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.
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.
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.”
After some hesitation I had decided in June 2009 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.)
I here collect all excerpts from Carlo Calcagni’s memoirs translated to English and posted so far at the Man of Roma. Here the collection of the original excerpts in Italian. Each posted excerpt forms a chapter with links to the original version in Italian and to the original posts and theirs discussions.
Carlo Calcagni is a true Roman whose memoirs offer a lively cross-section of the 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.
This work has so far circulated among relatives and friends only. I think nobody was more Romanthan Carlo, a person gifted with intelligence, humour and a good nature typical from here but also peculiar to him alone.
He narrates of a disappeared Rome and vividly depicts the three social milieus that made up the Roman population 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; his wife Bice was from generone) and the popolino or populace (marvellously described by the Roman poet Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli) – he had contact with since his family lived in Trastevere, today a fashionable rione but at his time the slums of the city.
Each chapter has 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.
The copyright of these memoirs belongs to the author’s relatives.
There’s evidence of the millenary presence of the Jews in the city. Of the over 40 imperial Rome catacombs unveiled 6 are Jewish. At the end of the catacomb period a Jewish cemetery rose around Porta Portese. We also know of at least one synagogue in Ostia antica and of several in Trastevere.
The arch of Titus is also an indirect sign of presence. The Roman generals in triumph were usually followed by the captives in fetters, although on one arch panel we see only the head of the procession – but someone says it shows also prisoners – with the riches looted in Jerusalem, among which the seven-branched menorah.
By the way, where is the splendid gold menorah gone? Oh so many speculations and legends flourished! [see Lanciani at the foot of the page]
From both Josephus and the panel we guess it was brought to Rome, then possibly kept in the Temple of Peace until the Vandals stole it in 455 AD.
One legend is told by Giggi Zanazzo (1860 -1911), our source on Roman culture written in the Roman dialect (full text):
“The candelabrum we see carved under the arch of Titus was all in gold and was brought by the ancient Romans to Rome from Jerusalem, when this city was sacked and burned by them. It is said some turmoil occurred and they came to blows when someone tried to steal it. Since they happened to pass over the Quattro Capi bridge [pons Fabricius – see below – the most ancient bridge surviving, built in 62 BC] it was thrown into the river so nobody had it and the water now is enjoying it.”
It was said that under Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758) the Jews asked permission to drain the river at their own expense, but the Pope refused fearing that stirring up the mud would generate the plague [Lanciani.]
Did the Jews live so long with the Romans that some paganism brushed on them? Zanazzo writes that the Holy Mary was evoked in ways that remind me of Juno Lucina, the Roman goddess of childbirth:
“When the Jewish women are about to give birth, during the hardest labour pains, in order for their childbirth to be successful, they ask our Madonna for help. When all is finished quickly and well they get a broom and sweep the floor saying: “Fora, Maria de li Cristiani (out, Mary of the Christians).”
From the right to the left bank
Since they had arrived to Rome the Jews had mainly lived on the right bank of the Tiber, in the Transtiberine district, where the harbour was.
After Christianity split into Protestants and Catholics (from the 16th century on) and an epoch of religious fanaticism began, the Jews were forced to settle down on the left river side, in a district called rione S. Angelo [see above the area at the times of emperor Constantine; see below as it is today.]
On the 14th of July 1555 Pope Paul IV issued a Bull that cancelled all the rights of the Jews and segregated them in a walled area, il Serraglio delli Hebrei, as it was called (i.e. the ghetto,) an unhealthy place subject to floods and too small for its inhabitants.
The ghetto: ‘Condemned for their fault’
Heavy gates were kept open only from sunrise till sunset.
The Bull Cum nimis absurdum took its name from its first words. It decreed that the Jews had to be separated from the rest ‘through their own fault’ [Latin, propria culpa]:
“Since it is absurd and utterly inconvenient that the Jews, who through their own fault [e.g. having caused the death of Christ] were condemned by God to eternal slavery, have access to our society and even may live among us […] we ordain that for the rest of time […] all Jews are to live in only one [quarter] to which there is only one entrance and from which there is but one exit.”
