I am a man of Rome, Italy. Some of my ancestors, many centuries ago, were already citizens of Rome. So I guess I am a real Roman, or sort of, since some barbaric blood must unquestionably flow in my veins, Germanic probably and Gallic from the Alpine region.
My mother tongue is Italian, not very different from the Latin spoken by the common people at the times of the late Roman Empire.
The reason I am attempting to communicate in this Northern language – which I do not master entirely and which, though a bit chilly to my heart, I find not entirely deprived of charm – is that variety excites me like a drug and I am tired of talking mostly to my countrymen, this lingua franca, English, allowing me hopefully a wider exchange of ideas.
Why this blog
One reason, I have said, is wider communication.
But what can a Roman of today say to the world? Such a big statement (if there weren’t the Web to make it not entirely such.)
I think it is a great privilege to be born and to be raised here, such a special place, to the extent that something must have penetrated, something distinctive and worthy of being transmitted – in order to be able, in our turn, to receive.
I hope for comments from Western and non-Western people, since Rome and the Romans have a mediation nature that comes from the Mediterranean.
Rome in some way is more Mediterranean than European.
However, as she was already universal during the ancient Roman days, she has continued to be universal as a religious centre, like Mecca or Jerusalem, which makes Rome something way beyond Europe (*).
Religion will not be a central topic here (there excepting ancient religions, of course) since, greatly respecting all faiths I personally have none, being an agnostic.
I like to think that I am similar to those Romans of the past who counted mostly on knowledge and reason (the followers of Epicure, Ἐπίκουρος – one among many possible ancient examples.)
Three Reasons for Uniqueness
Ages have passed since this great city was the capital of the known world, this role now being played by New York, London or Shanghai, perhaps.
Rome is though unique in the first place because “among all the greatest cities of the ancient world – Nineveh, Babylon, Alexandria, Tyre, Athens, Carthage, Antiochia – she is the only one that has continued to exist without any interruption, never reduced to a semi-abandoned village but rather finding herself often in the middle of world events and, equally often, paying for that a price (**).”
Secondly, and more importantly, Rome is the city of the soul (as Byron, Goethe and Victor Hugo put it,) of our authentic Western soul, since Europe and the West were shaped here and these roots are sacred – to me surely, and I think and hope to most of us.
These roots we have to rediscover in order to better open up to others in a new spirit of humanitas and conciliation (two chief components of the everlasting Roman mind.)
We all here in the West must encourage a totally new attitude which may enable us to better face both our present crisis of values and the radical changes looming ahead which might cause our swift decline.
Lastly, Rome, the eternal city, is unique because she is also one of the most beautiful cities in the world, if not the most beautiful.
Beyond her imperial testimonies, her stupendous urban spaces and squares, even small piazzas and alleys radiate that “sacred aura” which comes from the millennia and to which ever increasing multitudes from every land come to pay their tribute.
The capital of our beloved and civilised French cousins, Lutetia Parisiorum (it’s how the Romans called Paris, after the Parisii, a tribe of the Gallic Senones,) was not but a village until the year 1000 AD. “1700 years younger than Rome! It shows, one can feel it (***).”
Fragments Sent in a Bottle
Scattered fragments of this special identity inserted in a bottle and sent across the Web: this shall be the activity of this blog.
The conveyor of the message is not so important in relation to the greatness of the source and to one ingredient this conveyor might, willingly or unwillingly, possess: he perhaps being like a fossil from a distant past which is dead though, astoundingly enough, alive yet in so many Italians.
Let us admit it. In some central and especially southern areas of this country, minds and habits survive that may puzzle foreigners, historical remnants whose disadvantages towards modernity appear evident. Are they only disadvantages?
All Things Considered
This and other topics will be discussed here by a 60-year-old Roman (2014: 66) whose knowledge can be located at a medium level, with interfaces towards the upper and the lower layers of knowledge.
He will try his best to transmit something useful to others (and to himself) having been an ancient-history & literature educator for 16 years, then converted to Systems Engineering & Training for the last 14 years.
He hopes this blog will allow him to brush up humanities back, which is daunting at his age (not to mention the crazy idea of blogging in English, Italian and bits of other languages.)
Rome, April 2004, 6 am. A cold but bright morning. I am sitting in my terrace, looking at the Roman rooftops. It’s almost dawn and I’m cold. I had two sisters and 8 female first cousins,you know, and I met him at 3. He therefore became myeldest brother.
My Eldest Brother
I’ve heard him on the phone last night, after many years of silence. So now on the first shred of paper I’ve found I’m quickly jotting down, here on my terrace, the words I got in my head before I forget them.
Words thrown spontaneously – and a bit wild too, perhaps.
1950s-1960s remote, antediluvian stuff?
God knows. We lived in immediate post-war Italy, a different world altogether. Judge for yourself.
To My Eldest Brother
My friend, companion of happy adventures
during the prime of life,
at 6 am in a Roman morning,
a cold breeze running over the rooftops
of a pagan city,
you, companion and brother,
I come to celebrate
as in an ancient rite,
a pencil splashing words
on a page, rapidly,
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,
the manly ways
by you was taught,
the male attributes, or nuts,
you always had,
and have: do not forget!
Oh fuck, male attributes,
may the Lord be thanked!
In a world
full of empty jaded phony people,
you were example, always,
friend and brother,
of strength and courage,
more than my father was.
