Man of Roma

Traduzione in italiano

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 (*).

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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.)

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If not profundity of knowledge, he might though have an advantage (still to be proved) over many foreign commentators even born in one of the  ex-provinces of the ancient Roman Empire.

The plus of being a witness from right here.

The advantage of being a Man of Roma.

 

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

Monica Bellucci walking in Rome (Martini Gold by Dolce & Gabbana). Click for file source

Why a New Season on ‘Roman’ Sex

I hesitated before continuing this series on ‘Roman’ sex. Two recent facts though have convinced me I’d better go on with it, the latter probably more important.

1) Some interest grown around the way I connect Italian sexual (& non sexual) behaviour with ancient Roman culture, not only from weirdoes but from qualified people: journalists, an international Tv Channel, a few university scholars (& college students who apparently found here inspiration for their theses,) a couple of Web companies.

2) Such incipient interest (ephemeral I’m sure) had though the prodigious side effect of making the three Sybils who subtly govern my life suppose that perhaps I’m not just entirely fooling around when typing like mad on my keyboard.

Well, THIS simplifies things, readers, by providing me with (family) peace of mind so that I’d have a few of stories too tell … 😉

Here other stories, of a totally different kind.

Sex and the city (of Rome) II

Venus de Milo, back view. Via Wikipedia

In the preceding post I was saying that, not having had brothers but sisters and needing to play male games etc., I was fortunate enough to meet at 3 a boy of 4 who became like my eldest brother.

Paul: “I have been a fratello maggiore [ie an eldest bro vs younger bros]. Believe me, it is no picnic.”

MoR: “It is no picnic with sisters either. Brothers and sisters – one doesn’t choose. My ‘eldest brother’ (the one in the poem), I chose myself. And he chose me being an only child.”

I then narrated two stories somewhat regarding the ehm éducation sentimentale we two lived together (see below).

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At this point Jenny popped in (I guess she had already read the stories I now paste below) :

Jenny: “What a sweet photograph of you! I must tell you, in the small town where I grew up: three Catholic churches and nothing but boys with surnames like Petruso, Petrillo, Gianti, Limano, D’amico…the list goes on and on…”

MoR: “Jenny, yes, Italians are scattered all over the world. One blunt question allow the silly man such as I am: did you feel desire for these Petruso, Petrillo, Gianti, D’amico and so forth?

Jenny: “There he is: the charming and disarming Man of Roma. Not the place here for relating episodes from my ehm éducation sentimentale. We will just say, generally, that as Italians are scattered all over the world, girls (all over the world) like them.”

MoR: “What?? Even old (and odd) Italian blokes like me? Next time don’t forget your telephone number” (my usual flirtatious tone, what a moron I am 😦 )

They Were Ready to Eat us Alive

Ok. Time to get back to Paul and to my ‘sex souvenirs’. I’ll remind you I was telling Paul:

MoR: “My ‘eldest brother’ (the one in the poem), I chose myself. And he chose me. Nothing sexual between us tho LOL, quite the contrary.

In fact as soon as we got the foggiest interest in the other sex our hunt began and became scientific. We had hunted lizards, mice, birds (you name it) – it was time for bigger preys we thought.

We were 12-13 (in the image below I am 7, but via the link above you can see him at 13).

Our first move was therefore a girls orphanage 15 minutes on foot from our houses, the Istituto Thevenin. The girls, from 8 to 16, were more than ready to eat us alive. They could not. The darn nuns were ALWAYS watching for virtues that didn’t give a damn to remain virtuous, or so it appeared to our boys’ minds.”

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Story one ended, I then addressed readers and said:

“One anecdote that may be funny or annoying, according to who is reading. It regards ehm our (mine and my ‘eldest brother’s) éducation sentimentale.”

MoR at 7 in Castiglione della Pescaia. ‘He’ has to send pictures yet

Lovely Butt (With a Bottle but)

A couple of summers we both went for a maybe 15 days to Marina di Massa, on the Tuscan sea-side coast, although the rest of the summer we continued to spend it in Arezzo’s country as usual.

We now were 13-14 maybe.

One day while we were driving a tandem bicycle along an isolated road we saw a woman walking alone on that same road who had a great ass – we thought. I frankly still today believe she actually had.

In any case she was carrying a bottle of wine in her left hand and we being behind her but not that close we pedalled up to her and BAM! I slapped her ass with my left hand (I was a leftie and was freer since sitting in the back seat).

She yelled a bit at us but not much, and laughed also, she perhaps being 30 or something.

Aphrodite Kallipygos
Had Venus Kallipygos (ie Venus of the ‘beautiful buttocks’) the best butt in Antiquity? Scholars are still debating (via Wikipedia)

Terribly excited about our success (she had laughed!) we made a big U turn through side roads and there again behind her we were, pedalling this time up to her with all possible softness in order for her not to be aware of us.

BAAM I went again. She much surprised turned around, probably not thinking we would dare again, and this time she yelled a tad more angrily, but not that terribly angry – or so it seemed to us.

Made therefore even more daring and like drunk so as to try our luck a third time, there we drove on that road once more but before we could get close enough to slap her round bottom again she turned around abruptly and furiously holding her bottle towards us she really YELLED this time something like:

“Se un la smettete di fare i bischeri vi spacco questa bottiglia su quella testaccia!!! COGLIONI chevvoisiete!!!”

(“If you don’t stop play the jackasses I’ll smash your heads with this bottle, ASSHOLES!!!”)

Taken aback by such fierce reaction we lost control of our tandem that hit the side-walk curb – which caused the front tyre to burst – and headlong we fell over the side-walk asphalt.

