tenacious interrelation ethnicity / religion / nationality typical of the Jews helped them to remain sort of intact compared to other Romans, I believe.
Are they Roman, Jewish or both? Both in my view. And their Roman side is very ancient, there’s a lot of evidence: their cooking, their behaviours, their vernacular sooo Roman and archaic to our ears. I mean, why shouldn’t they be Roman? After living in Rome and beholding the Tiber for 2,000 years …
An irony? Romanness has nothing to do with an ethnic group. It’s cultural transmission, like at the (multi-ethnic) times of the Empire.
Touché! The stereotype inverted! I was thinking it was ironic because Jews are usually thought of as the “other – not us” group, so it seemed ironic that they would be the most Roman. Of course the Jews are the most Roman, stands to reason given their history there…
MoR Jews … usually thought of as the “other – not us” group
A bit being due to elements of the Jewish culture, people who see the Jews as aliens are either racist, stupid or narrow-minded (I’ll bypass the religious fanatics). Variety is what makes life interesting! Plus they are usually very intelligent, which is not bad these days.
My personal take on Romanness has been pruned from the above conversation for the sake of readability. See the upcoming post for it. The Roman Jews (2) writing will soon follow.
“Who’s more Roman than the Roman Jews? Some of us date back from the times of Emperor Titus [39-81 AD]” – Davide Limentani told me in the early 80s.
Limentani was (and perhaps still is) at the head of a big wholesale and retail glass and silver company in Rome. I had phoned him three days earlier for an interview that had to be published on the Roman daily La Repubblica.
I remember a lovely spring day in the old alleys of the Roman Ghetto, with swallows crying over a glorious blue sky. He was sitting at his desk in the aisle of an impressively ramified, catacomb-like store in via Portico d’Ottavia 47 (look at its stripped-down sign above,) crammed with an immense variety of crystal, pottery, silver, china, pewter, anything one can think of – his swift and bright eyes looking in every direction.
The firm had / has among its clients popes, cardinals, celebrities and governments, including the White House. Davide is descendant of Leone, who in 1820 started the most ancient wholesale glassware store in Rome which still bears his name: Leone Limentani – 1820 Roma.
“Leone er cocciaro” [coccio = fragment]: that’s how they called him” Davide said smiling. “He had in fact started with glass junk and had accumulated a big credit with the S. Paolo Glass-works, whose effigy was on every glass – the old Roman bibitari [sellers of drinks] remember it well. The S. Paolo Glass-works were having difficulties because of some faulty articles, and, since a 1514 papal edict allowed the Jews to trade only in commodities “of secondary importance” Leone exclaimed: “The edict doesn’t forbid me!” so he bought out the second rate articles from the S. Paolo thus laying the foundation of his new activity.”
“The Roman Jews are almost 20,000” Davide continued “and only at the Portico of Octavia they live in a community. A love-hate relationship with the ghetto, they have” he confessed handing some pictures of his family to me. When the Piedmontese [who unified Italy 150 years ago] opened the Ghetto’s doors in 1870 many Jews left with the desire of forgetting all they had suffered here. But they soon came back because the rione Sant’Angelo represents all their roots. In the summer evenings the elderly sit in the open air and speak a vernacular almost dantesco, dantesque, in its character: ‘Guarda che vituperio!’ [ = ‘watch all this vituperation!’.]”
They Never Passed Under the Arch of Titus
Titus Flavius Vespasianus, Emperor of Rome. Traditionally the Roman Jews never passed under the arch of Titus. There’s a reason. This ‘delight of the human kind’, as the historian Suetonius called him, didn’t turn such a delight to the Jews, who saw Jerusalem sacked and its temple destroyed by Titus’ armies in 70 AD. Domitian, Titus’ younger brother, built the arch to commemorate the victory and on one side panel of it [see the image above,] carved in Pentelic marble, we see the spoils of the temple during the triumphal procession in Rome.
From that war we know that a group of Jews ended their lives as gladiators in the circus at Caesarea, the Roman stronghold in Palestine. Others died in the Sardinian or Spanish mines. A large number though were brought to Rome.
Now it turns the Romans needed labour to build the Colosseum. So the stones of the most famous Roman monument were wetted by the sweat of many slaves among which were the Jews captured by Titus. This group had been though greeted by an already flourishing Jewish community – merchants, freedmen and slaves – who had come to Rome 130 years earlier together with Pompey the Great at the end of his wars in the East.
Today’s Roman Jews seem to be the descendants of these two Jewish settlements in Rome – and of others arriving I don’t know when and where from.
Therefore what Davide Limentani said is probably true: the Roman Jews arethe most ancient Romans surviving. The origin of their roman-ness appears to be prior to the Flavian era. Actually “Jews have lived in Rome for over 2,000 years, longer than any other European city” (!) [Jewish Encyclopedia.]
Not the place here to discuss the reasons of the clash between the Romans and the Jews, which gave birth to many wars and ended up with the Jews leaving Palestine. As for the Roman Jews, we know that they had been treated benevolently by Julius Caesar who had also exonerated them from any tax during their sabbatical year. From Suetonius we know that at Caesar’s death the Jews in Rome flocked to his funeral with big lamentations, and it is even possible that some of them identified Caesar with the Messiah” (read livius.org on this, note 6.)
During the Middle Ages the life of the Roman Hebrews had its ups and downs but basically was not too bad. When though in 1517 Luther nailed the 95 theses that will split Western Christianity into Protestants and Catholics, a dark epoch of religious wars and fanaticism began.
On the 14th of July 1555 Pope Paul IV promulgated a Bull where all the rights of the Jewish community were cancelled and the Jewish Ghetto was walled and provided with gates.