I am a man of Rome, Italy. Some of my ancestors, many centuries ago, were already citizens of Rome. So I guess I am a real Roman, or sort of, since some barbaric blood must unquestionably flow in my veins, Germanic probably and Gallic from the Alpine region.
My mother tongue is Italian, not very different from the Latin spoken by the common people at the times of the late Roman Empire.
The reason I am attempting to communicate in this Northern language – which I do not master entirely and which, though a bit chilly to my heart, I find not entirely deprived of charm – is that variety excites me like a drug and I am tired of talking mostly to my countrymen, this lingua franca, English, allowing me hopefully a wider exchange of ideas.
Why this blog
One reason, I have said, is wider communication.
But what can a Roman of today say to the world? Such a big statement (if there weren’t the Web to make it not entirely such.)
I think it is a great privilege to be born and to be raised here, such a special place, to the extent that something must have penetrated, something distinctive and worthy of being transmitted – in order to be able, in our turn, to receive.
I hope for comments from Western and non-Western people, since Rome and the Romans have a mediation nature that comes from the Mediterranean.
Rome in some way is more Mediterranean than European.
However, as she was already universal during the ancient Roman days, she has continued to be universal as a religious centre, like Mecca or Jerusalem, which makes Rome something way beyond Europe (*).
Religion will not be a central topic here (there excepting ancient religions, of course) since, greatly respecting all faiths I personally have none, being an agnostic.
I like to think that I am similar to those Romans of the past who counted mostly on knowledge and reason (the followers of Epicure, Ἐπίκουρος – one among many possible ancient examples.)
Three Reasons for Uniqueness
Ages have passed since this great city was the capital of the known world, this role now being played by New York, London or Shanghai, perhaps.
Rome is though unique in the first place because “among all the greatest cities of the ancient world – Nineveh, Babylon, Alexandria, Tyre, Athens, Carthage, Antiochia – she is the only one that has continued to exist without any interruption, never reduced to a semi-abandoned village but rather finding herself often in the middle of world events and, equally often, paying for that a price (**).”
Secondly, and more importantly, Rome is the city of the soul (as Byron, Goethe and Victor Hugo put it,) of our authentic Western soul, since Europe and the West were shaped here and these roots are sacred – to me surely, and I think and hope to most of us.
These roots we have to rediscover in order to better open up to others in a new spirit of humanitas and conciliation (two chief components of the everlasting Roman mind.)
We all here in the West must encourage a totally new attitude which may enable us to better face both our present crisis of values and the radical changes looming ahead which might cause our swift decline.
Lastly, Rome, the eternal city, is unique because she is also one of the most beautiful cities in the world, if not the most beautiful.
Beyond her imperial testimonies, her stupendous urban spaces and squares, even small piazzas and alleys radiate that “sacred aura” which comes from the millennia and to which ever increasing multitudes from every land come to pay their tribute.
The capital of our beloved and civilised French cousins, Lutetia Parisiorum (it’s how the Romans called Paris, after the Parisii, a tribe of the Gallic Senones,) was not but a village until the year 1000 AD. “1700 years younger than Rome! It shows, one can feel it (***).”
Fragments Sent in a Bottle
Scattered fragments of this special identity inserted in a bottle and sent across the Web: this shall be the activity of this blog.
The conveyor of the message is not so important in relation to the greatness of the source and to one ingredient this conveyor might, willingly or unwillingly, possess: he perhaps being like a fossil from a distant past which is dead though, astoundingly enough, alive yet in so many Italians.
Let us admit it. In some central and especially southern areas of this country, minds and habits survive that may puzzle foreigners, historical remnants whose disadvantages towards modernity appear evident. Are they only disadvantages?
All Things Considered
This and other topics will be discussed here by a 60-year-old Roman (2014: 66) whose knowledge can be located at a medium level, with interfaces towards the upper and the lower layers of knowledge.
He will try his best to transmit something useful to others (and to himself) having been an ancient-history & literature educator for 16 years, then converted to Systems Engineering & Training for the last 14 years.
He hopes this blog will allow him to brush up humanities back, which is daunting at his age (not to mention the crazy idea of blogging in English, Italian and bits of other languages.)
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.
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,
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]
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.
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.
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.)
Read 2 of our first adventures with the ‘other sex’:
A man-to-man thing, after the previous post on how different women and men can be.
Roma, aprile 2004. Le 6 di una mattina fredda ma luminosa. Guardo i tetti di Roma. Sono seduto nella mia terrazza. E’ quasi l’alba e ho freddo.
Avevo risentito il mio amico la sera prima al telefono dopo tanti anni di silenzio. Scrivo velocemente a matita sul primo pezzaccio di carta che trovo parole che ho in testa, per paura di dimenticarle.
Parole buttate là, piene di emozione, forse anche un po’ selvagge.
Roba da anni 50s-60s, da epoca remota e superata?
Che volete che vi dica, era l’Italia del dopoguerra, giudicherete voi.
Al mio fratello maggiore
Amico mio, compagno
di scorribande felici
nella fase più piena della vita,
alle 6 di un mattino romano,
la fredda brezza che corre
sui tetti di una città pagana,
io te, compagno mio e fratello,
qui vengo a celebrare
come in un rito antico,
schizzando con la matita
rapide su un foglio
parole vive e non lavorate.
Mi hai insegnato a godere della vita
l’aspetto primordiale e forte;
io, con più timore,
cresciuto in un mondo femminile,
il lato virile mi hai insegnato,
quello con gli attributi,
che hai sempre avuto,
non lo dimenticare!
E cazzo vivaddio gli attributi!
In un mondo spompato
pieno di gente vuota stanca fasulla,
sei sempre stato esempio,
caro fratello mio,
di forza e di coraggio,
molto più che mio padre;
tu, e i miei zii materni,
i carissimi e amati
fratelli di mia madre.
A mio padre,
che pure ha significato tanto,
devo altre cose,
ma tu sei stato molto per me,
un anno in più vuol dire,
quando si è giovanissimi:
aiuta a stabilire il primato
che sempre ti ho riconosciuto.
E qui, in questa piccola terrazza
della città di Roma,
di fronte ai templi antichi
della nostra cultura primigenia,
io qui ti onoro,
fratello mio maggiore;
io qui ti celebro,
quel primato ancora riconoscendo
che non fu solo d’età.
A questo punto vino rosso berrei
(ma è mattino presto…)
il vino rosso forte, toscano,
di quelle serate d’inverno
della nostra campagna.
In cui tu,
la carne arrostita sulle braci,
i piaceri dionisiaci consegnavi
della carne, del vino
e delle femmine prese per i capelli,
e dolcemente, fortemente,
La brezza ora è più calda.