You – and my mother’s brothers,
so dear and much beloved.
My father, though,
who meant a lot to me,
from him I took a few things.
But you were vast to me.
One more year is a lot
when one is a child,
A primacy, it establishes,
I’ve always recognized you.
Here, now, on this small terrace
facing the city of Rome,
in front of the ancient temples
of our primeval culture,
I you honour, brother,
I you celebrate, my friend,
that primacy still recognizing
that wasn’t only of age.
At this point red wine I’d drink
(but it’s early in the morning…)
the full-bodied red, Tuscan wine
of our wonderful winter evenings
(in our Arezzo countryside: do you recall?)
when, meat roasted over embers,
the Dionysian pleasures
of meat and wine you did deliver
and of the women
grabbed by the hair
and gently, strongly,
The breeze is warmer.
and words begin to fail.
I only hope,
my friend & strong companion
& ‘eldest brother’,
to have conveyed you
memories & emotions
during abrupt awakening
after a telephone call.
[Geraldine, a Dubliner blogger, made the translation from the Italian original; I, now (20 oct 2018) totally remade it. This dear Celtic woman is btw not responsible for the four letter word – f@#k, I have decided to use, not her]
Joys (and sorrows) we had in our relationship, but all was lived with exuberance and almost violent intensity.
He had a beautiful house across from mine but when we first met over the wall at 3-4 years of age (I was alone, he with his grandma, a gentle lady as from an old-time painting, ) 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 on a stone table at 10 yards from where we were, just to kill moodiness.
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, rich with ideas, well connected with mine.
In the picture below I am 18. From then on we had the first break. A long one.
Now that we are old, 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 humane (and who console us of its miseries.)
Happy Easter to everybody! Of course happy any-festival to all according to any religion or tradition you may belong to.
It is 8 am here in Rome. We are about to leave for Tuscany where we’ll spend a couple of days together with a friend (and his family) who in this blog is called ‘my eldest brother’.
Oh how forgetful. A new chapter of the Manius Papirius Lentulus’ saga has appeared over at the Misce Stultitiam Consiliis blog [id est: Add (loads of) Insanity to (bits of) Widsom].
This new saga by the Man of Roma being a success, how could I doubt it, that is shattering the world.
Suffice it to say that La Repubblica, Le Monde, the UK Times, the NY Times and the Times of India – forgetting ALL wars, troubles, social injustice, gossip and the rest – are now focusing only on Manius Papirius Lentulus’ adventures in ancient Albion.
Why on earth you may ask.
Right. Well, it’s all very simple. Manius is actually revealing us the secret of secrets.
What the hell is this secret.
It is THIS.
TRUE, WE ARE ALL VAMPIRES BUT
THERE’S A SECRET WITHIN THE SECRET …
It is weeks I wanted to write something about the Arab spring revolutions. It all started in Tunisia, separated from Italy by only 44 miles (Pantelleria) and by 68 miles (Sicily.)
This being not totally fortuitous in my opinion – we will see in any case.
This is a thoughtful Roman blog, not a newspaper, so we’ll talk over such political (and military) crises in our own Roman way 🙂
Talk over literally, since I recently discovered how convenient a microphone can be.
Waves of Revolution.
“Who the Hell Cares”
Disturbance; want of values in new generations; so-close-to-Italy Muslim countries exploding like bombs; the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India & China) about to make our Western asses black & blue.
France, the UK, Germany, the US etc. not being on better grounds than we are; our ineffable PM Berlusconi glued to his chair not giving a damn about his country’s future and claiming ‘communist’ magistrates are the only ones to blame for his HUGE legal problems (read the Guardian, among the rest, any political colour saying the same worldwide) and btw only half-heartedly admitting his friend Muammar Gaddafi is a cruel dictator butchering dissenters with fighters missiles.
By the way, did the two Big Men have fun ensemble with chicks? No evidence that I posses but it’s a given that when Gaddafi arrived to Rome (June 2009?) hundreds of Italian babes flocked to his tent placed in a Roman public (and luscious) garden and, well, rumours say quite a few converted to Islam for 80 Euros (100 USD)!
When asked by journalists (see picture below) – who were staring at their stunning faces boobs (and legs) – why on earth had they converted, they replied:
“Well, ya know, it is so interesting, exploring different religions, really so interesting, isn’t it interesting? Ah ah ah ah ..”
[I am using my words but I heard those chicks’ words on TV; they were no different, at times even worse]
Let me tell you this whole thing is allarmante, alarming.
And it’s all the more when we realise we are so few to be alarmed – as a Milan’s blogger wittingly put it.
While strolling about Rome I actually notice that in cafés shops and bars no one really gives a damn, with Milan teaming up with us (the two major Italian cities – not to mention the provinces, that probably care even less.)
Instead, Libya and the Rest ‘Do Affect’ Us
Libya and the Arab spring upheavals do affect us instead. We all have Greco-Roman and Mediterranean roots, so South and East shores mattered (and matter) to us.
In 1911 the Italian PM Giovanni Giolitti launched the progressive conquest of Libya, later continued by Benito Mussolini until 1931.
Libya became ‘ours’ because our newly-founded Nation desired to invent her own empire at a time when the real thing, ie the British and the French empires, were soon to fall apart (as Lucio Caracciolo, director of Limes, yesterday observed in the Roman daily La Repubblica.)
