A man-to-man thing, after an earlier post on how different women and men can be (see the original in Italian.)
Rome, April 2004. 6 o’clock of a cold but bright morning.
I am looking at the Roman rooftops, sitting in my terrace. It’s almost dawn and I’m cold.
You know, I had two sisters and 8 female first cousins and I met him when we were 3-4. He therefore became my eldest brother.
My Eldest Brother
I have heard him on the telephone the night before after many years of silence.
So now on my terrace on the first shred of paper I found I’m quickly jotting down the words I have in my head for fear of forgetting them.
Words thrown spontaneously – and a bit savage too perhaps.
1950s-1960s remote, antediluvian stuff?
What can I say, we lived in immediate post-war Italy. Judge for yourself.
For My Eldest Brother
My friend, companion of happy adventures
during the prime of life,
at 6 in a Roman morning,
a cold breeze running over the rooftops
of a pagan city,
you, companion and brother,
I here come to celebrate
as in an ancient rite,
a pencil splashing words
rapidly on a page,
words alive, unlaboured.
You taught me to enjoy this life,
its primordial side and strength;
I, more fearful,
brought up in a world of women,
was taught by you manly ways,
the male attributes, or nuts,
that you always had,
and have: do not forget!
Oh fuck, male attributes,
may the Lord be thanked!
In a world full of empty
jaded and phony people,
you always were an example,
my friend and brother,
of strength and courage
much more than my father.
You – and my mother’s brothers
so dear and much much loved.
And my father,
who meant a great deal,
from him I took other things.
But you were so much to me.
One more year is a lot
when one is so young,
It helps to establish a primacy
that I always have recognized you.
And here, on this small terrace
of the city of Rome,
in front of the ancient temples
of our primogenial culture,
I honour you,
my eldest brother;
I celebrate you, that primacy still recognizing
not solely because of age.
At this point red wine I would drink
(but it is early in the morning…)
the full-bodied red Tuscan wine
of our wonderful winter evenings
in our countryside – do you recall? –
when, roasted meat over embers
the Dionysian pleasures
of meat and wine you delivered
and of the women
taken by the hair
and gently, strongly,
The breeze is now warmer.
Words begin to fail.
I only hope,
dear friend, my strong companion
and eldest brother,
to have conveyed to you
these memories, these emotions
during abrupt awakening
after a phone call.
[Translation by Geraldine]
[This sweet, generous Celtic woman
is not responsible for the ‘bad words’
that are mine since how
could she understand them
plus Google translator
doesn’t provide help on that]
Note. I had talked to him the night before on the phone, as I’ve said. We hadn’t seen or talked to each other since years.
That is probably why I woke with a start at 5:30 am with my head so full of that joy – the years of infancy and adolescence, any reader knows them: we spent them together in the Arezzo’s countryside every single summer of the 1950s-1960s .
Joys (and sorrows) but all lived with exuberance and almost violent intensity.
He had a house across from mine but when we first saw each other over the wall (I was alone, he with his grandma, a gentle lady as of from an old-time painting, we had 3-4 years) we did not like each other at all. He looked prissy and too well-groomed to my taste.
Then one day his mother took him to our house for an official visit (the two mums were close friends). Disturbed we were a bit so we began to throw pebbles at a can placed at 10 yards from where we were on a stone table, just to kill moodiness. He was a year older.
The throwing-pebbles-at-a-can thing triggered ALL. We have never left each other since then (apart from a few intervals.) Thing being our brains knew how to fly together, and we laughed and laughed and we laughed out loud. His mind, odd and humorous, was rich with ideas.
In the picture below I am 18. From then on we had the first break. A long one.
Now that we are old (or almost) we feel even closer and there won’t be intervals any more.
It’s this desire we have to stay close at the end of a marvellous adventure we did begin together, in the company also of the loved ones from his side and from my side – who make our life more human (and who console us of its miseries.)
Read 2 of our first adventures with the ‘other sex’:
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
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).
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
A man-to-man thing, after the previous post on how different women and men can be.
Roma, aprile 2004. Le 6 di una mattina fredda ma luminosa. Guardo i tetti di Roma. Sono seduto nella mia terrazza. E’ quasi l’alba e ho freddo.
Avevo risentito il mio amico la sera prima al telefono dopo tanti anni di silenzio. Scrivo velocemente a matita sul primo pezzaccio di carta che trovo parole che ho in testa, per paura di dimenticarle.
Parole buttate là, piene di emozione, forse anche un po’ selvagge.