Le parole cominciano a mancare.
amico caro, forte mio compagno
e fratello maggiore,
di averti comunicato
le mie emozioni al brusco risveglio
dopo una telefonata.
Nota. L’avevo sentito la sera prima al telefono. Non ci eravamo rivisti da anni.
Per questo mi sono svegliato di soprassalto alle 5:30, con la testa piena di quella gioia, e che gioia (gli anni dell’infanzia e dell’adolescenza li conoscete tutti): noi li passammo insieme ogni singola estate nella campagna aretina degli anni 50s-60s.
Emozioni, anche dolori.
Ma tutto vissuto con esuberanza ed intensità quasi violente.
Aveva la casa di fronte alla mia ma quando ci vedemmo oltre i muri la prima volta (io solo, lui con la nonna, una cara signora d’altri tempi, avevamo 3-4 anni) non ci piacemmo affatto. Lui mi sembrava perfettino, troppo ben pettinato.
Poi un giorno sua madre lo portò da noi ufficialmente (le due mamme erano molto amiche). Contrariati cominciammo a tirare i sassi a un barattolo messo su un tavolo di pietra, così, tanto per vincere la scontrosità. Aveva un anno più di me.
Il gioco del tiro al barattolo fece scattare tutto. Da allora non ci siamo più lasciati, anche se con intervalli. I nostri cervelli sapevano volare insieme, e ridevamo, ridevamo, ridevamo a crepapelle. Aveva una mente bizzarra, umoristica, piena di idee.
Qui sotto ho 18 anni. Dì li in poi ci fu il primo intervallo. Lungo.
Adesso che siamo vecchi o quasi ci sentiamo ancora più vicini e non ci saranno intervalli.
Credo che sia la voglia di finire l’avventura meravigliosa cominciata insieme, anche con tutte le altre persone care accanto a lui e accanto a me, che ci rendono la vita più umana (e ci consolano delle sue miserie).
Quando si è giovanissimi [see translation following] e ci si imbatte per strada in una ragazza che è il nostro tipo se ne rimane come folgorati, e il dolore è tanto più acuto quanto più difficile (o impossibile) è la soddisfazione di tale desiderio, improvviso e assoluto.
[When we are extremely young and we stumble upon a girl in the street who is our type we are like struck dumb and our pain is all the more acute the more difficult (or impossible) is the satisfaction of our desire, sudden and absolute.]
Un brano di Jack Kerouac rende bene questa vitalità disperata tipica della primissima gioventù (da “On the road” che sfogliavo giorni fa; mi sembra di ricordare che anche J. D. Salinger abbia scritto qualcosa di simile):
[A passage by Jack Kerouac renders well this desperate vitality typical of early youth (from “On the Road” I was leafing through days ago; I think I remember J.D. Salinger wrote something similar too)]:
“I had bought my ticket and was waiting for the LA bus when all of a sudden I saw the cutest little Mexican girl in slacks come cutting across my sight. She was in one of the buses that had just pulled in with a big sigh of airbreaks; it was discharging passengers for a rest stop. Her breasts stuck out straight and true; her little flanks looked delicious; her hair was long and lustrous black; and her eyes were great big blue things with timidities inside. I wished I was on her bus. A pain stabbed my heart, as it did every time I saw a girl I loved who was going the opposite direction in this too-big world”.
In realtà al personaggio di “On the road” le cose poi vanno bene perché i due si ritroveranno casualmente nello stesso autobus e ne nascerà una storia, ma la descrizione della pugnalata è intensa e comunque credo sia esattamente ciò che ciascuno di noi, uomo o donna, ha provato più volte dai 10-12 anni in poi.
[Actually things ended up well for Kerouac’s character since the two will accidentally meet in the same bus and a love affair will ensue, although the description of the ‘stab’ is intense and in any case I believe it is exactly what each of us, man or woman, has experienced several times from 10-12 years of age onwards.]
Rewriting a bit in my mother tongue. After more than three years of blogging in English I am starting to look for words when I speak in Italian. You may use an automatic translator if you will.
Cominciai questo blog partendo da pensieri come questi:
“Vorrei riprendere a scrivere soprattutto come antidoto alla mente bollita. Scrivere in fondo è studiare, almeno per come lo concepisco io, e quindi è un ottimo sistema di autodifesa contro il pericolo di abbrutimento intellettuale che viene, almeno a me, dal lavoro di ingegneria dei sistemi informatici”.
Ora dopo tre anni di scrittura posso dire che la cosa ha funzionato. La mente è più agile e quella di tenere un blog di pensieri, ricerche e annotazioni è una cosa che consiglierei a tutti. E’ così facile abbrutirsi oggi, e a tutte le età.
Semmai nel caso mio particolare c’è un po’ di pena, ma nemmeno tanto, per l’uso continuo della lingua straniera e per quel poco di isolamento in più che un’attività del genere comporta, complice anche il retirement dal lavoro.
A silly story I wrote over at The Critical Line, where Richard, a witty lawyer from London, entertains his guests with his vast knowledge and adorable English humour.
Richard though has a problem.
He’s terribly profound in mathematics and so are many of his guests who seem to share the same horrible contagion.
But, it’d be fair to say, I amthe oneto have a big problem, and, what is this tale but a burst of frustration because of my mathematical ineptitude?
The Tale of Manius
Britannia, 526 CE, in a parallel (and almost identical) universe.
The Western Roman Empire has collapsed. Angles, Saxons and Jutes are invading the Roman province of Britannia from the East. All continental Roman soldiers have gone – but the Romano-Celtic in the West are resisting bravely. Only Manius Papirius Lentulus from Roma has stayed. He lives with the barbarians but risks nothing since he’s considered innocuous by the Angles (or Angli as he says in his language.)
The last Roman soldier has made friends with a few of them: Richard (whom Manius sometimes calls Britannia), Dafna (happened there from a far away land), Cheri, Mr. Crotchety and Phil. In their abstruse language – that Manius understands a bit – they sometimes call him MoR (or, in their weird but cute Latin, Roma.)
A goose has just died for occult reasons MoR isn’t willing to investigate.
A Melodious Sequence, 1,2,3…
Manius felt sorry for the poor goose but also curious about how Cheri might prepare it for lunch.
Approaching Mr. Crotchety he told him he had been so lentus and had forgotten he had something important to tell him.
Dafna was weirdly chanting a melodious sequence of numbers:
Getting closer in rapture MoR noticed Richard and Phil approaching her as well. Her song seemed the usual diatonic scale kids learn by just pressing the white keys of a keyboard, do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-si-do.
But MoR couldn’t figure out a kinda weirdness in that melody, so a stupid look froze in his face. Richard’s smile became sly instead. Phil was scribbling like crazy on a roll of papyrus.
Britannia finally lost his patience and shoved an elbow into Roma’s ribs.