Libya 1911-1931, we were saying. A bloody phase of battles and unrelenting anti-Italian guerilla at the end of which our technologically superior country (morally too?) made use of chemical weapons and poisoned the farmers’ wells to the extent it wiped out 1/10 of the Libyan population (100,000 casualties) – according to the Italian Wikipedia.
Κυρήνη or Cyrene.
(and Forgetful) Conqueror
One of the toughest & unyielding Libyan regions was Cyrenaica, Eastern Libya (see map above.)
It was so named since 2641 years earlier the Greek colony of Cyrene (Κυρήνη) was there founded and there later flourished. Cyrene soon became a glowing centre of Greek culture. Suffice it to mention:
Aristippus (Ἀρίστιππος), Socrates’ disciple, who there preached how to enjoy life pleasures “from all circumstances and how to control adversity and prosperity alike;”
Callimachus (Καλλίμαχος) who there had his birth and without whom the greatest Roman poets of the Latin golden age would never have existed (Catullus, Virgil, Tibullus and Propertius;)
Eratosthene (Έρατοσθένης), also from Cyrene, the first scientist ever capable of exactly measuring the size and circumference of our planet.
Libya’s National Hero:
Omar Mukhtar, a Pious Man
In 1862 CE Omar al-Mukhtar had his birth in Cyrenaica as well (see picture above.)
Omar al-Mukhtar is Libya’s great national hero, a religious and pious man.
For 20 years he led an unrelenting anti-Italian resistance and when captured in 1931 (see picture below) his deep personality “had an impact on his Italian jailers, who later remarked upon his steadfastness” (English Wiki.)
A sort of Nelson Mandela, one could say, with the difference that deep sage Omar didn’t make it.
It seems the Italians arrested Mukhtar’s court appointed defence lawyer, capitano Roberto Lontano, who took ‘too honestly’ his defence job, which suggests unfairness in Mukhtar’s trial.
“On September 16, 1931, Mukhtar, at the age of 73 years, was hanged before his followers” who were ALL prisoners in the concentration camp of Solluqon. The Italians hopes were that Libyan resistance would end with him.
PS. I don’t mean here that Italians were worse than any colonizer. I believe instead that every country follows the principles of Realpolitik which “focuses on considerations of power, not ideals, morals, or principles.”
Machiavelli laid the first rules of Realpolitik. It is high time I dedicate a post to this Renaissance Florentine btw, since too many people say: Realpolitik, ok, but Machiavelli, THAT is amoral stuff.
Which needs some clarifying I guess.
Benito Mussolini thought Mukhtar, the Desert Lion, was an obstacle to his colonial conquest. So he got rid of him.
I am not criticizing this [like I’m not criticizing Americans who stopped, no matter how, communism in Greece, Italy or Chile.]
Today it is the “Ides of March” or Idus Martii, a date famous for the assassination of Julius Caesar and an ancient festivity as well dedicated to the god Mars or Ares, the Greco-Roman deity of war.
Well, not only of war since (to the Romans only) such god was also an agricultural guardian.
March (Italian Marzo, Latin Martius) is the month named after Mars. Festivities in honour of Mars began in fact in such a year period in Ancient Rome and inaugurated the military (and agricultural) season.
They were then held again in October which ended the military campaigns and the farming activities – well, more or less since olive oil (called by Homer “liquid gold”) had still to be made because olives matured through the winter.
This is not though a post about war, farming or about Caesar.
Except for war we care about the said things. But a lot more we care about Paul Costopoulos, our Canadian sage.
Of both Greek and French descent (a potent mix) everybody likes Paul. He is endowed with wisdom, concrete knowledge of life and that emotional intelligence – as Dafna put it – that has made discussions wherever he goes interesting, humorous (and warm.)
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.
Late evening in a cozy bar of our rione where we wash down Spanish tapas with Cartizze Prosecco.
Our before-dinner aperitivo, once in a while.
Mario: “You recently wondered how come far eastern little girls, hence culturally ‘alien’ in some way, can perfectly play European ‘classical music’ (in the narrow sense.) You also added that such music (from 1750 to 1830 roughly) originated in that crossroads between Germania and Italia, once the ancient frontier or limes of the Roman Empire which separated the Roman from the non Roman.”
Flavia: “Your associations are bizarre.”
Giorgio: “Allow me to be bizarre at least in my blog amore.”
Extropian: “I remember you saying at the end of a post on music that Mozart who came from that area perfectly combined Italian taste with German knowledge.”
Giorgio: “Yes, a perfect fruit of that cross-way region, although Schubert shouldn’t be ignored either.”
Rome, 62 AD, December. Emperor Nero is ruling. The philosopher Seneca is writing a letter (num 18) to his friend Lucilius:
December est mensis
(It is the month of December) cum maxime civitas sudat.
(when the city is in great sweat and hectic.) Ius luxuriae publice datum est;
(The right to looseness has been officially given;) ingenti apparatu sonant omnia […]
(everything resounds with mightily preparations […])
The festival most loved by the peoples of the empire, the Saturnalia, has officially started. Excitement is growing everywhere.
The philosopher calmly sitting in his elegant tablinum is reflecting on what he and his friend should do, whether participate or not in the joy of the banquets.