The Bull encouraged the creation of walled ghettos in Italy and elsewhere in Europe.
More than 3 centuries later part of the Roman ghetto was demolished after Italy’s unity in 1870. Among the disappeared places was via Rua, where the most prominent Jewish families lived.
Well, if this was a sort of main street, one has an idea of the poverty of the entire place! Look at this watercolour by Ettore Roesler Franz (ca 1880 .)
The Jewish obstinacy in keeping their own traditions increased the mistrust of the Christians. Constrained since centuries to be second rate traders, they were additionally impoverished by segregation, which added to the idea that God had punished them. All this favoured humiliation and violence.
“The men had to wear a yellow cloth (the “sciamanno”)- we read in the Wiki – and the women a yellow veil (the same colour worn by prostitutes). During the feasts they had to amuse the Christians, competing in humiliating games. They had to run naked, with a rope around the neck, or with their legs closed into sacks. […] Every Saturday, the Jewish community was forced to hear compulsory sermons in front of the small church of San Gregorio a Ponte Quattro Capi, just outside the wall.”
We have to say that strictness in Rome was always tempered by the laxity and good-nature of its inhabitants. The yellow colour often became indistinguishable, some covert movements were possible, hate or mistrust were not seldom replaced by warm solidarity. Moreover the Roman people, popes included, needed the arts of the Jews – the astrology & medicine they had learned from the Arabs, and their trade skills.
There were never pogroms in the city, like elsewhere in Europe. And never the Jews from here were tempted by another diaspora.
In short, they were tolerated. So they remained in Rome.
Note. For an in-depth analysis of the Jews’ presence in ancient Rome see the 6th chapter from the splendid Rodolfo Lanciani’s New Tales Of Old Rome (1901) [full text].
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.
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.
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.
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?”
“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?”
“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.
[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]
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.
Reema has tagged me for a post that should present a few melodious and soulful songs in Italian and in another language of my choice. So I chose some Italian songs from Rome and Naples (sung often in their respective dialects) and some Italy-related American songs sung in English by Dean Martin, the great charmer of Italian descent. I’m sure Reema, this nice and spunky Indian lady, will vigorously protest saying some of these songs are not soulful or melodious enough. Well they are, but in their own way.
I wonder if you noticed Anna’s joyful laughter. In the video next to the one below you might better perceive how mocking, tragic and a bit crass it can also be. It’s the typical (and complex) Roman laughter from a town both noble and vulgar, I know I’m blunt about it. This – please allow me – is possibly due to remnants of ancient mores and to a peculiar history: the base ways in which the Roman populace was entertained (with gladiators etc.) to be kept quiet might have left traces, for example. Sounds a bit like the world of today, with vile Tv and movies ruling, doesn’t it.
Born in the Roman slums in 1908, Anna displays this weird mixture of nobility and crudity, of impudence and extreme moral strength. She is the perfect symbol of Rome. Here she sings Scapricciatiello, a Neapolitan song by Ferdinando Albano (1894 – 1968). The film is The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969) and the guy playing the guitar is Anthony Queen, her husband in the plot.
Now a stornello romano from Mamma Roma (1962), with French subtitles, starring Anna Magnani and Franco Citti. A stornello is a Roman folk song where each strophe often begins with ‘fiore di’ (flower of…), the rest being improvised, which allows the man and the two women in the video to mock one another in ways, well, typical from here.
Anna plays the role of a prostitute during the post-war period, when Italians were struggling for survival. In this scene she is very upset because her pimp (Citti, with a moustache) has married the other woman. Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini the film was judged immoral by critics and the public due to swearing.
Sweet Feelings of a City
Getting closer to the sweetness of the city, the Roman folk singer Gabriella Ferri sings Roma forestiera, (Stranger Rome), 1947, a song lamenting the post-war social transformation of Rome. The original Youtube movie inserted showed scenes from the films Mamma Roma and Roma città aperta, directed by Roberto Rossellini, probably one of the best Italian films ever produced. The movie is no longer available on Youtube for copyright infringement. Here another one with the same song Roma forestiera sung by Gabriella Ferri.