“Ouch Richard!! Are you crazy??”
Then it finally hit Roma. That devil of a woman!! She was chanting her sequence according to an ancient tuning!
“Yes – said Richard triumphantly – it is the Pythagorean tuning based on a stack of perfect fifths, each tuned in the ratio 3:2. The Babylonian tuning, actually, more than 1 thousand years older than Pythagoras. Starting from D for example, the A is tuned such that the frequency ratio of A and D is 3:2, so if D is tuned to 288 Hz, then the A is tuned to 432 Hz, the E above A is also …..”
Dafna interrupted Richard with an odd smile:
“What he means – she said – is that the Pythagorean love for proportions is evident in this scale’s construction, as all of its tones may be derived from interval frequency ratios based on the first three integers: 1, 2, 3. Isn’t that amazing?”
Roma felt trapped.
He was surrounded by the Angli and their allies. And they were ALL mathematicians!!
He began to panic. The last Roman soldier in Britannia, outnumbered, outsmarted, began to run wildly uphill and got lost among the sheep never to be seen again.
The Legend of Roma Continues
A legend says Roma took seven Anglia wives and mixed his blood with the natives.
“Why seven?” asked the Anglia kid to his Anglia grandfather.
The tribe was sitting before a big fire. The summer night was full of stars.
“Because seven is a magic number” replied the Anglia grandfather showily. “The seven hills of Rome, the seven wonders of the world, Jesus saying to Peter to forgive seventy times seven times.”
“But seven – added the Anglia cutie – is also the fourth prime number. It is not only a Mersenne prime (since 23 − 1 = 7) but also a double Mersenne prime since it is itself the exponent for another Mersenne prime, ie 127.”
The Anglia Grandfather paled.
It’s like he saw all his life fall apart in a second. His mind went back to the time when a Roman soldier had fled wildly uphill and had got lost among the sheep.
Even the Anglia kids!! Even THEM!!
His flight had been useless.
That same feeling of panic, of claustrophobia pervaded him.
I blabber with words, why shouldn’t I blabber with sounds. Here are two 1995 piano improvisations. My background is classical but the influence of American music is felt here, the US jazz icon Keith Jarret especially.
Some mushy hesitations, no style choice, are due to slowness of mind – I just didn’t know where the heck to go: improvising is damn hard.
The first piece is more complex and I was capable of re-playing it since I had written the score down. Today it would almost be impossible for me to play it but I have plans for the future plus my guitar is coming back. The second piece is shorter and simpler.
Truth is I like them both but I cannot judge them and certainly at times they sound weird. I just let myself go with the flow.
Musical improvisation and verbal digression are much discussed and related notions in this blog. See the posts at the foot of the page and The Catcher in the Rye book cover image below [J. D. Salinger was very digressive thus creating an overall effect of fresh improvisation.]
While listening to these 2 piano pieces a few days ago (for the first time after 15 years) Flavia declared with an odd smile:
“Your musical wanderings ….but the former I always found addictive and, most of all, it was the soundtrack of some of our best days!”
True. We lived for a while with this music as a background whatever its worth. And I am fortunate that Flavia’s humanity warms me up day by day.
No computer quantizing is utilized – too robotic – so the music is ‘as it was originally played’. As post-production I though added a bit of voice layering to the first piece but not much. In both musics the speed has been made 15% faster – I read from my notes.
The instrument, my beloved vintage synth Korg O1/W – which I stupidly sold – has decent piano sounds although the medium-pitch tones I dislike.
Why musical improvisation is utopian? Because it is a place of the spirit that does not lead to any place. Utopia is a Greek word made of ‘ou’(= no) and ‘τόπος’ (= place), so its meaning is actually ‘in no place’…
I today – 2012-4-19 – learn that Pauline Belviso-O’Connor, the subject of this post, is ‘in full health’ and teaching piano at the University of Western Australia (see this thread). Mine was a huge mistake. I do ask for pardon Pauline!
We were blabbering over at Zeus is watching – with the blog owner and with Paul Costopoulos – about music and a supposed relationship between its rationality and a rationality of the universe. Big deal theme, I know, but crystal-clear Domenico Scarlatti’s music proposed by Zeus was much to the point.
“Perhaps this is where the Pythagoreans went off the rails, but the Existentialists could help us a little. […]
I replied something and then Paul le Canadien observed:
“The video does enhance the complexity of the music. However the very slow motion of the tempo somewhat offsets the brisk musical tempo. A bit unsettling, I dare say.”
I agreed and said:
“You are very right Paul. And, Zeus, Paul, since in music I much prefer a real soul to any philology [I was about to propose a piano performance, but in Scarlatti’s time there were no pianos, or very few], this to me is the perfect Scarlatti:
“[Marta] Argerich, and a young Argerich at that, what a marvelous and sensitive pianist.”
At that moment, I don’t know, I made like a mistake, not sensingwhat was about to happen – mind, this post risks being pathetic, but let me go through with it.
“Paul, Zeus, yes, she was, and still is, one of the Latin goddesses of piano.
Her way of playing reminds me of another goddess, my beloved piano teacher, not at all inferior to her, oh no, though not as beautiful.
Pauline O’Connor was an Irish Australian, a bit graceless maybe especially when compared to very attractive Argerich – O’Connor was a giant by the way – but more powerful, more refined and definitely majestic, only less spontaneous at times due to Benedetti Michelangeli’s too premeditated art.”
[Argerich had instead Vincenzo Scaramuzza as a piano teacher, an Italian Argentine pianist who justly “stressed to her the importance of lyricism and feeling,” born in Calabrian Crotone – Κρότων, the city of Pythagoras, it’s like this ancient sage’s ghost is stalking me …]
She in any case ‘corrected’ Michelangeli’s extreme classicism with her Celtic passion (see this post on Michelangeli, on Italian classicism – and on her in a comment.) She lived close to Michelangeli for a long time, in Arezzo [where I met her], and, after ending up marrying a Sicilian, a certain Belviso, she went back to Perth.
Her leaving Italy for good depressed me quite a lot. I had lost a great mentor, a big treasure, and, at 18, I guess I was in love with her a bit too.
When I finally found a trace of her 1 month ago here, now that I’m pasting the link, much to my affliction I realise she’s no more.”
What a moron, I’m so absent-minded that I had saved the link to the Australian web page on her but hadn’t read it well. A bit of a blow to me, I will admit.
So, remembering that – in my effort to get back to the guitar a bit – and having found on Youtube a piece of music that in some way is her, or a part of her, I mumbled:
So this is a tribute to her. A totally different music, yes, but it strongly (and weirdly, music is weird) reminds me so much of this Celtic passion side of her, and, ok, not at all of her Michelangelian supreme refinement, but passion, isn’t it often better than refinement? Well, I’d say, the 2 things should be often well intermarried for most rich results, as they certainly were in wonderful, unique, fantastic Pauline.