Roba da anni 50s-60s, da epoca remota e superata?
Che volete che vi dica, era l’Italia del dopoguerra, giudicherete voi.
Al mio fratello maggiore
Amico mio, compagno
di scorribande felici
nella fase più piena della vita,
alle 6 di un mattino romano,
la fredda brezza che corre
sui tetti di una città pagana,
io te, compagno mio e fratello,
qui vengo a celebrare
come in un rito antico,
schizzando con la matita
rapide su un foglio
parole vive e non lavorate.
Mi hai insegnato a godere della vita
l’aspetto primordiale e forte;
io, con più timore,
cresciuto in un mondo femminile,
il lato virile mi hai insegnato,
quello con gli attributi,
che hai sempre avuto,
non lo dimenticare!
E cazzo vivaddio gli attributi!
In un mondo spompato
pieno di gente vuota stanca fasulla,
sei sempre stato esempio,
caro fratello mio,
di forza e di coraggio,
molto più che mio padre;
tu, e i miei zii materni,
i carissimi e amati
fratelli di mia madre.
A mio padre,
che pure ha significato tanto,
devo altre cose,
ma tu sei stato molto per me,
un anno in più vuol dire,
quando si è giovanissimi:
aiuta a stabilire il primato
che sempre ti ho riconosciuto.
E qui, in questa piccola terrazza
della città di Roma,
di fronte ai templi antichi
della nostra cultura primigenia,
io qui ti onoro,
fratello mio maggiore;
io qui ti celebro,
quel primato ancora riconoscendo
che non fu solo d’età.
A questo punto vino rosso berrei
(ma è mattino presto…)
il vino rosso forte, toscano,
di quelle serate d’inverno
della nostra campagna.
In cui tu,
la carne arrostita sulle braci,
i piaceri dionisiaci consegnavi
della carne, del vino
e delle femmine prese per i capelli,
e dolcemente, fortemente,
La brezza ora è più calda.
Le parole cominciano a mancare.
amico caro, forte mio compagno
e fratello maggiore,
di averti comunicato
le mie emozioni al brusco risveglio
dopo una telefonata.
Nota. L’avevo sentito la sera prima al telefono. Non ci eravamo rivisti da anni.
Per questo mi sono svegliato di soprassalto alle 5:30, con la testa piena di quella gioia, e che gioia (gli anni dell’infanzia e dell’adolescenza li conoscete tutti): noi li passammo insieme ogni singola estate nella campagna aretina degli anni 50s-60s.
Emozioni, anche dolori.
Ma tutto vissuto con esuberanza ed intensità quasi violente.
Aveva la casa di fronte alla mia ma quando ci vedemmo oltre i muri la prima volta (io solo, lui con la nonna, una cara signora d’altri tempi, avevamo 3-4 anni) non ci piacemmo affatto. Lui mi sembrava perfettino, troppo ben pettinato.
Poi un giorno sua madre lo portò da noi ufficialmente (le due mamme erano molto amiche). Contrariati cominciammo a tirare i sassi a un barattolo messo su un tavolo di pietra, così, tanto per vincere la scontrosità. Aveva un anno più di me.
Il gioco del tiro al barattolo fece scattare tutto. Da allora non ci siamo più lasciati, anche se con intervalli. I nostri cervelli sapevano volare insieme, e ridevamo, ridevamo, ridevamo a crepapelle. Aveva una mente bizzarra, umoristica, piena di idee.
Qui sotto ho 18 anni. Dì li in poi ci fu il primo intervallo. Lungo.
Adesso che siamo vecchi o quasi ci sentiamo ancora più vicini e non ci saranno intervalli.
Credo che sia la voglia di finire l’avventura meravigliosa cominciata insieme, anche con tutte le altre persone care accanto a lui e accanto a me, che ci rendono la vita più umana (e ci consolano delle sue miserie).
I just can’t write one of my usual posts. My mind is blurred.
Because my sanctuary, the only place where I can find peace and concentration (my study room,) is a mess.
I am getting crazy, lunatico.
As I said these more-than-100 retrieved tomes which belonged to grandpa (a blessing and a suffering) have generated chaos in my life. 1/5 of them are permanently damaged by water – together with precious family pictures & documents.
[See below my father and my mother in 1946, the day of their marriage. Two other pictures of their marriage are gone (!!!).