Si te hic haberetur,
(If I had you here with me) libenter tecum conferrem […]
(I should be glad to consult you […]) utrum nihil ex cotidiana consuetudine movendum,
(whether nothing in our daily routine should be changed,) an, ne dissidere videremur cum publicis moribus, (or, in order not to be out of sympathy with the ways of the public,) et hilarius cenandum et exuendam togam (in merrier fashion should we also dine and doff the toga)
What Is the Ritual like?
The official sacrifice held in the temple of Saturn at the Forum has probably ended. It is about to be followed by a banquet in that same place where participants will shout the auspicious salute: Io Saturnalia! (which reminds of our New Year toasts) and where things will soon turn into a heated, unruly feast.
Apollonius’ aim is that of performing the ceremony in real life.
Mario: “Performing it today? Are these people nuts??”
Extropian: “Possibly, but trying to re-establish forms of paganism with bits of historical accuracy is far more intriguing than any Wiccan mish-mash. Not my cup of tea in any case.”
Banquets in Homes with Gifts
Euphoria is pervading the city. Banquets in private houses will be unruly too, as it happens every year. These private feasts need a last-minute touch to the elaborate dishes, cookies, gifts, arranging of candles (cerei) symbolising the rebirth of the sun, little puppets of paste (sigillaria), music & dance preparations there including a choice of poetic (and often scurrilous) songs.
Little texts, like our gift-tags, accompany the presents. The poet Martial who wrote a few of them in his Epigrams throws light on what is about to be exchanged:
“Writing tablets, dice, knuckle bones, money-boxes, combs, toothpicks, a hat, a hunting knife, an axe, various lamps, balls, perfumes, pipes, a pig, a sausage, a parrot, tables, cups, spoons, items of clothing, statues, masks, books, and pets.” (list compiled by Wikipedia).
Slaves’ Licence, Dresses & Wishes
Slaves will be allowed (almost) any kind of licence. A Lord of Misrule impersonating jolly Saturn will be chosen in homes by lot and will direct the fun.
In ancient Rome slaves were “permitted to treat their masters as if they were their social equals. Frequently indeed masters and slaves changed places and the latter were waited on by the former […] A ‘king’ was chosen by lot, who would bid one of his ‘subjects’ dance, another sing, another carry a flute-girl on his back and so forth. In this play-king the Romans ridiculed royalty.”
“During my week [Kronos is speaking] the serious is barred; no business allowed. Drinking, noise and games and dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, clapping of frenzied hands, an occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water—such are the functions over which I preside […] this festive season, when ’tis lawful to be drunken, and slaves have licence to revile their lords.”
As in our New Year’s eve it’s time to make wishes for the year to come. Kronos asks his priest about his:
Kronus: “Make up your own mind what to pray for […] Then, I will do my best not to disappoint you.”
Priest: “No originality about it; the usual thing, please: wealth, plenty of gold, landed proprietorship, a train of slaves, gay soft raiment, silver, ivory, in fact everything that is worth anything. Best of Cronuses, give me some of these!”
How will people be dressed? In a way to stress social equality.
Seneca mentioned the doffing off of the solemn toga. People in banquets will wear the synthesis, a simple dinner dress, and the pileus, the conical cap of the freedmen, a felt close-fitting beret similar to the phrygian cap which not for nothing will in later ages be adopted as a freedom icon during the French revolution (le bonnet rouge: see image above) and in the Americas.
In front of all this frenzy the stoic Seneca is inclined to choose a middle between extremes (and he incidentally mentions the caps too):
Si te bene novi,
(If I know you well,) nec per omnia nos similes esse pilleatae turbae voluisses
(you would have wished that we should be neither like the liberty-capped throng in all ways,) nec per omnia dissimiles;
(not in all ways dissimilar;) licet enim sine luxuria agere festum diem
(one may in fact enjoy holiday without excess.)
It is understandable. The man in the street will generally behave differently from the intellectuals, often (but not always) annoyed and a little blasé about all the fuss.
During the December revels occurring at his mansion “the younger Pliny– writes Mary Beard – loftily takes himself off to the attic to get on with his work (he doesn’t want to put a dampener on the slaves’ fun – but, more to the point, he doesn’t want to be disturbed by their rowdiness.)”
The poet Catullus loves Saturnalia instead (“the best of days”) and so does the poet Statius who at the end of the first century AD will exclaim:
“For how many years shall this festival abide! Never shall age destroy so holy a day! While the hills of Latium remain and father Tiber, while thy Rome stands and the Capitol thou hast restored to the world, it shall continue”
And in fact Saturnalia and some of its spirit will somewhat survive as we have seen and will perhaps later further see.
The whole thing is in fact tough and I’m a bit breathless.
Not because of the poems – they are ready (and will be in progress in any case.) It is the cultural context around them that has exhausted – and troubled me – a bit.
I’ll try to explain.
Andreas Kluth’s Hannibal blog – a place extraordinaire I stumbled upon months ago – had once presented a fascinating metaphor possibly created by a certain Professor Phillip Cary.
“You can think – Andreas wrote – of “Western culture” as a human body:
[nums by MoR instead of stars].
1. The left leg is ancient Athens and Rome, Socrates and Aristotle;
2. the right leg is Jerusalem and the Bible, Moses and Jesus;
3. the crotch is the end of the Roman empire when the two “legs” met ;
4. the torso is the Middle Ages, when the two traditions became one [Dante, MoR];
[etc etc up to the rest of the body that can be pondered over at the Hannibal blog, *here* and *there*;MoR]
Ok. The left leg (1) – the Classical – has been THE main topic of this blog so far.