[And these darn Australians, they make you pay for everything! I’ll get those paper clips … and put her picture at the head of this post, damn!]
[I was wronging the Aussies, registration to the National Library of Australia is free, but you got to be Australian to do it 😦 ]
I just can’t write one of my usual posts. My mind is blurred.
Because my sanctuary, the only place where I can find peace and concentration (my study room,) is a mess.
I am getting crazy, lunatico.
As I said these more-than-100 retrieved tomes which belonged to grandpa (a blessing and a suffering) have generated chaos in my life. 1/5 of them are permanently damaged by water – together with precious family pictures & documents.
[See below my father and my mother in 1946, the day of their marriage. Two other pictures of their marriage are gone (!!!).
My mother btw cried all the time during the ceremony. Her father, hit by a bus one month earlier, had just passed away. They married nonetheless. The war had just ended and people were eager to live, which is why we are the boomer generation, it is well known]
Trying so hard to rearrange my den I’ve fought against my nature and have gone to Ikea.
Ikea, to me, is biggest pain in the … neck ever. I have bought two big bookcases and have assembled them at home yesterday. Oh it takes a real engineer to do it, not a computer systems engineer, a ridiculous creature who deals with immaterial rationality and invisible bits.
Ikea being such a pain I decided to treat myself like a royalty before going.
1) I bought aanother New Testament both in Greek and in Latin;
2) Bought Dante’s Comedy translated to English by Allen Mandelbaum;
3) I called Marina, my medicine.
“Hey Marina, come have lunch with me, will you?”
“Ciao professore. Sì evviva! Villa Borghese va bene?” [Hi teacher. Wow yes! Villa Borghese ok?]
Brown hair, brown eyes, very outspoken, Marina is a beaming Italian beauty and the Sabrina Ferilli type of Roman woman (see the Roman actress on the left.)
But what most counts to me is that she’s been one of the best, most devoted, most sympathetic IT pupils I’ve ever had in the course of the last 15 years. There’s tons of affection & respect between us.
The two are similar and, if my wife is a bit closer to Minerva and Juno, Marina has among the rest this special quality my wife hasn’t:
She laughs the Roman laughter, one of the best specimen I’ve ever heard, no kidding.
Flavia’s ancient Roman laughter is heard in the room. It is loud, slightly crass but luminous, as it should be and as I hope it will ever ever be in the future, somewhat like a sympathetic, warm BIG HUG to the world.
[my mother laughed in the same way btw]
During a sunlit lunch at Villa Borghese, with umbrella pine trees majestically surrounding us (see Villa Borghese at the page head,) in front of a sumptuous tray of mixed antipasti – fusilli, olives, tomatoes, mozzarella, parmisan etc., washed down with full bodied Chianti – we kept on chatting cheerfully while both vino and ver sacrum (sacred spring) were intoxicating the air bit by bit.
When the right time arrived I took my cell phone out of my jacket and started to play the moron (I’m good at that, you know.)
And then it happened.
Especially, she laughed.
Well, not one of her best laughs – she saw I was there with my cell phone – yet a sound, sympathetic Roman laughter which is revealing a bit of our city’s culture with all its pros and cons (any laughter being revealing of any culture, ça va sans dire.)
The film INVICTUS should be watched by the young and the less young.
It is an inspiring message on the inner bravery we can find in ourselves in order to endure any deep sorrow or big problem life can hurl at us.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, INVICTUS is based on John Carlin‘s book ‘Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation. Invictus‘.
The film is a tribute to Nelson Mandela and to the South African people – blacks and whites alike – and it reveals the complex fragments of the souls of 3 men.
The Victorians, Mandela, the Afrikaans
1) A Victorian poet – William Ernest Henley (1849–1903) we never see in the film – who bravely faced life deprived of his left leg since the age of 12 and who wrote INVICTUS (see below,) an inspired poem on endurance.
2) Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid leader who spent 27 years imprisoned in a quasi cubicle and who was resilient enough to survive and fight also because inspired by the poem INVICTUS.
3) The South African (Afrikaan) captain of the Springboks‘ – the country’s rugby union team – who, inspired by Mandela in his turn and by that same poem, brings the Springboks to victory, in the 1995 Rugby World Cup hosted by South Africa, by defeating the All Blacks 15-12 in the final.
An event that possibly helped the South African black and white people to better understand each other along the hard path towards a society where racial hate and mistrust may be progressively banned.
Morgan Freeman‘s (starring Mandela, and Mandela’s friend btw); Clint Eastwood; the solid plot-script – these in my opinion the elements that make the film compelling.
I forgot someone. Nelson Mandela.
OUT of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade, And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
“My own view on religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race.” [read more ]
Henley’s position is also that of the Renaissance and of humanism, when Western man – a truly reborn dantesque Ulysses – found the guts to build his own destiny again (and regrettably to conquer the rest of the planet destroying other cultures etc.)
“Man can find all the force he needs within his own human soul and reason, within his character and will,” said many Greek and Roman wise men plus several humanists, no god really helping, no religion really helping.
[The italic text in INVICTUS is mine. It is where I believe the poet mostly expresses the said classic attitude.]
Now, what do readers think aboutall this? Can we live without religion, without a help from ‘someone’ up there?
Can we too – the simple men in the street – be the ‘captains of our soul’? Or is it only possible to the master, to the ‘real tough’?
So in the end:
Is religion basically a question of lack of balls? Or is there more than that?
My Latin and Greek classes are starting but I need some inspiration. Bits of the said languages will appear from now on over a gradual and mild crescendo. I might be didactic now since my mind is drained a bit.
The inscription on the Constatine’s Arch above (315 AD) I made it shorter. It is symbolic of the entire story I am about to narrate [see a big image of it]
And do not to worry if you don’t understand all the words, just carry on! I have learned languages with the natural learning method – see this post – ie through non formal practice. It’s the way babies learn. It proved effective at any age, with me and many other people.
Tomes and Sibyllae
I can hear readers crunching popcorn (one at least) which is good for a mind journey although I don’t know the direction we will take. I have so much confusion in my head for a task bigger than myself, for stress I have accumulated and for something terrible (but auspicious) that happened a few days ago:
I have finally retrieved my grandfather’s tomes, my Di Penates or Patron Gods, I could say [Di = Gods, Deus = God.]
It’s not the commercial worth of tomes that range in any case from the Renaissance until the 1940s. It’s theirvalore psicologico especially, plus their content, archaeology and humanities mostly.
I had been looking for them since years. 2-3 weeks ago I chanced to say afew words to one of my two senseless sisters I seldom see but plan to fix that, one day or another:
“Hey donna [domna, domina ] it’s AGES I don’t see them, grandpa’s books. Does anyoneknow where the hell have they gone for Chrissake??”