My mother btw cried all the time during the ceremony. Her father, hit by a bus one month earlier, had just passed away. They married nonetheless. The war had just ended and people were eager to live, which is why we are the boomer generation, it is well known]
Trying so hard to rearrange my den I’ve fought against my nature and have gone to Ikea.
Ikea, to me, is biggest pain in the … neck ever. I have bought two big bookcases and have assembled them at home yesterday. Oh it takes a real engineer to do it, not a computer systems engineer, a ridiculous creature who deals with immaterial rationality and invisible bits.
Ikea being such a pain I decided to treat myself like a royalty before going.
1) I bought aanother New Testament both in Greek and in Latin;
2) Bought Dante’s Comedy translated to English by Allen Mandelbaum;
3) I called Marina, my medicine.
“Hey Marina, come have lunch with me, will you?”
“Ciao professore. Sì evviva! Villa Borghese va bene?” [Hi teacher. Wow yes! Villa Borghese ok?]
Brown hair, brown eyes, very outspoken, Marina is a beaming Italian beauty and the Sabrina Ferilli type of Roman woman (see the Roman actress on the left.)
But what most counts to me is that she’s been one of the best, most devoted, most sympathetic IT pupils I’ve ever had in the course of the last 15 years. There’s tons of affection & respect between us.
The two are similar and, if my wife is a bit closer to Minerva and Juno, Marina has among the rest this special quality my wife hasn’t:
She laughs the Roman laughter, one of the best specimen I’ve ever heard, no kidding.
Flavia’s ancient Roman laughter is heard in the room. It is loud, slightly crass but luminous, as it should be and as I hope it will ever ever be in the future, somewhat like a sympathetic, warm BIG HUG to the world.
[my mother laughed in the same way btw]
During a sunlit lunch at Villa Borghese, with umbrella pine trees majestically surrounding us (see Villa Borghese at the page head,) in front of a sumptuous tray of mixed antipasti – fusilli, olives, tomatoes, mozzarella, parmisan etc., washed down with full bodied Chianti – we kept on chatting cheerfully while both vino and ver sacrum (sacred spring) were intoxicating the air bit by bit.
When the right time arrived I took my cell phone out of my jacket and started to play the moron (I’m good at that, you know.)
And then it happened.
Especially, she laughed.
Well, not one of her best laughs – she saw I was there with my cell phone – yet a sound, sympathetic Roman laughter which is revealing a bit of our city’s culture with all its pros and cons (any laughter being revealing of any culture, ça va sans dire.)
Some of my posts have been just now nominated at the Indian Avant Garde Bloggies Awards.They are appearing on the comment section at the right.
It’s a huge Indian Bloggie festival promoted by the fantastic and indefatigable Poonam Sharma, a young woman with character who is constructing the new India like all the young Indians around her.
I feel honoured, and I am moved a bit, I’ll confess. It doesn’t really matter who will win since what matters here is that ideas, mutual respect, intercultural appreciation plus, last but not least, affection, have circulated among us.
For an Italian this is even more important since Italians – the ones I have experience of – are not that open to the world, like instead other folks from other seas, or past, are.
Let me repeat that the people from the subcontinent have been important for the Man of Roma’s blog. Don’t know why, they have been founding in some way – odd in a blog dedicated to Rome -, as many of my posts and conversations [see a sample] – here and in other blogs – attest (in my first not-easy-to-forget blogging year mostly – now West readers have kinda devoured me.)
So now I want my non Indian readers to get to know some of these people. I’ll let them speak via the Avant Garde Bloggies Awards web site (Poonam’s voice mainly.)
“Hey there! Avant Garde Bloggies Awards aims to find the worthiest bloggers around. You are here to have your voice counted to decide the worthiest blogger available.
Scrutinising Team: Dhiren, Vimal, Smita and Vee(I could not even have taken a single step without these four.)
Rashmi: A personal friend and English litterateur from Pune who loves to read poetry and books. She has another blog these days. I will update link soon. She was a theatre enthusiast, currently she makes her living out of her words.
I’ll finally add – I think it to be appropriate – some Indian fusion music (classical Indian + western pop) from the Destination Infinity blog. Here is DI first:
“The song ‘Taaye yeshoda’ from the movie ‘Morning Raaga’ [see below, MoR. ] is one of the best Classical/Carnatic fusion songs that I have heard till now. The first fusion song I heard was ‘Krishna Nee Begane’ [see also below] by Colonial Cousins. That was a brilliant fusion of western and classical. I have always wondered why there have not been many fusion songs after that. Carnatic/classical music has never appealed to me earlier …”
And this one too (unfortunately a better one DI proposed has been removed from Youtube):
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.