Gosh now of course we felt more humiliated than excited and didn’t know what to do in such an embarrassing situation. She was looking still furious at us but after a while her eyes softened a bit (possibly seeing how young we were and how embarrassed we were? Or for some other, unhoped-for, reason?)

In the end she smiled at us and laughed. We laughed back and felt some joy coming back.

But I guess we learned that, when gambling with Fortune (and maybe at that age, I don’t remember, when playing with people) one has to know when it is time to stop.

Related posts:

Sex and the City (of Rome) season I

Carlo Calcagni Memoirs. All Collected in One Place Also in the Original

A park close to my home. Click to enlarge. Picture by MoR free for anybody to use

Now all excerpts posted so far in English or in Carlo’s original Italian text have been collected in their respective page.

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PS. Needless to say, Carlo Calcagni’s Memoirs are important in a blog such as this dedicated to Rome. Carlo being an authentic son of the eternal city his memoirs offer a lively cross-section of Roman life spanning from the first half of the 1800’s – the time of Calcagni’s grandfather Count Filippo Calcagni – until the All Saints’ day in 1947, the date when Carlo finished writing his work.

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

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

12th excerpt from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni, my maternal grandmother’s eldest brother and a true Roman born almost one and a half century ago. Read all excerpts posted so far in English or in Carlo’s original Italian text.

Here the original Italian text of this post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roman street lamp at night time. Click for attribution

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

And I silent, without breathing a word …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Unfortunately I do not know ….”

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

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

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

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

Original version in Italian

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

11th excerpt from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni, my maternal grandmother’s eldest brother and a true Roman born almost one and a half century ago. Read all excerpts posted so far in English or in Carlo’s original Italian text.

Here the original Italian text of this post.

Noble Guard of the Vatican in full uniform. Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palazzo Altieri in the 18th century. Rome

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Get lost! Get lost!”

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

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

“The Thirty Years’ War.”

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

Original version in Italian

Calcagni’s Memoirs. Pius IX Pardons Nino then Slaps Him on the Wrist a Bit (10)

Pius IX (Pope from 1846 to 1878). He was followed by Leo XIII (1878 – 1903) already mentioned by Carlo Calcagni in Part I, ch. 6

10th excerpt from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni, a true Roman born almost one and a half century ago. Read all excerpts posted so far in English or in Carlo’s original Italian text.

Here the original Italian text of this post.

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Pius IX loved to take long very long rides in the country making the coach horses march at a steady trot to the extent it was said he made several croak.

So the escort squad had to undertake really long trots that were deeply enjoyed by my father but not so much by several other guards who didn’t share his passion for horse riding. Therefore my father replaced the unfortunate through small fees especially when the schedule foresaw long excursions.

One day the Pope decided to go to Anzio [see the route below along via Nettunense] and the trip being very long it was planned this time that the papal coach horses were to be changed, together with the escort squad’s horses and with those too of the guards who were to replace the horsemen who had already gone half the trip.

Route from Roma (A) to Anzio (C) via Cecchina (B) on Google maps (37 miles)

Hence my father with a greater fee arranged this time that at Cecchina (‘B’ on the map above) where the change was to occur he would take the place of Marquis Del Bufalo who didn’t like riding at all also because he was said to have a fistula.

Once at Cecchina horses are changed and my dad spots a magnificent Piacentini horse, a beautiful golden bay that he mounts with great joy.

Immediate departure but after a few hundred yards the train unexpectedly halts at the squad commander’s signal.

“What happened?” the Pope inquired.
“It is Count Calcagni who broke ranks.”
“Why, what has he ever done?”
“He got into the meadow and started to jump the fences for fun while his strict duty was to closely follow the train. He will be put under arrest.”

This time though my father didn’t serve the sentence because he was pardoned on the spot by the Pope who smiled benevolently at the bold youth’s escapade.

Pius IX knew my father well personally and treated him with great familiarity and benevolence.

Pius IX talking to his noble guards

When my father got married he of course presented the bride in a special audience with the Pope.

Imagine my mother’s fear and anxiety for such a visit. She went dressed in black and my father in uniform.

The Pope asked her what her occupation was but she got so frightened she remained speechless and lost her self-control. And since my mother gave no sign she had understood or could in any case answer, my father readily:

“She is a piano teacher, Holy Father.”

My mother had never touched a piano key in her life.

“Ah! brava, brava.”

Meanwhile Pius IX with great benevolence and a very subtle smile was seriously slapping my father on the wrist a bit.

Original version in Italian

Calcagni’s memoirs. Lottery and Eccentric Passion for Horses (9)

Pincio Hill in Rome as seen from Piazza del Popolo. Click for credits and to enlarge

I’m continuing to obsess my readers with the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni (9th excerpt,) a true Roman born almost one and a half century ago. Read all excerpts posted so far in English or in Carlo’s original Italian text.

Here the original Italian text of this post.

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My father had been a very good rider in his youth and had passed on me a great passion for riding and for horses in general, of which even as a child I well knew breeds, coats, habits, qualities and faults that I didn’t hesitate to observe and to point out to the horses’ owners, much to my father’s bewilderment and great derision of others.

Before my father got married he had the good fortune of winning in the lottery an almost fabulous sum for those days: 30,000 lire.

What did he do? He set up a stable of riding and cart horses, not many but all beautiful and thoroughbred and he had great fun riding them and having friends and acquaintances ride them too.

He proudly rode on horseback or carriage at evening stroll time in the Pincio gardens [see the image above] and enjoyed that his quadrupeds were greatly admired by the Romans.

What happened? In short lapse of time the number of horses and carriages began to diminish since he sold and liquidated with great loss of course in order to meet the costs. He ended up with a saddle horse, then with a horse without a saddle that he rode bareback; finally this last animal disappeared and so did the stable.