Sometimes my voice gets pretty peremptory, I’ll admit. With such powerful sibylsso hard to handle – Sibyllae: the Romans had few since Σίβυλλες were Greek mostly – male verbal force is a weapon I use once every 15-20 months possibly 🙂
My new family – Fatum decreed – is again a sibyllinafamilia composed of a wonderful wife, 2 gem daughters, an ol’ Philippine woman, a sancta about to defeat gravity I’m sure – and Lilla dulcis in fundo, our female Bolognese dog, greatest Sibyl of them all I have little doubts.
In any case as if by miracle days later while I was opening the condominium attic door I much to my horror saw the tomes all scattered in messy piles and ALL SOAKED with WATER!!
My rage starting to surge in waves – I cannot believe it, leaking water was a known problem in that room! – I began barking so loud my wife, the Philippine and two workers happened there by chance ran worried (for my health) to the place and helped me carry the tomes down to my study-room, to THAT moment a tidy, quiet place for writing and reflection.
Well, look at my refugium NOW!
A protector deity in our home
My paternal grandfather’s tomes, I said. He is the genius of our family, in both the modern and the ancient sense (the latter at least to me, my sisters having my father instead as their genius: see a Roman genius below.)
My father’s side means the North-West Italian alpine region of Piedmont – ie part of Gallia Cisalpina and Gallia Narbonensis – a totally different universe I’m ignorant of except for what was transmitted to us by dad himself – no small thing in any case.
I never met grandpa. He died of leukemia 2 years before I was born. I’ll say we are somewhat black sheep (oves nigrae?) compared to him – my dad and I.
He lost the fortune he had created from scratch because he firmly believed in his country, in Mussolini (since he had saved Italy from communism), but most of all he had (together with my father) a sort of feudal adoration for the Piedmontese King Vittorio Emanuele III d’Italia, which is understandable although a bit blind since this king was no big deal plus he basically betrayed us all also by cowardly fleeing from Rome when the Nazis arrived, which resulted in extra havoc – one reason, among many, why theSavoia lost their throne and we now are a Republic.
Fulvia[an outspoken Romana Venus with South titbits, one reason possibly she abhors anything North of Rome, even just Tuscany:]
Oh how interesting! I thought we were going to have language classes, pupus.
Extropian: Fulvia, MoR means his grandfather is like an inspiring guide to him.
MoR:My nature is shallow compared to his. I mostly like he mastered maybe 8 languages – both modern and ancient – and despite being a pioneer in aeronautics plus an hydroelectric engineer entrepreneur, the day he sold his company and retired (all his money in treasury bonds fallen to dust, pulvis, because of the war) – he dedicated his last years to the study, or studium, of the Etruscan language.
Mario: Lingua Etrusca hodie exstincta?Per Hercules, why not Roman or, better, Greek stuff? C’mon pupus meus!
MoR: Stop with this pupus you moron.According to my father who seldom spoke about grandpa he adored mysteries and, well, the Etruscansare a mystery.
Flavia:Sempre co’ sti napoletani eddagli a Mario! (always with these Neapolitans etc.)
[Naples comes from Νεάπολη id est Νέα Πόλις id est Nea Polis id est ‘New City’]
Weren’t these Tusci a great non Indo-European folk coming from some unknown place of the valde arcanus Oriens? I love all esoterica!
MoR: Not much esoterica here Flavia, basically a big enigma, or αίνιγμα. The Romans, it has been said, called them Etrusci or Tusci (thence Tuscany.) The Italian Greeks Τυρρήνιοι, Tyrrhenioi (thence the Tyrrhenian Sea.) But they called themselves Rasenna, or the shorter Rasna.
Their language not yet well deciphered, their civilization not yet well understood, one additional reason is Rome possibly embodied them into herself.
Pausa nunc. Non Chia vina aut Lesbia but some simple tuscum de Caerevinum (see Caisra in the map above, Cerveteri hodies), a light red Fontana Morella, good for a small snack with bits of cheese, or caseus. Lots of laughing, moronities. Pausae finis.
Why now Calabrian Κρότων (Crotone)?
MoR:Rome and all Westerners are a bit Tusci – also the British or the Swedish with their aurora borealis eh Fulvia? 😉
Fulvia:Mwaaahh! Those pale ghosts from the North pole sleeping with polar bears? Oh Oh OOHH Giorgio – she bellowed – you’re totally nuts!
[*much appropriately, she – vacca nostra – adjusted her bust, id est her gorgeous mammae she unfortunately knows how to impress men with … well, only the silly men easily to get impressed, of course*].
[To Italian readers.Vacca – Latin for ‘cow’ – if possibly evocative, it’s not derogatory]
MoR: Fulvia, ehm, you forgot the Latin alphabet the Swedish (or the Brits) took from Rome owes a lot to the Rasna alphabet. As simple as that.
Embodied … one might say Calabrian Crotone, Κρότων, disappeared in much the same way. Such a great city, Κρότων from Magna Graecia, which is coastal Southern Italy. And Crotone surely a key place in our whole story. Oh you’ll be VALDE suprised, VERY obstupefacti, I am sure.
Flavia: *puzzled look in her deep black eyes*[a mixture of Minerva & Juno, extremely brilliant at school; Fulvia? Well, Fulvia was and is a shameless Venus]
I don’t know where you’re aiming at. Magna Graecia – Big Greece or Μεγάλη Ἑλλάς – didn’t possibly correspond to Southern Italy only. The Greeks perhaps meant by Μεγάλη all the Greeks scattered over the coastal Mediterranean.
Besides, Crotone and the Etruscans, which connection …
MoR: Little in fact, but I mean, Crotone, so great and influential, what was left of her today? Same fatum as with Rasna, ie few remnants. And I might agree with Magna Graecia.
Κρότων continued to live in the centuries and seamlessly became today’s Crotone. Same happened to the Rasna folk. On a much larger scale same thing happened to Graeci-Romani Gentiles, id est Pagani. They were embodied – Paul Costopoulos pointed it out well – so we don’t see them. But … postea, later.
Extropian: Actually they are haunting us, one can feel their animae even in the new frontiers of physics! I so hope you’re taking us where I suspect you’re taking us. Ego expectans atque VALDE sperans, pupus de Roma meus 😉
Mario:Maro’, I knew we’d get back to the Greco-Romans, un bravo pupo sei. But just one thing, the gladiators: I’ve heard they came from the Etruscans.
Extropian: The Etruscans had many mores (Latin) they transmitted to Romanis, not that I am that big expert or valde expertus.