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.”
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.
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 …
“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.
Youth with its endless energy has always been fascinating. All revolutions are made by young people, which are like gasoline, ever exploding, ever changing the world. The British industrial revolution was prepared by an agricultural revolution that greatly increased and rejuvenated the population, so one can say that this fundamental breakthrough was largely a product of young energies (which did not mean a mere extension of the workforce).
We now see a whole new generation of Indians and Chinese (together with the Brazilians etc.) fighting for a better future and rightfully enthusiastic about the progress of their respective countries. We are watching with interest this world readjustment occurring before our eyes and fuelled by the younger generations. Hundreds of thousands of these youngsters being active bloggers, it is easy to have a direct connection with them via the blogosphere. Here a list of a few Indian bloggers we have been in contact with: Ashish, Falcon, Poonam, Nita, Amyth, Ishmeet, Shefaly, Reema, Nova etc.
As far as the Chinese, we’ve been in contact with a young woman blogger only, AutumnSnow, the problem with China being the language, as far as we can tell (and/or our incapability of connecting to Chinese people so far).
“I am a die-hard nationalist! I LOVE going to malls on weekends and experiencing first-hand India’s spending BOOM. I LOVE watching IPL and all the cricketing world’s eyes glued to the Indian story. I LOVE Bollywood churning out movie after movie and filled-up multiplexes. I LOVE listening to analysts on CNN Money talking about “The India Story!”
I know there are miles to go still.. and there are mountains to climb. But I know that as a nation of a billion-plus people we are striving for better lives and for a better India. We are working hard and we are getting closer.”
Touching words. Following is a video he presents in his post. Produced by India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), “in many ways … it captures the essence of India”, in Amyth’s opinion, talking of modern advances together with Karma and Dharma. Impressive, in our view.
Unfortunately we couldn’t find anything similar for China. Maybe the movie below can provide an idea of what is also happening in that country, although we being not allowed to embed it we can just follow this link here (courtesy of CutePiglet123).
Unbelievable views and pictures, in any case. Really.
This post originates from a debate I had with Falcon,Ashish and especially Rob and regarding: values, the West, the Islamic extremists etc. First Rob replied to a comment of mine saying I raised too many issues so it’d be too arduous to fully accept the challenge. But the same I can say of his post (an even more complex reply to my comment lol), so I’ll just consider some topics mentioned by him (plus Ashish’s and Falcon’s remarks) and will talk freely without too much organization, being a bit tired after a long work trip (and hoping I won’t say too many silly things lol).
Is Decadence Advancing (or Just Old Age)?
Western leaders are talking so much about values. But where is the line between what they really feel and political propaganda? I am referring to the Tony Blair’s speech quoted by Rob but this of course is not only true of Western leaders. This is also true of almost any leader. Although on the whole I see some decadence advancing in our part of the world, which might correspond to the natural cycle of civilizations, more or less like what happened to the civilization of ancient Rome. I mean, Western leaders can try to propose their societies (and their values) as models, but what are the real ideas we are exporting around the world?
Just an example taken from today’s entertainment field. At least two movie industries are now flooding the world with their films: Hollywood and Bollywood, the former selling all over the world, the latter selling all over Asia (Muslim countries included) but now starting to be appreciated outside Asia as well. I may be wrong but Bollywood moviegoers seem to entertain themselves in a much healthier way, while American movies (not to mention US video games) are now so painted with blood, stupidities and disgusting violence (apart from some technological perfection which in any case is not much influential over the quality of content) that the final educational result on the public tends in my view towards new forms of barbarism (see above a view of the Hollywood boulevard: source).
Blind Hatred plus Moral Disgust?
I abhor the Islamic fascists, as you call them, Rob. And I am not neutral. Quite the contrary. These repugnant people have made the world much worse than it was before, in my opinion. But if we do not understand that many of them are also motivated by some sort of moral disgust towards some ways of the West, we miss an important point.
Take Bali, Indonesia. The islamofascists hit Kuta twice in 2002 and 2005 with some bombs and killed hundreds of people, mostly Westerners. I have been to Bali a few times and I believe it is not by chance they hit the Kuta beach area so much.
Bali is the only Hindu island in a country, Indonesia, mostly Muslim. This was symbolic to them, not many doubts about it, but I think a main point was also they hit right a place in Bali (Kuta) where the Westerners most succeeded in totally corrupting the local people who are now selling themselves in various ways for money, while in other parts of this great island the Balinese retain their unbelievable dignity and their incredibly refined cultural values, yes, so refined that even peasants look like princes (look above at the pure beauty of these two Balinese dancers: source).