His friends pointed out to him that he had been stupid not to start with only one horse that might have lasted for a long while. To which he readily replied:

“But I would have never had a stable, I would have never been able to choose and let others choose, I would have never had Lord Boilfourt as a client and admirer (an Englishman very well known in Rome as horse lover and connoisseur.)”

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When he was noble guard of His Holiness he used to enter the Corps’ then very well-stocked stable where he always chose the best horse, the most beautiful or most spirited and restless, and he then let it caracole while on duty behind the coach of the Pope with great fear from the popolino ignorant of the rider’s command and cunning.

What happened then was that the squad commander (l’esente) in order to avoid any possible complication and comments not always benevolent from the crowd gave order to my father to break ranks so my father happily went off on his own for a ride either in Pincio or in the country to enjoy time off with a magnificent horse that didn’t impatiently caracole any more but was docile and submitted to the knees and hand of the experienced rider.

Original version in Italian

Calcagni’s Memoirs. Born Puny Carlo Becomes a Strong Swimmer (8)

The Tiber, Castel Sant’Angelo and Saint Peter’s dome in 1890. Photo by Alinari

8th excerpt from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni, a true Roman born almost one and a half century ago. Here the original Italian text of this post. Read the previous installment and all excerpts posted so far in English or in Carlo’s original Italian text.

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I was born puny, a real peewee, since my mother during pregnancy had to suffer two severe afflictions: the death of her father and of her twin sister Giuditta. At baptism the names that prevailed were Carlo and that’s fine but Guido Ettore and Augusto I wonder why.

I was thus born so small I had the great merit of almost not making my mother suffer by coming to this world. Not only was I born frail but also had all possible and imaginable diseases.

My father, despairing for his first son’s extremely poor health, the son he had danced and sung for, took me to all possible doctors and specialists in Rome though obtaining from all of them but the most sorrowful and definite responses.

“But after all you’re so young you’ll soon have another child.”

Poor me what gloomy prognostications. Thus my father took an extreme decision. He got rid of doctors and medicines and took care of me in his own way, according to his common sense.

Fresh air, light, sun, bloody-rare steaks and red wine, swims in the Tiber, very ordinary and rudimentary exercise, running, walks, continuous motion. He saved me and raised me into what I later was and am.

The Tiber at the Ripa Grande. 1890. Photo by Alinari

At four and a half I could swim and at eight I swam across the Tiber alone without any help (though my father was keeping an eye on me on a boat). I reached the other bank with eyes popping out of my head, but I made it, to my father’s great pride.

He, a good swimmer, not a long-distance but an academic one I would say, had taught me to swim through a hard and brisk method and pushed me to progress by saying:

“What an ass! Dogs and cats swim, sheep and pigs, oxen, horses – and you still don’t know how to swim! Aren’t you ashamed!”

And I felt so ashamed that I cried. Imagine when I finally could float and could take a few strokes or kicks without drinking or drowning! I was like mad with joy and I did nothing but swim, as if they paid me for every kick.

And in fact I swam so much that I became a great long-distance swimmer: that is, I was like cruising in the river, in the sea, in Albano Vico Bracciano and Trasimeno lakes, in Bolsena Como and Maggiore lakes, for considerable stretches, always alone, without assistance from any boat or company: this to test myself and make use of my skills, to provide myself with the feeling and proof that water was really the most entertaining means of transportation, the aptest and the cleanest most of all, especially in summer.

The bathing season started for us on May 1, Labor Day and therefore school vacation, and ended in late November when with the first cold weather we couldn’t stand to stay in water any longer.

This swimming thing was very important to my father (stultus neque scribere neque natare scit, as Cicero said and as my father a bit emphatically repeated.)

Gigi the grenadier could also swim well and was very athletic in water but was subject to cramps.

Roman scene in front of the ancient temple to Hercules. Alinari 1890

Paolo was instead too nervous to be a good swimmer. Like Paolo, my mother and the females of the family were not aquatic, in the natatorial sense they were like irons my father said (“they fall into water and blum they sink”).

But it is very well explainable since at that time [end of 1800, MoR] women could not swim but in sea water where they did exercises fully dressed. And we never went to the sea-side since for economic reasons we never left Rome. Only every now and then we went on long enough excursions on a four or two wheel small cart which my father rented by the day.

This to us, Elvira and me, was a feast.

Original version in Italian

Calcagni’s Memoirs. Elvira the Eldest Sister Takes the Veil. Father’s reaction (7)

Villa Lante on the Gianicolo, Rome. Given to the Borghese in 1817, it was sold to Madeleine Sophie Barat, founder of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart, who turned it into a noviciate for younr girls. It houses today the Finnish Institute. Click for credits

7th excerpt from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni, a true Roman born almost one and a half century ago. Read all excerpts posted so far in English or in Carlo’s original Italian text.

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When Elvira at the very young age of 16 announced her intention of becoming a nun of the Sacred Heart (she had attended the School of Santa Rufina, an institute of those religious women, now abolished and located in via della Lungaretta, near Santa Maria in Trastevere where we then lived) my mother in her rigorous religious conception was happy about it despite she would have lost the great help Elvira was providing her with her activity and skills (she could do everything.)

My father instead was much afflicted by the news and flatly denied consent.

“Let her wait until she’s at least 21, after which she’ll do whatever she likes.”

Then we don’t know how and why, one day he comes home and says to Elvira:

“If you are still determined to go, go then … I give you my blessing.”

It was the festa of the Immaculate Conception. Elvira so entered Villa Lante as an aspirant.

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When we visited her each month my father was never able to resist all the time of the visit. At one point he became red in the face, stood up abruptly and went away almost without saying goodbye to his daughter. The fact in itself moved him.

“A good-looking girl like that, a nun?”