And the women or mulìeres Giorgio? Being expertus in just math and physics, can you give us onereason why Fulvia is impudens, or evenimpudentissima? 😉
MoR: Ah ah ah! Well, as far as I know the Roman mulìeres were freer than their Greek counterparts since the days they mixed with the Etruscans, but I should check that better.
Flavia: Oh, I’m more experta! I once read a wonderful fabula about this girl from Rome when Rome was so ancient she was zero compared to the Etruscans. She chanced to marry to this Rasna boy and went to live in Arrētium, Tuscia (see the Etruscan map above and ceramics below.) Many things happened to her but what hit me were her rasna sister-in-laws, the way they were mocking her: to their eyes she was …provincial, stupidly decorous and restrained.
MoR: Arezzo was more powerful, ancient & refined than Roma. Titus Liviuswrote Arretium was one of the 12 capitals, or Capitae Etruriae, said also Dodecapolis (δώδεκα, 12, + πόλeις, cities).
Fulvia:*giving Extropian her old mischievouslook * Impudentissima?? Ah adulescentulus meus, you just wait and see!
*To MoR* THAT is in fact much less fastidiosus, less boring.
MoR.Back to our points amici mei!
*Looking at Fulvia casually* My NORDIC grandmother used to kid his husband: “Tusci are just a bad copy of the Greeks also in the arts.” Nothing but a jest, though when grandpa died in 1946 she – nicknamed carrarmato di piume (tank disguised with feathers) – exerted her ‘feathers’over my poor dad who hadTOTA his father’s vast materials and studies collected and revised by experti.
Among them, an advanced Etruscan grammar, according to grandma. In the end tota were given Piedmont-like to Fatherland, ie handed over to Massimo Pallottino, the scholar about to become number one in world Etruscology.
Whether my grandfather’s materials were of any help I cannot say. I never heard my grandfather mentioned anywhere in any scholarly paper about the Rasna …
Mario:*Looking at my grandfather’s photograph* You have his same face, MoR, and your eldest daughter too. Amazing.
Fulvia: Let me see .. you talked earlier of India, reincarnation: had he reincarnated in you, he must have been very unethical in his life despite his achievements .. 😉
MoR: You are certainly right, and believe me, you’re damn lucky I am not in the mood of explaining what your next reincarnation will be!!
Flavia’s ancient Roman laughter is heard in the room. It is loud, slightly crass but luminous, as it should be and as I hope it will ever ever be in the future, somewhat like a sympathetic, warm BIG HUG to the world.
Everybody left, except Flavia. We went to the kitchen and had a drink.
“Listen G – she said softly – we know each other since high school. I’ve heard you don’t see many friends after your retirement and that this research is what you care for more than anything else. Is it true?”
“No Flavia – I replied – I care infinitely more for my family. Yet, true, it’s taking me away from the present and reality and, while having me plunge deeper and deeper into Orphism & the ancient religions, it’s making me lunatic a bit and progressively isolated, sort of getting dangerous for my inner balance. But please don’t worry, I have spine, but most of all, I have the love of my wife and daughters and, of some dear old friend, I hope.”
“You surely have” she said, her eyes shining a bit. After another drink in silence she left.
While I am preparing a couple of posts I want to gain time and show readers something of my life (house, places where I live etc.).
Above you can see one of my usual promenades along the ‘via della Domus Aurea’ in the Colle Oppio (Mons Oppius.) Oppius is part of the Esquiline Hill, the highest of the Roman Seven Hills (Septimontium) and a fashionable district at the end of the Republic and at the times of the Empire (Cicero for example had a house there.)
Going uphill to my right (another promenade of mine) we in fact get to the top of the Esquilinus, a no man’s land outside the city’s walls in Republican times, full of witches, assassins and a place for slaves’ executions (see a post of mine on this) until emperor Augustus totally redeemed the area and made it residential.
The lower Mons Oppius – where we are now – was part of the Augustan Regio III. Later emperor Nero had there built his Domus Aurea with its vast gardens (after the great fire of Rome in 64 AD). In his extravagant villa the flat area you can see above at the base of the Amphitheatrum Flavium was occupied by an artificial lake.
By the way, Regio III was also called Isis et Serapis. The reason is two important nearby sanctuaries dedicated to the two oriental deities – very much to the point as for the mystery religion stuff I am about to narrate.
Should we in fact pull back from the Colosseum and walk 50-70 yards we’d cross the perpendicular ‘Via Serapide’ (see image above.) Continuing in the same direction for a further half km we’d also reach ‘via Iside’.
I almost every day walk downhill along the ‘via della Domus Aurea’. I border Subura on my right (the red-light district where penniless Caesar spent his youth) and the amphitheatrum on my left. Then I finally reach the forums area along the ‘via dei Fori Imperiali’ built by Benito Mussolini.
Right in the centre of Imperial Rome I admire the elegant remnants of a majestic past.
I have a terrace in my apartment in the close-by (1 km) Caelian Hill (or Mons Caelius, another of the Seven Hills.) On the terrace opposite ends there’s a shameless Venus on the left corner and a caste Minerva on the right one. Pretty symbolic, isn’t it. The house was built in the 1920s and these are statues typical of that period.
Now Minerva’s time below, she being covered with snow. Our lemons are covered with snow as well and our terrace, well, it falls apart a bit. We have invested our money in a touristic facility and we are waiting to restructure our home as soon as we can.
Look once more at the poor lemons. They cannot bear cold climate. Will we ever make limoncello this year? Below is the dining room with the piano.
The same room is now seen below looking towards another window. The piano is behind on my left. I love the Lebanon cedars or cedri Libani in front of our windows. Such important plants for the life of the ancient Eastern Mediterranean!
Some of my posts have been just now nominated at the Indian Avant Garde Bloggies Awards.They are appearing on the comment section at the right.
It’s a huge Indian Bloggie festival promoted by the fantastic and indefatigable Poonam Sharma, a young woman with character who is constructing the new India like all the young Indians around her.
I feel honoured, and I am moved a bit, I’ll confess. It doesn’t really matter who will win since what matters here is that ideas, mutual respect, intercultural appreciation plus, last but not least, affection, have circulated among us.
For an Italian this is even more important since Italians – the ones I have experience of – are not that open to the world, like instead other folks from other seas, or past, are.
Let me repeat that the people from the subcontinent have been important for the Man of Roma’s blog. Don’t know why, they have been founding in some way – odd in a blog dedicated to Rome -, as many of my posts and conversations [see a sample] – here and in other blogs – attest (in my first not-easy-to-forget blogging year mostly – now West readers have kinda devoured me.)
So now I want my non Indian readers to get to know some of these people. I’ll let them speak via the Avant Garde Bloggies Awards web site (Poonam’s voice mainly.)
“Hey there! Avant Garde Bloggies Awards aims to find the worthiest bloggers around. You are here to have your voice counted to decide the worthiest blogger available.