The research around my Greek and Latin classes though caused the other leg (2) – the Judeo-Christian – to more or less pound on my head.
Ouch what a blow my dear readers! – and later I might tell you why.
Mario: A blow? Why TH do you care? Just go ahead with the left leg, you always were a leftist ah ah ah!
MoR: You moron, MY problem is the ancient languages classes Mario! Now it turns that, while the classical texts are hard (leg 1), the Judeo-Christian ones (leg 2) are often that easy – Old and New Testament alike – that even ababy can read them, for reasons fascinating not the place here to discuss.
[I know there are comics, that there are web sites plus the Latin and Greek Wikipedia- which I adore. But I always prefer the best literature for language learning: ie starting with what is matchless]
Extropian: MoR is right. Wanna get into mountain climbing? Forget the Everest and start with simple (tho captivating) hills.
MoR: Ok ok Extropian, but you 2 didn’t get the MAIN point.
I’m not only facing here the daunting task of presenting the context of the greatest spiritual revolution the West ever had – the switch from Paganism to Christianity. And btw I’m a guy who, revering the Classical as much as I do, is not exactly excited to see the DEATH of it …
Extropian: “Num 3, the crotch?
MoR: The crotch, yes. Problem being: there’s a lot more, and a lot earlier.
Extropian: Urghhh! A LOT earlier??
MoR: Yyyeees! While trying to figure out the spiritual context of the poems, much to my horror (and fascination) did I realise that the (Judeo)-Christian leg was part of bigger – much more ancient – streams originating from Egypt and from the East (both Middle and Far East.)
To be more precise – and in a reversed order: from Egypt, Thrace, Anatolia, Palestine (the Jews, naturally, crucial,) Mesopotamia, Persia AND India.
MoR: I’ll repeat it! The Greco-Romans had already encountered A LOT EARLIER that much wideroriental humus – of which the Judeo-Christian leg was just a part – much earlier I mean than when we finally get to the darn crotch – ie the switching to Christianity and soon after that cataclysm, ie thehorribleend of the Roman empire.
Extropian:[*lost in reflection, eyes gleaming*] Mmmm, how MUCH earlier …
MoR: 800-850 years earlier, more or less. I’ll check better but I’d bet on it.
Long pause. Pauses are important. The sun begins to shine through the clouds folds over the eternal city … We drink strong coffee.
MoR: Which led me to reconsider the Judeo-Christian tradition as being NOT TOTALLY EXTRANEOUS to the Classical World (!) as I first had thought.
A kind of a BLOW, plus a troublingone because I got fascinated by it.
I told Lichanos over at his blog – his posts inspired me as for the Jewish heritage: “I feel the need of coming to terms with both traditions or legs – I said – AND, should I get back to Christianity, I will SUE you …” 🙂
The silence in my study-room is now disturbed only by Mario chesmadonna piano piano … My friends love me and they are worried. I am just excited.
This was happening yesterday in an apartment in Rome.
On another area of the planet 70 million Hindus plus 40,000 Indian politicians were /are about to gather near the banks of the Ganges. The water is cold. It is flowing to the plains directly from the Himalayas. The water is also dirty.
Not that the Indians will care – about the cold or the dirtiness. All they care about – the poor and the low caste, the rich and the high caste – is this sacred water purifying them from their sins and helping them with better reincarnations.
The Kumbh Mela hindu festival might though be special this year. The convergence of the 12-yearly Kumbh Mela with the longest solar eclipse of the millennium – it is believed –could guarantee an end to the reincarnation cycle.
Note. Sin. Purified by sacredwater. ‘Souls’ and ‘bodies’ separated butincessantly reuniting in a reincarnation cycle of life anddeath.
Ah what a marvellous introduction to what we are about to narrate!
But I don’t understand why you say the Jews are the most ancient Romans. What about non-Jews whose families have been in Rome just as long? Or are there none, what with migration, free movement, and the currents of history? Are you saying that the ghetto and the social restrictions on Jews kept their community intact all that time while others dissolved? THAT would be quite an irony!
Yes, the ghetto, the social restrictions and the tenacious interrelation ethnicity / religion / nationality typical of the Jews helped them to remain sort of intact compared to other Romans, I believe [see below the ethnicity thing.]
Are they Roman, Jew or both? Both in my view. And their Roman side is very ancient, there’s a lot of evidence: their cooking, their behaviours, their vernacular sooo Roman and archaic to our ears.
I mean, why shouldn’t they be Roman? After living in Rome and beholding the Tiber for 2,000 years …
An irony? Roman-ness has nothing to do with an ethnic group. It’s cultural transmission, like at the (multi-ethnic) times of the Empire.
I’ll try to explain this roman-ness concept the way I see it.
A. Being Roman in antiquity meant an ethnic thing only in early Republican times. With the late Republic and the Empire “Rome” and its territories became a huge melting pot, more or less like America today (Pompey had Celtic blood and Cato the younger had a slave among his ancestors.)
Very strong cultural traits [one can check ‘Romanitas’ in any history manual] were transmitted to Berbers, Greeks, Syrians, Jews, Gauls, Spaniards, South and West Germans, Romanians etc. Even the class of the emperors was multi-ethnic, and polytheism made every creed and religion accepted. Focusing on Rome only, it was additionally populated by so many slaves coming from anywhere that it is foolish to think in terms of a Roman “race” surviving today.