Although by this I do not mean the West has no values, and the non-West has. And we are not the only ones to use values as ideological weapons, as I said before. Ashish, this young Indian blogger, puts it very synthetically: “Religion [and any idealism, I think he means, MoR] is merely the vehicle, the true goal is world supremacy. Does the west prevail over the east or is it otherwise? … The bosses only care about the profits [oil for the west, power for the clerics], be it the West or the Middle East. Religion is merely a way to get yourself an army, because nobody fights as ruthlessly as a fanatic!” Very well said indeed.
A comment from another Indian blogger also in his twenties, Falcon, who writes: “Let’s face it, a large no. of Islam followers have their rationality almost blinkered by faith. They may be very humble and polite and would gladly discuss religion and point out its greatness and fallacies but try touching Islam and they get defensive.”
Well, it is true, also some Mulsim students of mine behaved like that. But I remember things were a bit different before September 11. What I believe is that, especially the new Muslim generation is living like a generational wave. That terrible, unbelievable terrorist attack (nothing cannot be compared to it) has unfortunately fascinated too many young minds. Sept 11 is not the only factor, but the development of things in Turkey (once the most secularized Muslim Nation) is very instructive in my view. How long will this woeful wave last? Hard to say. It will none the less pass away, I am sure of it (or is it my hope and ideals blinkering me now?).
Left & Right
You quote intellectuals from the left, Rob, thinking it can make some difference to me. It doesn’t. The left is only my origin and I do not belong to any faction any more. It is a complicated topic not to be discussed here, but I try to reason with my mind only, not caring where good (to me) ideas come from and in my view what really counts has very little to do with this dichotomy.
For example, words such as reactionary elements do not mean anything to me. And they do not mean anything to the new generations. Listen again to Falcon commenting this post of mine: “Could somebody explain to me what exactly reaction mean? What was the action we did that we are facing a reaction?”. He then continues, going maybe towards some sort of relativism: “As long as there will be a feeling, that one set of ideals and values are better than the others there is bound to be a struggle for supremacy. Islam can teach us a lot things, just like any other religion. The only question is: are we ready to learn?”
A few days ago, when listening to Diana Haddad, an Arabic Lebanese pop singer, something echoed in my mind.
Before the war (started in 1974) Lebanon was called the Switzerland of the Middle-East. In the 50s Beirut was one of the financial capitals of the planet and the intellectual capital of the Arab world. It offered, among the rest, highest financial skills to the Saudi Arabians and a very convenient interface for Western firms towards the Arabs, rich in oil.
It also offered an Arabian Nights highly refined dolce vita attracting all kinds of VIPs, Hollywood and international actors, tycoons plus the most splendid ladies of the epoch. Beirut was a synonym of luxury, of all pleasures combined and of intelligent cosmopolitism. Three languages were (and are) there spoken: Arab, French and English.
Some dear Italian friends of mine studied in Beirut in their youth and are in fact fluent in these 3 languages. When we were children we heard all these magic tales from our parents and looked amazed at pictures in gossip magazines.
To the history-addicted all this flourishing is not surprising. Lebanon IS the land of the Phoenicians, highly refined merchants since Antiquity and ancestors of mighty Carthage.
Now that Beirut’s glamour is gone – the city has been partially rebuilt but its premier role seems to have moved to London, Dubai, Cyprus etc. – this place is still highly civilised though, since civilisations are not mortal I believe, and, just as an example, Lebanese pop music (and culture) is probably the most successful among today’s Arabic youth, being seen as ‘modern’ but of course a bit frowned upon by the traditionalists.
Here a song by the delighful Diana Haddad for you to listen.
Northern Mediterranean youth cannot but feel how similar these people are to us, and yet portions of this music and other details we feel are diverse. One can say that this diversity is provided by Islam. Yes but, I am asking myself, is Islam really so alien?
Well, yes and no. One moment we feel it is the Mediterranean (hence not so different from Southern Europe,) another moment it is Persia, Arabia, Baghdad, Pakistan, Northern India, Indonesia, West and East Asia in short, both very different from Europe.
This diversity is though exciting. Why should it scare us?
As we promised in an earlier post and its notes, this writing is the first of a series dedicated to Islam, seen as exotic and yet somewhat close to our Roman heart. We are not here to judge but to learn (and possibly communicate.)