What happened again at Villa Lante when Elvira after her novitiate in Paris made her religious profession, there including the cut of her gorgeous chestnut hair, it cannot be said. We were all moved but my father was unrecognizable and I do not know how he resisted not to give into theatrics. At one point I remember he fled from the church.

For us, for his children, he had a deep, exclusive, jealous love. To him we were the best, the most beautiful, the most intelligent of all children, although he never said this to us.

When my mother, as it sometimes happens to mothers, saw a beautiful child on the street and spontaneously said “look what a beautiful son, Nino, what a beautiful baby!” he replied cloudily “watch your own children who are the most beautiful.”

Original version in Italian

Related posts:

Calcagni’s Memoirs. Elvira, the Eldest Sister, Makes Someone Behave (5)

Fighting with Grandpa’s tomes. My Parents’ Marriage & the Roman Laughter

Roman pine trees at Villa Borghese. Click for credits and to enlarge

I just can’t write one of my usual posts. My mind is blurred.

Why?

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]

My mother and my father newly married in 1946

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.

Hence:

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?]

Sabrina Ferilli, a typical Roman beauty. Picture taken from her web site (see link.) Fair use

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.

Flavia, the character in our last dialogues, is 60% my wife but 40% Marina.

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]

Ψ

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.

We laughed.

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.)

Click on the bold words below. And enjoy 🙂

Marina’s (and MoR’s) laughter.

Related posts and comments:

Is the Human Mind Like a Museum?

Roman-ness today. Pros and cons

A feeling of Humanitas

Do We Have Balls To Live Withouth Religion? INVICTUS

Inner Bravery and Endurance

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

Nelson Mandela in 2008
N. Mandela in 2008. Click for credits and to enlarge

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.

Invictus

William Ernest Henley (1849 – 1903). R. L. Stevenson’s ‘Long John Silver’ character was inspired by his real-life friend Henley, ‘a glowing, massive-shouldered fellow’

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.

William Ernest Henley, 1875

Note on Man & Religion

So beautiful, inspiring.

Henley’s position on religion seems pre-Christian to me and close to epicureanism and stoicismSir Bertrand Russell had declared:

“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.]

Ψ

Now, what do readers think about all 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?

ψ

Related posts:

Religion, Fear, Power
Force & Anger. Ghosts in the Mind (on Magister’s teachings on bravery and inner force)
On Solitude (where the totally self-sufficient Greco-Roman sage is analysed, a quasi-superman, like many Victorians were also)

A final note.

(I know, I’ll lose ALL my readers …)

INVICTUS attitude is classical. It reminds the Greco-Roman sage who has “like unsinkable goods in his soul that can float out of any shipwreck.”

Stilpon (Στίλπων) who according to Seneca lost his family and all his goods, when asked if he had suffered any harm, replied: “No, I haven’t.”

Compare now this classical attitude with a passage from the Old Testament (Psalm 91,9.) [the New Testament is identical in this].

You’ll measure the total overturning of many classical values Christianity carried out.

ψ

Here in fact man totally entrusts himself to God’s divine pro-vidence:

Because thou hast made the LORD,
which is my refuge, even the most High,
thy habitation;
There shall no evil befall thee,
neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.

For he shall give his angels charge over thee,
to keep thee in all thy ways.

They shall bear thee up in their hands,
lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder:
the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.

Because he hath set his love upon me,
therefore will I deliver him:

I will set him on high,
because he hath known my name.

He shall call upon me, and I will answer him:
[exactly what Christ says in the New Testament, MoR]

I will be with him in trouble;
I will deliver him,
and honour him.
With long life will I satisfy him,
and shew him my salvation.

Is the Human Mind like a Museum?

As for the human mind, I’ve often thought about the metaphor of the museum.

Our mind, one of the functions of our brain ‘and other parts of our body’ (Sledpress’ objection I found interesting,) contains and allows that we manifest the infinite traces of our past (past conceptions, language, behaviours) from Stone Age or earlier onwards. Evolution enters the equation, but we will leave it alone for now.

Whatever world region we are from, we should be concerned about probing such repository I believe, that is our roots or cultural ID.

Language is an important portion of this ID. What a great digging tool for example etymology is, ie history of words (shown a bit in our previous post, see a good on-line tool) although lots of things are there well beyond words (see points I and IV below.)

Ψ

A few examples, to better understand.

(Italian-mind related, but they could hopefully work as a method example to different minds as well)

I. The Greek fear in gods’ envy, yet present in South Italy and Greece:

“Not long ago my friend Mario took me for a drive on his stupendous vintage 1960 Lancia Flavia (see image below.) Mario is from Naples, a South Italian city founded by the Greeks in the 8th cent. BCE.

On the way back I exclaimed merrily: ‘Diavolo, this car is a gem, it has rolled as smoothly as olive oil!’

Mario snapped with a worried look: “Hush! hush! Don’t you say that!”

I well knew what he meant:

“Oh please you shut the hell up! Do you want the car to break down or anything bad to happen to us?” as if the mere utterance of happiness would attract ill luck or the envy from someone … Well, the envy from whom?

(read more).

The ancient classical Greeks (V cent. BCE) believed their gods lived an eternal blissful life and envied men too prosperous that dared to get close to their happiness. They then humbled and punished them. That ‘too prosperous’ means it was excess and arrogance (ὕβρις) that was basically abhorred by the Olympian gods, which made people afraid of showing their happiness, or of being arrogant. It was like a socio-religious regulation valve, plus a factor without a doubt of the mostly upper-class (tho not exclusively) marvellous ‘5th cent. BC’ Greek perfect equilibrium.