B. Being Roman today. As for Romanness today, I clearly feel connections between an ancient Roman and a Roman of today.
The ancient Roman populace progressively lost its simplicity, temperance and character. Even the poor were proud of living in Rome (the Jews were among the poor) and had ‘panem et circenses’ without any merit.
Privileged and spoiled compared to other folks they became bit by bit crass, indolent, cynical, blasphemous, braggart, with a couldn’t-care-less attitude towards anything.
They nonetheless retained bits of magnanimity, of a sense of universalism, and a good nature and compassion that comes from the ancient Romans (yes, the Romans were compassionate and had a good nature).
Their vulgar Latin turned little by little into this loose modern dialect that is either loved unconditionally or hated in this country, and which can be terribly concise and abrupt. The true Roman – a species dying out – doesn’t speak that much, he is ironic, full of humour, and can knock you out with very few words, as the Calcagnis, my grandmother’s family, could do (and did).
We are all sons of the base empire a bit! But in our decadence there’s vitality and toughness – some old Romans look like lions and jump off the Tiber bridges even in their 70s.
The previous post on the Roman Jews had kicked off an interesting conversation with readers and especially with Lichanos on a theme central in this blog: Romanness past and present.
Huge topic, I know.
Lichanos’ energizing comments have though compelled me to clarify and integrate what I had in mind. I really thank ALL my readers for their contribution. Discussion helps to clarify and enrich lumpy mind stuff still at an intuition stage (see my method post.)
My friend Mario has told me recently: “You are exploiting your commentatori”.
Roman-like, and using polite words in my translation, I told him he better shut his helluva mouth up.
So what Davide Limentani said is probably true: the Roman Jews are the most ancient Romans surviving. The origin of their roman-ness appears to be prior to the era of the Flavian Emperors. Actually Jews have lived in Rome for over 2,000 years!
I don’t understand why you say the Jews are the most ancient Romans. What about non-Jews whose families have been in Rome just as long? Or are there none, what with migration, free movement, and the currents of history? Are you saying that the ghetto and the social restrictions on Jews kept their community intact all that time while others dissolved? THAT would be quite an irony!
Yes, the ghetto, the social restrictions and the tenacious interrelation ethnicity / religion / nationality typical of the Jews helped them to remain sort of intact compared to other Romans, I believe.
Are they Roman, Jewish or both? Both in my view. And their Roman side is very ancient, there’s a lot of evidence: their cooking, their behaviours, their vernacular sooo Roman and archaic to our ears. I mean, why shouldn’t they be Roman? After living in Rome and beholding the Tiber for 2,000 years …
An irony? Romanness has nothing to do with an ethnic group. It’s cultural transmission, like at the (multi-ethnic) times of the Empire.
Touché! The stereotype inverted! I was thinking it was ironic because Jews are usually thought of as the “other – not us” group, so it seemed ironic that they would be the most Roman. Of course the Jews are the most Roman, stands to reason given their history there…
MoR Jews … usually thought of as the “other – not us” group
A bit being due to elements of the Jewish culture, people who see the Jews as aliens are either racist, stupid or narrow-minded (I’ll bypass the religious fanatics). Variety is what makes life interesting! Plus they are usually very intelligent, which is not bad these days.
My personal take on Romanness has been pruned from the above conversation for the sake of readability. See the upcoming post for it. The Roman Jews (2) writing will soon follow.
In the previous installment we have spoken of the Egyptian society described by Naguib Mahfouz and of the Tunisians. We have also mentioned Italian Naples and Sicily (see the splendid Monreale cloister above). We wanted to emphasize the mutual influences between the North and the South shores of the Mediterranean and at the same time show how many behaviours – defined as Islamic, such as the patriarchal control of women – belong in reality to the endless past of the civilizations.
The Muslims influenced not only Italy but Spain, Greece and other Mediterranean areas as well. In truth they influenced almost the entire world since between the VIII and the XII centuries AD Islam stretched from the Atlantic in the West (Spain) to large portions of Asia. For the very first time in history more than 3000 years of experiences were accumulated from civilizations the most various – Sumer, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Syria, Persia, China and India.
Most importantly, all this was re-transmitted by them to the rest of the world: forgotten Greek texts and medicine, Indian numerals (called Arabic since that time), Chinese papermaking and thousands of other innovations. This whole wisdom and refinement was concentrated by the way (and for a long time) in the city of Baghdad, that same city whose historical treasures were looted and destroyed because of the present foolish Iraqi war.
It is hence fair (and a bit uncomfortable) to remember that Europe – which during the Middle Ages had forgotten a lot – was gradually given back by the Muslims not only large portions of its classical culture but also something that went well beyond the confines of the Greco-Roman civilization. The big leap Europe was about to make at the end of the Middle Ages was possible also because of this contribution.
More than We are Willing to Admit
North Africans and Islamic countries are linked to Europeans more than we are willing to admit. If the Turks want to enter the Euro zone it is also because they feel somewhat part of our world. Southern and Northern Italians (think of Venice), Spaniards, Greeks etc. received many elements from the Oriental cultures.