An investigation by The Guardian, mentioned a couple of years ago by the Rome daily La Repubblica, revealed that many of its readers make use of books as tranquillizers, i.e. instead of antidepressants like Prozac etc. (I couldn’t find the original Guardian articles and I can’t read the author’s name – and date – of the Italian article).
Italians read little instead, argues La Repubblica, and when they are in a bad mood they switch on their TV set, with devastating effects. Then La Repubblica goes on saying that there are hot and cool media (probably distorting some of McLuhan’s concepts) i.e. “those [media] already baked and those you’ve got to bake yourself. Those where all is already represented and you can sit there and watch without adding anything, with no participation of yours (= TV, cinema); and those which need your brain in order to take shape, and need your imagination and collaboration, and if you provide this collaboration then you fly high breaking loose from the real world and totally forgetting yourself (= books)”.
“People who are not used to reading imagine this ability like a spell or esoteric exercise, which it is, in some way, since you have to start, then you have to open the book, read the first lines, then the following lines and so on and on until you forget you are reading. You are just inside the book story and out of your life story. It is a full antidepressant trip, while at each zap of your remote control, the consciousness of your unhappiness increases exponentially.”
I find this reflection interesting, which of course doesn’t mean I do not like movies and other media, this is not the point. Although I know too well 80% of my (now obsessed) readers will not agree.
Days ago I was talking with a friend about this blog.
This guy is very sharp-minded and he is always looking north and west, ie always relating to Northern Europeans and to the USA while his attitude towards other regions of the world is not very open-minded in my view, to say the least.
I told him I of course liked the West too but my blog having like a will of its own it kind of brought me to the Far East and to an intense dialogue with the Indians and a few Chinese.
“How can you connect to your Roman roots while interacting all the time with the Indians & the Chinese, with folks so different from the Romans, the Italians and the Europeans? It is a contradictory behaviour.”
I tried to explain that if I am able to rediscover my heritage I am also able to bring a contribution to others who are diverse. I also said this process is two-ways, ie the same thing can happen at the other side of the dialogue.
He didn’t sound very convinced.
So I remembered a passage by a big Indian thinker. I wonder if this quote can help me to explain things a little further.
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, an Indian philosopher and statesman, argued in Living with a Purpose (Orient Paperbacks, New Delhi, 1976, p. 9-10):
“Great classics of literature spring from profound depths in human experience. They come to us who live centuries later in vastly different conditions as the voice of our own experience. They release echoes within ourselves of what we never suspected was there. The deeper one goes into one’s own experience, facing destiny, fighting fate, or enjoying love, the more does one’s experience have in common with the experiences of others in climes and ages.
**The most unique is the most universal.** The dialogues of Buddha or of Plato, the dramas of Sophocles, the plays of Shakespeare are both national and universal. The more profoundly they are rooted in historical traditions, the more uniquely do they know themselves and elicit powerful responses from others.There is a timeless and spaceless quality about great classics.”
“Kalidasa is the great representative of India’s spirit, grace and genius.The Indian national consciousness is the base from which his works grow. Kalidasa has absorbed India’s cultural heritage, made it his own, enriched it, given it universal scope and significance. Its spiritual directions, its political forms and economic arrangements, all find utterance in fresh, vital, shining phrases.
We find in his works at their best, simple dignity of language, precision of phrase, classical taste, cultivated judgement, intense poetic sensibility and fusion of thought and feeling …. his works belong to the literature of the world. Humanity recognizes itself in them though they deal with Indian themes. In India Kalidasa is recognized as the greatest poet and dramatist in Sanskrit literature … Tradition associates Kalidasa with King Vikramaditya of Ujjayini who founded the Vikrama era of 57 B.C.”
[all font emphasis is from MoR, not from the original text]
Note. I am happy I could retrieve this passage. Radhakrishan has been my Indian mentor in some way since my very first trip to India [occurred a long time ago to say the truth.]
A great author and an excellent bridge, it has been said, between Eastern and Western thought. In Wikipedia I read “he wrote books on Indian philosophy according to Western academic standards, and made Indian philosophy worthy of serious consideration in the West”. A western-centric statement possibly but much to the point.
What I mean is that Radhakrishan’s inspired words (he belonging to the great generation that built the Indian nation) can further explain and somewhat be linked to a few ideas expressed in this blog plus elucidate the apparent contradiction my friend told me about.