Now Arrivederci Roma, a song composed by Renato Rascel and sung by Claudio Villa, my favourite Roman folk singer. Born in Trastevere Villa has a wonderful voice but languages are not his forte (he pronounces ‘goobye’ instead of ‘goodbye’). Very beautiful pictures of Rome (but much betterones in the video next to this).
Another song by Renato Rascel, Roma nun fa’ la stupida stasera (Rome please behave tonight), sung by a bunch of artists – see credits at the end – and with a set of pictures among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.
Here the core meaning of the song: (the man) “oh Roma, be as romantic as possible and help me to make her say yes to me;” (the woman) “oh Roma, be as unromantic as possible and help me to say NO to him!”
Italy in America. Dean Martin
And now our great Dean Martin (Dino Paul Crocetti) who sings a Neapolitan song Torna a Surriento (English titleTake Me In Your Arms.) This man and ALL the songs in this post really remind me of my first youth, I’ve got to thank Reema for it. Enjoy also some nice pictures of the Sorrento area, where – allow me again – the Romans first mixed up with the Greeks.
Listen now to On an Evening in Roma (Sott’er Cielo de Roma), one of Dino’s great Italian love songs (1961). The video is full of Rome’s great pictures.
Naples and the Three Tenors
We’ll finish with two beautiful Neapolitan songs. Here is Parlami d’amore Mariu’ (Talk me of Love Mariu’) by the Neapolitan composer Bixio. It is performed by the three tenors Luciano Pavarotti, José Carreras and Placido Domingo in Paris (1998).
Finally, as the cherry on the pie, Non ti scordar di me (Don’t forget me) by the Neapolitan composer Ernesto De Curtis. It is sung by Luciano Pavarotti in Budapest.
I know, I have dedicated so much space to music on Rome, but this is the Man of Roma’s blog, after all.
I’ll though say here aloud what it is already well known: the tradition of the Neapolitan song is much greater than that of Rome.
“California is a fine place to live – if you happen to be an orange.” (Fred Allen, American humorist)
I’ll link this jest to the sense of emptiness I perceived while staying for a while in Venice, Los Angeles (see picture above,) some time ago.
One of the social milieus I stumbled upon was this weird bunch of people who, while hoping to find a job in the entertainment industry, had this everybody-sleeping-with-everybody type of lifestyle who puzzled me because of its total nihilism and emptiness, or so it appeared to me.
Not that the writers that have lived in LA have greatly contributed to better this image of pointlessness and malaise, from Aldous Huxley, to Raymond Chandler (with his marvellously depressed Philip Marlowe) and the more recent James Ellroy (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere etc.).
So maybe what Fred Allen said is kinda true.
Only if you happen to be an orange. Or a movie star … (what about a porn star?)
But I also keep the most beautiful souvenirs of San Francisco, northern California. I was close to my twenties and I had never been to SF or America before, to tell the truth. Didn’t have to. They simply materialised before my eyes in Trastevere, Rome, in the years between the 60s-70s, via the cute face of a half-Mexican girl from SF, her name Mariza, who worked for an airline company out there and who totally bewitched me and accepted to share a small and cheap flat in via della Lungara.
This place soon attracted a long series of eccentric individuals: a gay pianist from Kansas City (of German origin, his Bach was pure magic), a lesbian paintress from Santa Barbara, a Vietnam vet from SF as well, a bit spaced out and hopelessly addicted to alcohol, plus this intense actress from Chicago (the link tells about her) together with many other odd American characters.
Mariza was one of my sweetest experiences, intelligent, attractive and cultured. Those were the days of the hippies who had found in the San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district one of their homes. She introduced me to SF’s counter-culture from a high-level angle and we were singing the beautiful Scott McKenzie‘s song “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair)”:
Such a strange vibration, People in motion There’s a whole generation With a new explanation People in motion .. people in motion
A new explanation …such big words!