Hard-to-deny connections. This might though disturb some reader (of this devil’s advocate) 😉
Why? Because Muslims are not well seen today. A post by Nita, an Indian journalist and blogger (and an excellent source of knowledge on India), provides statistics from the Pew Research Global that show how “while more and more Muslims are turning away from the extremists, more and more people are turning away from Muslims.”
In the Wikipedia’s entry on Sicily I was reading yesterday that in a “recent and thorough study the genetic contribution of Greek chromosomes to the Sicilian gene pool was estimated to be about 37% whereas the contribution of North African populations was estimated to be around 6%.”
True or not, I read between the lines – I may be wrong – like a desire to prove that Sicily and Southern Italy have little to do with North Africans. Even if so, hasn’t genetics – as far as I know – little to do with cultural transmission? One can be mostly Greco-Roman genetically though subject to multi-layered cultural influences coming from no matter where.
We will end up this second (and last) part of our journey with two notes.
Veiled women. As far as the veil, to think of it as Islamic is incorrect because it was widely used by the Assyrians, Hittites, Greeks (see the picture on the left), Romans and Persians. In medieval Europe (and in Anglo-Saxon England) women were dressed more or less like Muslim women are dressed today.
In Judaism, Christianity and Islam “the concept of covering the head is or was associated with propriety. All traditional depictions of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ, show her veiled.” (Wikipedia).
I remember my mother always wearing a veil in church. It was a common practice in Catholicism (but not only) until the 1960s.
Sexual jealousy. It seems to be present in Islamic societies and in all those patriarchal societies obsessively concerned for true paternity. In today’s Islamic forums there is a lot of discussion (and more or less condemnation) about jealousy.
It is said that Sicilians and Calabrians are usually more possessive than other Italians. Some cultural connection with Islam in this respect may be possible. It is to be noted that honour killings were easily forgiven by law in Italy, France and other Mediterranean countries until recently.
I am on a trip around California. Having no time for writing, I’ll propose again a few lines from my method post that express the initial inspiration of this blog.
A sort of naïve enthusiasm is to be noted. Well, nothing can be achieved without enthousiasmos, a Greek word meaning “a rapturous inspiration like that caused by a god.” Big words, I know.
Let us Have Fun, my Delectable Guests
“Let us have fun, my delectable guests. Life should be fun! Let us imagine we are in early summer when the evening sea breeze, or ponentino, is so delightful. I’m inviting you all from every civilization, country, era space location. I am inviting you ALL to this virtual Roman terrace, overlooking the eternal city’s magnificent skyline.
Rome, loose woman and she-wolf, is watching attentive. Is she smiling?
Dinner after dinner, amid flowers perfumed and aromas from dishes exquisite, in front of a breathtaking spectacle of glories and defeats, coming from a civilization of hard & refined conquerors, who always accepted those who were – and are – diverse, and their gods, and their creeds, and philosophies and manners …
… here, sweet guests of mine, let us enjoy our life a bit! Away from all the sorrows, away from all the pains, let us discuss on themes light, silly and severe. Good food will not be missing, together with good music (another guest of ours, of course) and plenty of delicious wine and, naturally, no real objection to a pot of good beer (or cervesia), once in a while.
Playing being simple, playing being easy: all it takes is good food, good music, and good good company, most of all!
While I was writing, music and red vino di Montalcino were helping me to fly high.”
My time has been limited in the last days so I could not prepare the post I had in mind.
What I can say is that this blog is going better than I thought.
Despite the fact that – as I said – “our topics are too heavy for the common reader while too unsophisticated for the happy few” the number of hits has been greater than expected.
We have published 47 posts and received 395 comments (some of which very long) which means some discussion has arisen from the themes presented. The discussion has been international, which greatly pleases us: Indian, American, British, Chinese, Swedish, Italian readers have commented. It is our intention to dedicate a future post to readers’ feedback and ideas.
This is only a brief moment of pause and not a thorough overview of our activity, which might occur after 12 months of blogging have elapsed.
I have to say that it is a bit fatiguing to write in a foreign language but since some people from America and the UK have praised my way of writing, this means my English is decent enough and that I make myself understood.
The main point though being another one.
In a previous post I had said that this blog is ‘a man-in-the-street-of-Rome research on Roman-ness’.
Now I am asking myself: is this research going anywhere?
I do not know yet. I do not really know. I feel I am getting somewhere though I still don’t know where 😉
A few observations on Rome by the Italian sociologist Franco Ferrarotti regarding the period starting from the Italian unification, when Rome became Italy’s capital in 1870, until today.
They appeared in two interviews published in Milan’s Corriere della Sera and Rome’s Messaggero, between 2005 and 2006, at a time when the Paris banlieu had exploded with riots.
1. Ferrarotti (Corriere della Sera, April 2, 2006) observed that Rome always found it difficult to be loved by Italians, for her double role of capital of Italy and of the Vatican state. Italians always felt Rome as too universal, Ferrarotti argues. Rome, in short, gli starebbe larga, was / is too large to them.
According to Ferrarotti, only provincial aesthetes like Fellini and Pasolini really loved Rome. Ferrarotti published 40 years ago Roma da capitale a periferia (Bari, Laterza 1970), a book that depicted a suburban anti-Rome totally different from the celebrated historical centre.
Today, thanks to years of good administration – Ferrarotti observes – Roman suburbs have evolved. Suburbia, together with historical Rome, have merged into a real capital. A celebrity like “Michele Placido is now on stage in Tor Bella Monaca, a very peripheral borgata (eg a working class suburb).”