“I hope on comments from Western and non-Western people, since Rome and the Romans have a mediation nature that comes from the Mediterranean.” […]
“It is a great privilege to be born and be raised here [in Rome]… to the extent that something must have penetrated, something peculiar and worth to be transmitted, in order to be able, in our turn, to receive.” […]
“In this blog fragments of this special [Roman] identity are inserted in a bottle and sent through the WWW…” […]
“When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind … a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system…he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.”
I commented: “Violence is horrible but to me humanity is too abstract: all of us have roots, how can we forget them? I am writing here not because you are just mankind, but because you are Indian …”. Of course J. Krishnamurti’s passage was focusing on how to tackle violence engendered by diversity.
3) In another post I had underlined the importance of reading good books and of how classics of literature can be our best companions. In Poonam’s blog (a good place where, among the rest, she fights against wrongs in India, like the exploitation of untouchables) I had with horrible prolixity commented on a long list of books she had provided (How Many Books Have You Read? ) and I had made a comparison between Joyce and Dante. This guy (or woman?) told me: “It is unfair on your part to compare two authors of different eras …”.
Poonam’s posts – the said one and others – have a lot of discussion. Ashish’s posts as well (meet such a great commentator of this blog at the discussion area below.)
I wish to both really all the best since they are a good example of how the young are constructing India’s future.
London is such a bright, electric place today, so different from the London of the Sixties, gloomy and depressing (apart from the pop & rock music scene, absolutely fantastic at that time: the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Shadows, The Animals, The Who, The Kinks, Donovan, Pink Floyd etc.)
I remember a melancholy evening at Piccadilly Circus, August 1967, I think. It had been such a rainy day I was wondering why the hell I had decided to spend my much-awaited vacation in such a miserable climate.
Suddenly this guy came up to me asking cautiously if I wanted any blue movie. His face was so unusual since he was weirdly blonde but his skin was dark, this dirty offer making him look even more fishy (the colour combination struck me: I had seen only black Africans so far but surely no blonde guys like that.)
Well, that suspicious person’s episode in Piccadilly Circus became in my young mind like the symbol of a society I found decadent, static, conservative: everything looked old, demodé (cars, doors and windows handles, and those incredibly small houses with two floors and wooden creaky stairs.)
Italian society was instead very fast-moving at that time (see pictures above and below.) It had recently experienced its post-war boom together with Germany and Japan: the three big losers of WW2 had economies weirdly thriving, while the winners (in Europe) were stagnating.
Italy for instance was Europe’s China in some ways (although on a smaller scale) and produced very good (and cheap) products which swept the European and World markets. Italian cars, it is an example, were both inexpensive and excellent and were sold everywhere, from Europe to Russia and India.
London now, quite reversely, is not any more annihilated by the loss of her empire and is so future-oriented. Such a great capital again, London.
Italy, instead, struggling desperately to be once more dynamic is ending up in just stagnation.
“Keep violence in the mind where it belongs.” (Brian Aldiss, English Science fiction writer). And it is good that this and other things be left in the mind only. There is nothing wrong about having non ordinary fantasies, psychologists keep on telling us. But where does the line between imagination and action reside?
I look with some suspicion at violent TV serials like CSI (Crime Scene Investigation), especially because so many teenagers are crazy about them, not to mention films like Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Hannibal (2001). Adapted from Thomas Harris’ novels and played by the great British actor Anthony Hopkins (as Hannibal Lecter: picture above taken from here), these two movies are excellent, which makes it all even worse, I believe.
Years ago a serial killer was captured. When asked how he had been capable of committing such horrendous atrocities on such a large number of people, he replied:
“It all started with violent movies and violent cassettes…”
Young people sometimes hold in little account their wonderful life and give it away in the name of a cause without too much reflecting on the consequences of their actions. When I was a child my mother told me about this guy, one of her father’s best friends, a seven-generations Roman (romano di sette generazioni, used here to indicate a real Roman) who died as a volunteer in World War I leaving a young wife and four orphaned children, two girls and two boys, all of them extremely attractive, she said.
The girls and the youngest boy led a normal life (he was often sad and incidentally died too as a volunteer in World War II); the eldest boy went a bit on the wild side and became a hopeless lady-killer, apparently even more affected than his youngest brother by this deprivation of paternal counsel. His children and grandchildren suffered because of his bearing, my mother said, and many turned out to be a failure in their lives.
If what my mother said is true it seems that the price for a moment of thoughtless idealism was a high one to pay and all this badly affected the generations to come (which doesn’t mean at all that I am against idealism or against the idea of fighting for a right cause, this is not my point).