Polycrates tyrant of Samos (where Pythagoras was born by the way) led a too prosperous and arrogant life. Horrible was then his death, Herodotus notes

Now, 2400 years later (!) people in Southern Italy and Greece are still afraid of expressing satisfaction when things are going WELL, lest ‘something’ might spot them and whack them.

Such a great item in their museum mind allow me to say!!

(read more)


II.
Phrases and the Wheel related to the Roman Goddess Fortuna:

  • A personification of Goddess Fortuna (“they invoked their fortune”) seen as something capricious (“the tricks of fortune”) is deeply impressed in modern Western minds and language;
  • The wheel of fortune also used in many popular TV shows is a survival of the goddess, often represented with a wheel at her side (read more)

Spectacular remnants of the Sanctuary to the goddess Fortuna Primigenia in Palestrina (ancient Praeneste), located just a few miles from Rome

III. When we say ‘deep in my heartor ‘she / he broke my heart’ we refer to a scientific superseded idea that the heart, and not the brain, is the seat of emotions. The Stoics saw in the heart the seat of the soul, Aristotle the seat of reason and emotion, the Roman physician Galenus the seat of emotions etc.


IV.
The Roman laughter

“Flavia’s ancient Roman laughter is heard in the room. It is loud, slightly crass, 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.”
(from How To Learn Greek and Latin (2). Some Inspiration From Penates etc)

Another great mind item this laughter – I must record it some day – that belongs to the modern Roman mind, certainly not to the Greek one, modern or non modern.

Update
. Here is a sample of such laughter. Click on these words to listen to it: Marina’s (and MoR’s) laughter.

In short, before more details if you will

The γνῶθι σεαυτόν aphorism adapted to our 'museum' concept

There’s like a huge messy archive in our head so stuffed with things that just beg to be organized a bit and come to light.

Let’s get it all out dear readers. With meditation, concentration and fertile idea-exchanging let us make that inventory my good old Mentor used to mention us when we were so young.

As for my own cultural ID, I am trying to dig a bit with the present blog.

Ψ

[see in-depth details from our posts. Skip the first section – similar to the above writing – and start reading from Socrates’ T-shirt big face onwards – like the one above]

Related posts:

Fighting with Grandpa’s tomes. My Parents’ Marriage & the Roman Laughter

A Discussion on Romanness Past and Present (2). Is a Roman ‘Race’ Surviving?

Arch of Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus
Arch of Titus Flavius Vespasianus at the Roman Forum. Click for credits and a larger picture

Lichanos
But 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!

MoR
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 [see below the ethnicity thing.]

Are they Roman, Jew 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? Roman-ness has nothing to do with an ethnic group. It’s cultural transmission, like at the (multi-ethnic) times of the Empire.

I’ll try to explain this roman-ness concept the way I see it.

Capitoline She-Wolf. Rome, Musei Capitolini. Public domain

A. Being Roman in antiquity meant an ethnic thing only in early Republican times. With the late Republic and the Empire “Rome” and its territories became a huge melting pot, more or less like America today (Pompey had Celtic blood and Cato the younger had a slave among his ancestors.)

Very strong cultural traits [one can check ‘Romanitas’ in any history manual] were transmitted to Berbers, Greeks, Syrians, Jews, Gauls, Spaniards, South and West Germans, Romanians etc. Even the class of the emperors was multi-ethnic, and polytheism made every creed and religion accepted. Focusing on Rome only, it was additionally populated by so many slaves coming from anywhere that it is foolish to think in terms of a Roman “race” surviving today.

B. Being Roman today. As for Romanness today, I clearly feel connections between an ancient Roman and a Roman of today.

The ancient Roman populace progressively lost its simplicity, temperance and character. Even the poor were proud of living in Rome (the Jews were among the poor) and had ‘panem et circenses’ without any merit.

Privileged and spoiled compared to other folks they became bit by bit crass, indolent, cynical, blasphemous, braggart, with a couldn’t-care-less attitude towards anything.

They nonetheless retained bits of magnanimity, of a sense of universalism, and a good nature and compassion that comes from the ancient Romans (yes, the Romans were compassionate and had a good nature).

The Roman actor Aldo Frabrizi
The Roman actor Aldo Fabrizi, a modern Roman icon

Their vulgar Latin turned little by little into this loose modern dialect that is either loved unconditionally or hated in this country, and which can be terribly concise and abrupt. The true Roman – a species dying out – doesn’t speak that much, he is ironic, full of humour, and can knock you out with very few words, as the Calcagnis, my grandmother’s family, could do (and did).

We are all sons of the base empire a bit! But in our decadence there’s vitality and toughness – some old Romans look like lions and jump off the Tiber bridges even in their 70s.

The modern Roman verve is well depicted in *Carlo Calcagni’s memoirs*.

And, when Leone Limentani the Jew exclaimed: “The edict doesn’t forbid me!”- it was a typically Roman (more than Jewish) scene [see the previous post for it.]

A Discussion on Romanness Past and Present (1) The Roman Jews

A view of Rome by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1729-1778)
A view of Rome. Etching by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1729-1778). Click for credits and larger picture

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.

Capitoline She-Wolf. Rome, Musei Capitolini. Public domain

MoR
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!

Lichanos
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!

MoR
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.

Lichanos
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.

Ψ

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.

The Mafia and the Italian Mind (1)

Al Pacino as Mike Corleone in Godfather part II
Al Pacino as Mike Corleone in Godfather part II. Click for credits

The theme of the Mafia has come out in many discussions. While reading up on it I was surprised how well the Mafia seems to fit into the topics of this blog.

Here just a few notes freely based 1) on the book Padrini, by Roberto Olla, Mondadori 2003, Milano [translated into English with the title Godfathers], and 2) on the novel The Godfather by Mario Puzo.