Scrutinising Team: Dhiren, Vimal, Smita and Vee(I could not even have taken a single step without these four.)
Rashmi: A personal friend and English litterateur from Pune who loves to read poetry and books. She has another blog these days. I will update link soon. She was a theatre enthusiast, currently she makes her living out of her words.
I’ll finally add – I think it to be appropriate – some Indian fusion music (classical Indian + western pop) from the Destination Infinity blog. Here is DI first:
“The song ‘Taaye yeshoda’ from the movie ‘Morning Raaga’ [see below, MoR. ] is one of the best Classical/Carnatic fusion songs that I have heard till now. The first fusion song I heard was ‘Krishna Nee Begane’ [see also below] by Colonial Cousins. That was a brilliant fusion of western and classical. I have always wondered why there have not been many fusion songs after that. Carnatic/classical music has never appealed to me earlier …”
And this one too (unfortunately a better one DI proposed has been removed from Youtube):
Every day my father paid a visit to his sister who lived with her husband and their sole daughter Carlotta in via Panisperna – their ‘proper apartment’, as my father said with an untranslatable note. My father instead lived in piazza S. Cosimato in Trastevere (we are all trasteverini,) the district of the poor, since at that time the S. Lorenzo or Trionfale districts didn’t yet exist.
[see above a picture of the piazza as it is today, MoR.]
Another peculiarity of our family was a sort of dignified and reserved isolation. Nobody ever came to our home. Apart from really exceptional cases such as illness or an urgent need, we were always alone, always us, exclusively us. My father with an emphatic phrase used to call our home the domestic penetralia, our home was a sort of sancta sanctorum where no access was allowed to outsiders, to anyone.
I believe that, in addition to a sense almost of jealousy and of sentimental reserve, we also nurtured the feeling and the consciousness of our poverty. Our apartment was extremely modest, with scarce furniture, only beds for sleeping, a table for eating on which we also did our homework, few utensils for cooking, no frill, no coquetry, a home of the poor, clean but bare, absolutely bare. And there we felt we were masters and arbiters. Arbiters of what? Well, arbiters of living in our own way, with our poverty not even gilded or disguised, with the consciousness of our union and our love, in an atmosphere of absolute intimacy.
The building tenants neither ever came to visit us. By common consent and by a pact tacit and accepted by all, the Count’s house was respected and seen as sacred and inviolable. All greeted us, were kind and amiable, but they didn’t approach us, there was no union, no similarity of relationships or habits.
Yet a strange fact. When my father died at 4 and a half in the morning (on Wednesday, September 22, 1909) our apartment after one second was filled with people we didn’t know almost – the tenants of the whole building. They did their utmost to comfort us, to give us a help with acts the most humble and welcome in such moments of anguish. Some brought coffee, some hot water, some an egg, some a fruit, in short a sight both comforting and touching, occurring naturally and unexpectedly, in the middle of the night.
And yet we had totally refrained from any display of showy grief or from asking for any help or assistance.
At my father’s funeral there were many or better all his friends who had returned to Rome from their holidays, all his relatives from his father’s and mother’s side, which is natural, and the whole of Trastevere as well. From piazza S. Cosimato to S. Francesco a Ripa the distance is not short, yet the coffin – followed by his sons, I in black (with a suit bought ready-made at Pola e Todescan), Gigi and Paolo in soldier uniforms – passed between two busy wings of people and common people, mute and respectful.
All stores and shops were closed as if for national mourning, better still, right for this reason. A spectacle that certainly I and the two surviving sisters cannot easily forget, the spontaneous and devoted homage to a personality, to a type, to a character which disappeared and which no one else could probably ever replace.
I didn’t hear those indistinct whispers, curiosities, those questions or comments that usually accompany the big funerals. Who is he? Who is dead? Everybody knew it and didn’t have to enquire or comment any further. The Count was dead.
Inside the Church [see above], Mass for three voices with excellent music: the corpse on the ground more nobilium, the last acknowledgement of birth and condition – a tardy one to say the truth.
I never really knew how these things went because my father shrank from talking about them and he used to say that all that didn’t matter since in this world one has to work for a living and must not count on others or on ephemeral hopes.
He told us: birth doesn’t matter, only work and honesty do. Look at our Lord: he has worked, he has toiled as a carpenter in the shop of Nazaret and then aside, quiet, by himself: yet he was from the stock of David.
The important fact, that always has roused my suspicion about some wrongdoing, some abuse or indelicacy from our relatives in the division, or actual assignment, of the hereditaments of the Calcagni family, is this: my father, who was adored by his relatives for his qualities of character and festivity, and who was by them greatly sought after, never lavished much affection on them.
He paid visits to the rich relation, sometimes bringing us along with him, he remained a ten minutes, greatly rejoiced and rejoicing, then he suddenly went away without almost saying goodbye and all was postponed until several months later. Certainly there must be a latent and suppressed conflict, maybe of interests, which is most powerful to disunite, embitter and bring along grief.
There was actually an unbridgeable gulf between my father’s way of life and judgement and that of all the paternal relatives I have known.
For example, when at a certain age the possibility was aired among the relatives of a first class collegio [boarding school or college, MoR] for the education of us small males of the kinsfolk more or less of the same age, a sort of family meeting was held. They told my father they thought of sending three or four young boys to Mondragone, the renowned collegio of the Jesuits near Frascati [see image above,] and they had my father understand that in case he wanted to send his boy (me) along with the others, as regarded the expenses they would all get together for a facilitation, for a helping hand.
My father replied:
“Thanks for the thought but I will bring up my son by myself.”
“Bravo!!! You will bring him up on the banks of the river …”
And my father:
“Yes, on the banks of the river, but with me … And we’re going to see who will better succeed.”
It is not to me to judge people who are partly dead and partly have drifted rather badly about the world; but certainly my education did not, and does not, suffer from any substantial deficiency compared to the education provided and received even in the best collegi. Quite the contrary …
After some hesitation I have decided to post a few excerpts from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni, a Roman born almost one and a half century ago, and a person very close to my mother’s mother (her eldest brother actually.)
These pages offer a lively cross-section of the social and cultural life of Rome spanning from the first half of 1800, at the time of Calcagni’s grandfather, Count Filippo Calcagni, until the All Saints’ day of 1947, the date Carlo finished writing his memoirs.
Additional information, plus a link to the original Italian text, is provided at the end of today’s first excerpt.
Birth, Look, Health.
First Teachings from his Father
I was born in Rome on the 12th of August a few years after 1870, the date of the Porta Pia breach, in a house at the foot of the Janiculum, in via Garibaldi. I don’t want to say the exact year of my birth for a residue of reasonable reserve. Why this reserve, a weakness, a coquetry quite odd in a man? I don’t know but I will not tell you. I am old, that’s enough.