Young people are such radical idealists. During the 1968 student revolution a few youths burned themselves alive as a sign of protest.
10 years later approximately I was enjoying my August holidays on the enchanting Greek island of Corfu together with Flavia and a couple of friends (see picture above). There we met this Greek father of a young man who apparently was my age (I was between 27 and 30 at that time, don’t remember exactly, while my friends were younger than me).
This poor father was a tailor and being noon and terribly hot I really wanted my jeans to be cut Bermuda-like in order to better resist the heat. So we saw this tiny little workshop and entered it (the little street was similar to the one in the picture below). While bending to the ground in order to measure my pants and be able to cut them accordingly, the old man suddenly burst into tears, a bewildering behaviour that surprised us.
When he calmed down a bit he said that I was the age his son would have been if he didn’t burn himself alive for protest against the Greek colonels (namely the dictators that governed Greece with an iron hand one decade roughly before that summer, and who were supported by the US who were trying to prevent Greece from embracing communism).
I will never forget this poor man’s eyes, wet with tears and expressing such an infinite pain.
I have received my first comments from Indian people. I’m so glad this happened. India intrigues me and, as I said in the introduction, I was looking for a wider communication. As far as India I had a special interest for this country since I was a kid. As I told this Indian blogger Ishmeet “I remember how my father, now no more, used to tell us stories about your country, about princes and wonderful palaces, and we all kids listened in wonder. I have been to India many times since, and my sisters and brothers too.”
So this blog is now starting to be real fun. Only, I had prepared a post on Rome and Carthage and on the idea that civilizations never die. Since this is true also for India and China (put together for their ancientness, huge size and great success) I wanted to please my Indian readers but I had no post ready for them. This is why I am copying this exchange of comments with Ashish, another incredible Indian guy (I changed only 2-3 words of my text). I do promise to face these topics in a more structured way and with lots of posts. Welcome India!
Ashish sent this:
“I’m not familiar with the Roman names of the pre-christian Gods and Goddesses but I think Venus is Aphrodite. I’m more familiar with their Greek names ….Legend says Rome was founded by two brothers – Romulus and Remus who were nursed by a wolf. I think thats the first picture you’ve got there right? If we sit to write down all the events and people that have sprouted from Italy, a thousand page book would not suffice! Something folks say about my country too… lol!”
Dear Ashish, first of all my compliments for your blog. Witty and such fun! The older generation needs fresh spirit from youth or we get like mummies (I loved that post on “Interestin’ thing’s goin’ on!” and some links, like that about USA needing help: really funny indeed).
Yes, Venus corresponds more or less to Aphrodite, and we usually talk about Greek-Roman civilization, although the Romans were at first barbarians compared to the Greeks, their Italian neighbours (Greeks actually had founded towns in Italy too, like Cumae and beloved Naples – Napoli -, so close to Rome). (…)
As far as the book thickness, well, who knows, maybe a thousand page book would not suffice for Italy lol, but what about India? A 2 or even 2.5 thousand page book, would it suffice? Vedic civilization started in 1700 BC, right? The Indus Valley civilization(s) even earlier? I have to brush up all this, having been too busy with IT networking. But I know that Rome was founded in 753 BC according to legend, and archeology more or less confirms this. Ok, Greeks and Etruscans being our close relatives were older, but still this age difference remains. So probably we were barbarians also compared to you ….
Nonetheless it is not incorrect to say that we (Indians and Italians) are ancient peoples vis-à-vis UK, for example, which I though admire because they have been very successful and they seem to have some of the Roman qualities we used to have (either by chance or by Roman rule on them for 400 years).
In the West people are so silly (…) and ignorant about other civilizations (…) what strikes me most is how so many people in Europe and America are surprised about this sudden success of India and China.
You peoples in the Far East, after all, were at the top of the world in science, philosophy, technology and richness for….1000 years? 2000 years? More? I have to check that better. Ok, you went down for 200 (250?) years due to British industrial revolution, who helped Anglo-Saxons (and the nations they created) to take the lead. But what are even 250 years? Only 10 generations, if we consider 1 generation = 25 years. Very little indeed.
The sad truth is that people in here are busier checking how fat Britney Spears is getting. We ALL in here, Europeans and Americans, need help. A LOT of help.
I am afraid Europe is even in worse shape than America, which has made this big mistake of the Iraqi war but won’t decline so easily.