Men of Respect, Intelligent and Cynical

The word “Don” is used in Italian when referring to a priest or to an aristocrat. A godfather is in fact a man of respect. He is an aristocrat of crime, a prince of evil, no matter his appearance or his clothes – this may be one reason why Hollywood movie-goers have found the Mafiosi so attractive.

One common mistake – argues Roberto Olla – is in fact that of considering the Mafiosi as simple gunmen to defeat. Don Vito Cascio Ferro had no guns. He was one of the first godfathers who operated both in Sicily and in the United States. His force lay in his cynicism and intelligence and in the network he was able to create thanks to well ingrained traditions. He distributed favori, favours, to everybody, but something was asked in return.

In short, mafia had/has history. How a Mafia network was / is built is well expressed by Mario Puzo in The Godfather:

“Don Vito Corleone [Puzo’s fictitious character] was a man to whom everybody came for help, and never were they disappointed. He made no empty promise (…) Only one thing was required. That you, you yourself, proclaim your friendship. And then, no matter how poor or powerless the supplicant, Don Corleone would take that man’s troubles to his heart (…) His reward? Friendship, the respectful title of “Don” (…) some humble gift – a gallon of home-made wine etc.
It was understood, it was mere good manners, to proclaim that you were in his debt and that he had the right to call upon you at any time to redeem your debt by some small service.”

This network implied protection, various forms of exchange but also ruthless exploitation (for example the pizzo or protection money one could not escape).

Sicily, a photograph from the Nasa Multimedia Gallery
Sicily, a photograph from the Nasa Multimedia Gallery

Long centuries of oppression or absence of the state had favoured in Sicily a kind of anti-state or alternative organization. The American police officers and the ‘nordic’ Italian state found themselves unprepared – Olla continues.

Focusing on America, “the US policemen were searching in the underworld. But it was in the upper world that they should have searched. They should have searched among the ‘similar’ and not the ‘unlike’, since those men came from an ancient culture.”

How to Face Aliens From an Ancient World?

Let us try to better understand. America at that time – Olla observes – distinguished between the good guys and the bad guys, and reacted severely to the latter. When though meeting the ‘men of respect’ the US found themselves facing unheard-of souls. They were unprepared when fighting these mafiosi who were too similar to the people from the upper world. It was not a matter of jacket and tie or of wearing a social mask.

“It was a blend of morality and immorality which produced people able to commit the most ferocious crimes and, at the same time, to show respect for religion. People capable to plan a massacre while in everyday life they defended the good principles and healthy traditions.”

An unheard-of humanity? Well, my readers know well what I mean: we are dealing here in my opinion with alien moral codes stemming from pre-Christian, Greco-Roman antiquity, something more or less unknown to [more truly Christian] northern Europe where the American culture mostly came from.

The mafioso had to be seen – as  Giovanni Falcone, a famous Sicilian magistrate killed by the mafia in 1992, once said – like the old sage who administered justice sitting under the big oak tree in the name of a non-existent state.

The Irish had no Chance

“Morality and immorality, respect and abuse, honour and violence.” When the Italian and the Irish organized crime faced each other in the American ports [Olla, again], the latter didn’t have any chance, regardless of the many advantages the Irish had had – they had migrated earlier, they spoke the language, and some of them were perfectly integrated: Irish crime had to face a more ancient and mysterious culture.

Surprise attacks, great speed and extreme determination in their raids – behind the big godfathers I remember Mario Puzo flashing the shadow of the Roman emperors [imperatores], with their ruthlessness and organization. It is exaggerated, but certainly the Mafia the Americans had to fight had already in its genes some formidable military qualities, among the rest.

Different from the Irish is the case of the Jewish criminals, some of which (like Meyer Lansky associated with Lucky Luciano) well integrated themselves into the Italian Mafia (due to their common Mediterranean origins? It is tempting to think so.)

Joseph Petrosino, a New York City police officer and pioneer in the fight against Mafia
Joseph Petrosino, a New York City police officer, pioneer in the fight against the Mafia (1860 – 1909)

It is not by chance that the first serious blows to the Mafia were given by Italians, like the police officer Joe Petrosino and many others, who were able to understand the intricacies of the Italian mind.

Related posts and blog themes:

The Mafia and the Italian Mind (2)
A Cultural Battle
The Mafia and the Italian Mind. Was Julius Caesar a Godfather? (3)

Is The Human Mind Like a Museum?
“Italians are Cynical, Amoral, Religiously Superficial”
Traces of Paganism in Italians

Carlo Calcagni’s Memoirs. Two ‘Brats’ Meet Pope Leo XIII (6)

The Vatican Gardens
The Vatican Gardens. Click for credits and larger picture

6th excerpt from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni, a true Roman born almost one and a half century ago. Read the original version in Italian.
Read all excerpts posted so far in English or in Carlo’s original Italian text.

ψ

The most famous event of my childhood with Elvira is without doubt our encounter or, I’d say, our clash with Leo XIII [Pope from 1878 to 1903, MoR.]

My sister Elvira thrilled by my stories about the Vatican and the Loggia of Raphael where I always passed while going to the gardens, and about dad in uniform following on horseback the carriage of the Pope – all things I knew quite well because whenever my father was on duty I often followed him at the Vatican and when the papal walk about the gardens took place I lay hidden together with my father’s orderly, between the hedge and the groves, in order to watch the various processions of the papal throne – my sister, I was saying, once wanted to come along with me as well, so eager she was to see herself all those wonders. After much imploring, one day my father, who couldn’t refuse anything to us, brought her along too.