I am 1.75 cm. tall (I have not been able to enter the grenadiers as did my brother Gigi, who was 1.82 tall) and I weigh 84-86 kg: I am therefore rather well built – with not too much belly also, a strong type in short and muscular. I was in fact very strong and did practise all sports when nobody was speaking of ‘sports’ yet and people thought I was half mad. My bearing – erect, frank and easy – I owe perhaps to these exercises.
My eyes are cerulean, almost pale-blue once, and my hair is light brown – which is a bit uncommon for an Italian. My nose is perfectly straight, bending neither to the right nor to the left, a thing unusual they say since generally noses are slightly bending somewhere.
Now naturally at my age my hair is white. My face was once regular and fine, with open and calm expression, rather exotic both in features and complexion: somewhere in between an English and an American, so that I was often mistaken for a foreigner from those lands.
Robust health, capable of bearing whatever toil and discomfort, even unexpected and without preparation, capable of not eating and not drinking, whenever busy or occupied in something that completely absorbed my attention. I was after all the son of my father who, among his numerous aphorisms (many will arrive soon,) repeated almost continuously to us: one must eat what is necessary not to fall headlong.
And he always had preached and showed us how the body must be accustomed to serve us in everything and not to be our master. During our usual walks on foot “Dad I am hungry”, “Dad I am thirsty” we often cried.
“Shame on you, you are what, an animal? If you are hungry put a small pebble into your mouth. If you are thirsty hold a blade of hay or straw between your lips.”
“Dad I’m tired” and he started to run with gymnastic pace to urge us to follow him and not be left too much behind. In those days we were very small, 9-10 year-old.
[tomorrow another page by Carlo Calcagni regarding his grandfather’s sudden death in a coach accident, which left his father a 3-year-old orphan]
Additional note. Carlo Calcagni’s memories have so far circulated only among relatives and friends. Now that nearly all these people are no more I hope I won’t hurt anybody’s feelings if I let some excerpts be known outside such restricted circle.
I think nobody was more Roman than Carlo, gifted with intelligence, humour and a good nature typical from here but also peculiar to him alone.
He tells us of a disappeared Rome while he vividely depicts the three social milieus that made up the Roman people of his time: the aristocracy (to which he belonged though deprived of financial means,) the generone (a middle class of business people and tenants of the large estates owned by the aristocracy,) and the popolino or populace – described so glowingly by the Roman poet Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli – he had contact with since his family lived in Trastevere, at that time the slums of the city (the painting above depicts the church of Santa Bonosa in Trastevere, destroyed in 1888 during the construction of Piazza Sonnino and of the high stone embankments of the Tiber.)
[Rome between 1800-1900 had no industry nor any class related to it. Industries were discouraged by law since the Italian monarchy was afraid of the ‘socialist mob’]
I have provided above a link to Calcagni’s original text, written in a delightful vintage Italian with a Roman scent. My English translation is inadequate and is a work in progress.
These memoirs are posted for no commercial purpose. The copyright belongs to the author’s relatives.
I’m leaving behind my schoolmates and getting to the point, the real blog celebration.
When I was 59 I started blogging the day I realised that my brain functions were a bit declining, or so it seemed to me.
Having scarce stimuli is dangerous when you are in the ‘early autumn of your life’ – to use Delwyn’s romantic expression. My activity in the field of systems engineering was not motivating me any more – even though my job had allowed me to ride the wave of the computer revolution.
Looking for new stimuli in my old passions I then started Man of Roma.
My desire for rewiring my synapses together with my personal inclination have slanted my writings toward the thoughtful side. Man of Roma saw its birth as a research on big themes which might seem a bit ambitious at first, if the approach weren’t that of the man of the street, or, as Mario put it, that of a coffee talk with friends – though going somewhere I do hope, and not nowhere!
After 20 months and 100 posts I can say this ‘discipline’ has worked fine. My brain is working better, my memory has improved (although my absent-mindedness has increased.)
I can thus testify that two teachings of my mentor were very effective, among the rest.
Writing, he used to say, is a stern discipline tightly linked to thinking:
Writing, thinking, clarifying,
striving to sort out thoughts
in ways so “clear and ordinate”
This, many years ago, Magister counselled
for the good education of the mind.
writer, philosopher, educator…
A second element I derived from Magister is the importance of discussion and feedback to reach a better knowledge (dialectics.) I’m happy that, despite the heaviness of some themes, conversations in my blog are often longer, more interesting and have more text than the post that had started them.
I had the great pleasure to write, joke, talk or seriously discuss with people so various – and here I thank my wonderful commenters, ALL of them! – whose incitement and contribution have really kept me going.
We will see in the next post a first selection of themes from Man of Roma, with links to special pages I’ll have just created to sort out things a bit.
Some time ago my friend Mario, who never writes comments but reads friends’ blogs, called me saying:
“Is this coffee talk going anywhere?”
He referred to my posts and to the dialogues with my readers. We make fun of each other since we were 14, so it is all right. But since my blog has reached a bit more than 100 writings (105,) a little celebration is appropriate together with a sort of assessment of whether this is really just coffee writing. I have then thought to answer him officially in this way.
I’ll write a few blog or site maps [update: see the 1rst] containing reasoned summaries of the ideas expressed in the Man of Roma’s blog, with links to the corresponding posts, notes and conversations.
These posts will not be written in tight succession – it would be too heavy – and will be to the benefit of those interested in finding their bearings in our “coffee musings” – an interesting American blog is called Café Philos, a nice name it’d be vile to steal.
Not that Mario needs any answer. He already had many on the phone, with four-letter words. Our classroom style btw, a bit unleashed to tell the truth.
We were all males, the only unhappy exception in our school due to the headmaster’s unfathomable genius, so we lacked that element of moderation, gentleness – the woman – that makes boys a little bit more civilised (and careful.)
I remember the last time (one year ago) we had a classroom celebration at a restaurant. Imagine ten well-dressed professional-looking 60-year-old men sitting at an elegant restaurant table in down town Rome and turning gradually into 10 unleashed kids once food and especially wine had started to work on us.
The waitress who was serving our table had to blush a few times. She of course was one of the targets of our joyful (and childish) attention. A couple of us especially are socially unacceptable – Marken Albus, for example – whenever they find their old buddies back. I confess I sometimes felt terribly embarrassed. But I’m being a bit hypocritical. I had huge fun and, who knows, the waitress a bit too perhaps, since she was blushing though smiling at us and I think she kept coming to our table more often than necessary.
The show was actually unusual. I doesn’t happen all the time to see ten apparently serious 60-year-old men turn into absolute morons and behave like kids.
When we are together we are bad, very bad. Fortunately it doesn’t happen very often.