And Trastevere became our Haight-Ashbury (see below its main piazza and gathering place, S. Maria.) We felt all brothers, no matter the race, the religion or the country. Such an extraordinary place, Trastevere, not yet so trendy at that time and populated by these unconventional expatriates plus of course the locals, real Romans beyond any belief.
Oddly enough, on the stage of this ancient theatre I first met young America and its sparkling fresh mind. Not only my English began to improve.
But we were not hippies. Being not saints either there was not much place though in our experiences for nihilism or malaise.
So full we were of our romantic dreams, whether our naïve ideals were guiding or misguiding still remains to be seen.
Some artists have this tendency to experience all. They want to dare beyond normality, beyond the ordinary. The use of any kind of drug as mental trip (or, in a deeper sense, as consciousness expansion) has been a research path that many philosophers, artists, writers etc. have tried, from Baudelaire to Sartre to many others, from various past theories and experiences – lived for example by American 68 counter-cultural figures such as Timothy Leary, Carlos Castaneda, Ken Kesey – until today.
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man
Play a song for me …
Take me on a trip upon
Your magic swirlin’ ship,
My senses have been stripped…
Bob Dylan was probably here referring to his experiences with LSD.
Many years ago an American experimental theatre actress (of Italian origin) was living in a small apartment here in Trastevere (from Latin Trans Tiberim = beyond the Tiber river). This was at a time when this rione had just started to be trendy (enjoy some Trastevere pictures).
In any case one night, on a tiny terrace overlooking Rome’s romantic roofs, while together with some friends we were eating a delicious Tuscan caciotta and were placidly sipping some good red wine, she suddenly got inspired and said that, if Shakespeare was so good at describing all the hues of the human soul, positive as well as negative, it was because he had actually lived them all, it couldn’t but be like that – she said – since what he wrote was actually so incredibly vivid and real— from the most dreadful horrors up to the joys of sublime love between youths.
Therefore an artist, in order to access some bits of greatness, had to behave in much the same way and experience life at a highest and even extreme degree.
She undeniably tried to follow this principle, and while her life was gradually falling apart, her acting on stage was amazingly gaining in intensity and strength, as if actually there were this sort of relationship between the experiencing-all type of lifestyle, on one hand (extreme sorrow, pure joy and less pure transgression,) and a greater intensity and power in acting, on the other hand.
(If you want to know more about those days, read this post)
The intense beautiful eyes of this American woman, whose family originated in Campania, expressed all these things. They were the complex, ancient eyes of an Anna Magnani from Chicago.
Enjoy these Anna Magnani’s intense eyes, showing all the vigour and dignity a contemporary Roman woman can have. I will show you better pictures whenever I can. The American actress too had definitely a deepness of her own. She later moved on from that intemperate phase of her life and she now lives a happy and fruitful life back in her Chicago.
Let us digress and enjoy Anna verrà, a beautiful song sung and composed in honour of Anna Magnani by the Italian pop-blues musician Pino Daniele, from Naples, a city we will talk about soon since it is the Greek cousin of Rome: Naples, or Napoli, comes from Greek Νέα Πόλις, i. e. new town.
col suo modo di guardarci
noi che ci emozioniamo
ancora davanti al mare. Anna verrà
e sarà un giorno
pieno di sole …
col suo modo di rubarci
Anna will come, with her way
of looking deep
into our eyes … We still so excited
by the sea … Anna will come in a day
the sun will fully shine … Anna will come with her way of seizing deep
into our souls…
PS Permanences. Rome has a special relationship with that Campania area. There was located Cumae, which founded Naples and which was the first Greek colony in the Italian mainland. In those Hellenic areas, lush with climate and fertility, and where later great Roman men like Cicero had their villas, Rome encountered the Greeks for the very first time, a fact that will greatly influence succeeding history. Talking of permanences, this relationship between the two cities is still alive today, based on empathy, common roots and a comprehension of two identities which are diverse though eternally attracting each other.
This song by Pino Daniele (from the album Mascalzone latino, if I’m not wrong) we love to imagine as a direct tribute from Νέα Πόλις to Rome. And Rome – we also love to imagine – honoured returns.