When the Pope going down to the gardens for his walk had left in his carriage, the orderly along different and secluded alleys brought us up to the famous roccolo – a place for bird-catching with nets, the paretaio – from where with ease and well concealed amid the vegetation we would be able to see the Pope who used to come near his beloved vineyard close to the roccolo. This paretaio [or roccolo, see image below], for those who don’t know, was a very large circular surface, surrounded outwardly by trees and boxwood hedges, while inwardly towards the open space it was surrounded by a tall and thick hedge. There was therefore a sort of circular corridor from where one could very well see without being seen what was happening outside and inside the paretaio.

Roccolo. 1. A small construction as entrance. 7. Circular corridor
Roccolo. 1. Entrance (a small construction.) 7. Circular corridor

The entrance to this paretaio was a small and low construction so that once a person went into the corridor and turned a few yards to the right or to the left the entrance was not to be seen any more. The orderly therefore brought us there and recommended us to keep silent while the pope would approach the outside of the corridor. He then left us alone.

One can imagine my emotion and Elvira’s when we actually saw the Pope coming towards our hiding place and pausing at each plant, admiring and touching the beautiful grapes while having conversation with my father. The group, followed by ecclesiastical dignitaries or people of the suite, all with their picturesque costumes, was drawing closer and closer to us so that we could enjoy a spectacle unusual to us and unknown to the rest of Christendom. The Pope, so to say, in private.

But the Pope was also drawing closer to the entrance of the roccolo and despite our very young age we began to understand that our position was getting terribly uncertain and dangerous.

Instinctively and with great caution, following the circular corridor, we thus moved away from the entrance. Much to our horror, from the voices and sound of steps we realised that the Pope and all his suite had just entered the small construction to visit the roccolo, a place a bit abandoned in truth and which had never been the destination of his walks.

What to do? Which direction to take in order to escape from an encounter that could be inevitable and fatal since we could not see any longer the entrance that led to the circular corridor? Mad from panic we held our hands and blindly, without waiting any longer, we hurled ourselves towards the exit. Oh cruel fate! The Pope had actually taken our direction and we were about to bump unto his feet, confused, terror-stricken and breathless.

At the sudden irruption Leo XIII jolted back and the whole suite halted, upset and shocked especially when Leo XIII exclaimed with a rather vexed voice:

“Who are these brats?”

We were already far in our headlong and noisy flight through the hedges. My father readily solved the situation with his wit.

“Holy Father, they are the gardener’s children, I’ll now see to it.”

And coming after us he told us to run away together with his orderly who very worried had drawn close to the roccolo where he had left us. Run away… we didn’t wait for him to say it twice. I think we never ran so much in our life. And here you can see how my father’s swift reply and wit did not stop even before the papal throne. And with Leo XIII there was not much fooling around possible but my father’s jests were irresistible.

“Count, have you got lands?”
“Yes, Holy Father, a pot of basil and one of matricaria for my wife who now and then bears me a new baby.”

Pope Leo XIII (1810 - 1903)
Pope Leo XIII (1810 – 1903). Click for attribution

When though my father having completed his service as general brigadier went to the Pope to take his leave he had the great pleasure to hear from Leo XIII these precise words of praise:

“I am very sorry that you are leaving because we talked pleasantly … you kept me good company.”

And Leo didn’t praise easily or wasn’t easily satisfied with the people around him.

My father sometimes succeeded in receiving sums of a certain amount from Leo XIII who took them from a private box he kept in his room: sums given brevi manu to my father who had been invited by the Pope to follow him into his private apartments.

The emblem of the Trastevere rione

Original version in Italian

Calcagni’s Memoirs. Elvira, the Eldest Sister, Makes Someone Behave (5)

The S. Trinità dei Monti Curch and Villa Medici, by French painter François Marius Granet (1808). Click for larger picture
The S. Trinità dei Monti Curch and Villa Medici, by French painter François Marius Granet (1808). Click for credits and for larger picture

5th excerpt from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni, a true Roman born almost one and a half century ago. Read the original version in Italian.

Read all excerpts posted so far in English or in Carlo’s original Italian text.

ψ

The first-borns in my house were two females, Agnese [who will die very little, MoR] and later Elvira. It was said Agnese was a real beauty: blonde hair and black eyes. They dressed her very well as first-born and as soon as it was possible my father took her for walks in Gianicolo, Pincio or in other Roman gardens.

He was so proud of her and much enjoyed the enthusiastic comments from other people, nurses, nannies and mothers. He, who always went around poorly dressed, used to say:

“She is a beautiful child … I can well believe it! She is the daughter of a Russian prince!”
“And why is she calling you papà?”
“Oh, it’s a quirk, since I am the old butler of the house and she has deep affection for me.”

When I was born, the third child, my father was so jubilant at finally having a male that he danced and sang all by himself the music of a mazurka.

Ψ

Elvira, the eldest, the senior, as for stature she resembles my father, more serious and respectful but with the same decision, quickness and swift – though less eccentric and festive – replies. She is a nun, in the truest and deepest sense, a nun close to the people. She is not at all scrupulous and in her speech pops in the frank, free and jaunty character of the authentic and traditional trasteverina.

Trinità dei Monti as seen today from the Spanish Steps
Trinità dei Monti as seen from the Spanish Steps. Click for credits and larger picture

Once in Rome in Trinità di Monti [see both pictures] she had been headmistress of the school of the poor. The news came to her that the vetturini in Trinità di Monti [Roman public-service coachmen, also called bottari or botticelle,MoR] used to harass the girls at school exit with words and gestures. Mindless of any seclusion prohibition Elvira put an end to the shame. Going out of the gate together with the schoolgirls, when these were far and gone, she vehemently addressed the bottari speaking in prefect trasteverino.

Big sensation among the men who were hearing not a nun but one speaking their own language and very much to the point. The shame ended and nobody ever dared to bother the girls any more.

Ψ

In that same Trinità di Monti [see it above as seen from the Spanish Steps] and always as headmistress of that school Elvira did it again. One day while passing along via della Panetteria I by chance overheard a dialogue between mother and daughter, two popolane:

“Have you eaten your soup today?”
“Yes”
“And how come you have today and yesterday you have not?”
“Because mother Calcagni had it made good”

I became curious and asking my sister about it she was obliged to tell the fact. The fact was this. She was aware that since a few days none of the pupils had eaten the soup. She then wanted to taste it but had to spit it out: it was uneatable, it tasted like nothing but dirty water. She thus raced to the woman cook and posed the question:

“And you tell me, how did you make this soup?”
“Eh! I take a stockpot with very hot water, and there I add salt and then pieces of stale bread”
“And nothing else?”
“Nothing else”
“Why? One makes slop for dogs this way, not soup for people!”
“But they are poor, they must be content with it”
“Listen, you’ve got to make soup and not reason whether it is for the poor or for the rich. Add some herbs and some fat and you will see that the soup will be eaten by all the girls.”

The shame of the soup ended but Elvira’s rating, so to say, as a nun subordinate and respectful of appropriate manners considerably decreased.

The emblem of the Trastevere rione

Original version in Italian

[In a few days a new excerpt where Carlo and Elvira, little kids, are caught by Pope Leo XIII (who reigned from 1878 to 1903) while secretly watching him at the Vatican. Their father ‘s swift reply saves them from trouble]

Calcagni’s Memoirs. Poverty and Father’s Funeral in Trastevere (4)

Piazza S. Cosimato in Trastevere, Rome, in a recent photograph. Click for credits

Fourth excerpt from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni, my grandmother’s eldest brother. He was a true Roman, born almost one and a half century ago. Read the original version in Italian.

Read all excerpts posted so far in English or in Carlo’s original Italian text.

ψ

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.

Trastevere Today
A street of today’s Trastevere.

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.

S. Francesco a Ripa, in Trastevere, where the funeral took place. Click for attribution

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.

The emblem of the Trastevere rione

Original version in Italian

Calcagni’s Memoirs. Perplexities About the Family Inheritance (3)

Medieval houses at Santa Cecilia, Trastevere, painted by Roesler Franz in 1880 ca.

Third excerpt from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni, a true Roman born almost one and a half century ago. Read the original version in Italian.

Read all excerpts posted so far in English or in Carlo’s original Italian text.

ψ

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.

Villa Mondragone, once a famous Jesuit school. CLick for credits
Villa Mondragone near Frascati, once a famous Jesuit collegio for young aristocrats. Click for credits and to enlarge

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 …

The emblem of the Trastevere rione

Original version in Italian

Next chapters:

Calcagni’d Memoirs. Poverty and Father’s Funeral … (4)
Calcagni’s Memoirs. Elvira, the Eldest Sister … (5)
Calcagni’s Memoirs. Two Brats Meet Pope Leo XIII (6)

Calcagni. Suddend Death of Granfather. His father is Left to Himself (2)

Church of Santa Maria di Plestia, Serravalle del Chienti. Click for credits

Second excerpt from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni, a true Roman born almost one and a half century ago. Read the original version in Italian.

My family was then very big: 6 beefy children who needed so many things to grow up – food, clothes, shoes, manners and education. But, if as far as birth, parentage and social condition, my father was certainly above the average, high above it, as for financial resources he was really deprived of everything except the bare – almost too bare – minimum necessary for life. Why? How? I don’t know well because they never told me, my father always tried to pass over the subject.

A Noble Guard of the VaticanIn ancient days the family had lands in Velletri, where in the proximity to that town a hill exists that bears yet the name of Colle Calcagni and a palace in Rome near piazza Nicosia, the respectable and beautiful block which is now the Cardelli palace. My grandfather, count Filippo Calcagni, engineer, had been Noble Guard of His Holiness [see a noble guard on the left.] One day he resigned from the Corps and undertook the free career becoming among the rest engineer of the SS Palaces. When Gregory XVI [Pope from 1831 to 1846, MoR] went on a trip about the provinces of his State, the Palace engineer was entrusted to inspect the roads that the Pope would have to cover.

On the long slope which from Serravalle del Chienti goes downward to Tolentino my grandfather had a deadly coach accident. The horse took to flight down the hill. Two were on the coach, one kept himself glued to the carriage, paralysed by fright; my grandfather instead trying to save himself jumped out to the ground, hit his head and remained senseless. He didn’t die immediately. A few days later, a week perhaps, he passed away in the arms of his wife, who had raced to his bedside, without regaining consciousness.

He is buried in the church of Serravalle; a big gravestone on the middle of the left-side wall calls to mind the sad event with emphatic style. My grandmother, countess Carlotta Negroni, was just 23-year-old at that time, and she had my 3 year-old dad only and was pregnant of my aunt Maria.

My father therefore did not receive any education from his father and lived between his mother, inconsolable widow, and his sister Maria whom he greatly adored, a well explainable idolatry. As for material means, none, or very little, received from the rich relation, very little indeed I believe, while certain and definite was the very miserable condition of the poor relation, uncomfortable and painful.

Naturally – it is well understandable – all care and moral and material help from the rich relation were provided to the benefit of the female, aunt Maria, very young and very beautiful, while the male, Nino, my father, had to do things himself.

And in fact he did: as soon as he was 19, not having completed his studies at the celebrated Collegio Romano – studies of grammar, rethoric, philosophy and humanities – he applied for joining the Noble Guard Corps of His Holiness. His application was accetped.

[Next time: Calcagni’s Memoirs. Perplexities About the Family Inheritance (3)]

The emblem of the Trastevere rione

Original version in Italian