According to Ferrarotti there are no potentially explosive suburbs in Rome such as those in Paris since immigration is recent here. In 15 years, perhaps, Roman immigrants’ children and grand-children will protest for their rights.
Rome as a capital, Ferrarotti believes, is more Mediterranean than European, due to both her nature and her mediation capabilities. However she is also a religious capital, like Mecca or Jerusalem, which makes Rome something way beyond Europe (observation quoted in our first post, a sort of introduction to this blog).
The problem has always been that of urban planning management, although the old alliance among real estate business, finance and political power seems broken today thanks to increasing democracy. There is a tendency towards polycentrism, which is good since the city is allowed to breathe.
In short, Rome is not matrigna (stepmother) anymore, as Ferrarotti had called her in 1991.
“Today Rome has become alma mater (Latin for nourishing mother) even though she is also at times lupa (she-wolf) with her children.” Places once bleak like Quarticciolo or Alessandrino are now urban areas. “Instead of a progressively rotting suburbia we have had a process of social auto-promotion: unlike other large cities no favelas have developed here.”
2. Now the november 2005 articleappeared in Rome’s daily Il Messaggero. Professor Ferrarotti, do you think Prodi is right? Will Italian suburbs be on fire as it happened in France?
“No, Italian suburbs have nothing in common with the Parisian banlieue.”
What is the difference? “A third generation of immigrants – children and grand-children of the old pieds-noirs – inhabits the Parisian banlieue and feels that they are rightful French citizens. In schools though francocentrism is dominant while Maghrebine culture and roots are ignored, which alienates these youngsters from society. First-generation immigrants had shown gratitude to France that had hosted them. The second and third generation, on the other hand, observe how their fathers are threatened by ostracism, which turns the old gratitude into hate. It is a tragedy and no parallel can be drawn between the French and the Italian situation”.
Italian suburbs are then the best of possible worlds? “I wrote a book in 1970, Roma da Capitale a periferia (“Rome from Capital to Suburbia”). Today I would rather speak of Rome’s transformation from suburbia into a real capital. Slums have disappeared. In Alessandrina, a borgata, 50 percent of the students are non-EU. They don’t have problems. It’s their teachers who have problems, instead.”
Because these non-EU kids’ parents earn more than the Italian teachers themselves, who, despite their being badly paid, must increase their efforts when facing a multiethnic audience. Therefore they lose their motivation. Were I a politician I would rather worry for possible protests by underpaid teachers and young unemployed graduates. These, not the immigrants, are the new poverty-stricken people in Italy, which could give rise to explosive protests”
No imminent immigrants danger, then. “No. Problems could perhaps arise from CPTs (Centres of temporary permanence) created by the Turco Napolitano bill (num. 40, 1998). If CPTs became like concentration camps, yes, there could be some danger. But as of now the situation in Italy doesn’t seem that difficult. Nothing comparable to the suburbs in Paris, Frankfurt or London.”
An excessive alarm, that from Prodi ... Yes, a bit apocalyptic, to me. Nevertheless, his statements imply some insight. Prodi invites us to think about a process of citizenship and integration of non-EU people in our country. I find this right, necessary. If a true immigrants-integration process is set out in our country the mine is deactivated before it can explode.”
Sometimes when people have a problem – any problem: love, career, friends, family, deep shyness, health etc. – they get depressed, they remain passive and do nothing. Other times people, trying also desperately to get out of their bad situation, find some strength and react, in a way or another.
Of course the result of this re-action can either solve their problem or, as a possible alternative, get to a problem that is worse, not to mention total failure or disaster (this not being the point though.)
Ok, I am making it simple but, from what I have just said, strength seems such an important ingredient in one’s life success – Country philosopher would say:”No doubt about it, really no doubt about it.” I think you’ll soon meet him, oh you’ll have to readers.
Back to the point now.
Strength of Mind, plus Action
Strength is in fact crucial, I can tell you by experience. No matter your intelligence or big qualities, if you are not provided with enough strength of mind to face things with firmness, if you do not possess some sort of personal bravery, even powerful intellectual processing capabilities might not help much. Quite the contrary, they might be an extra handicap making you a flop.
Here’s one theoretical example.
Even a perfect intellect though spending its time thinking thinking thinking only (and not acting with bravery of mind) it’s almost sure to reach its exact opposite, namely total imperfection in life, which can have many names: frustration, implosion, deep sorrow, depression, overthrow, stalemate etc.
Failure, in short.
The world is full of gifted people that are total flops because they’re cowards and forceless, I know too well, many of my failures (apart from a few successes) being due to flaws where lack of courage was not seldom part of the bunch. And of course, one being a flop means being partially or totally impeded to fulfill one’s dreams as for family, career, love and so forth.
I would add (since we are all bloggers) that even writing & thinking too much can sort of devour itself and make the writer stop writing altogether. This for example happened to me with musical composition: too much loved, too much adored, thus devouring itself, hence failing (or flopping, if you prefer.)
Finding Courage Inside. Magister
Given strength is such a good quality how can one attain it in case we are deprived of it? Hard question. I can tell what Magister used to say, probably referring to an idea by the Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci:
“Anyone of us can find all the force he needs, atremendousforce,if only he really tries, no matter his gender, nation, age, instruction, religion (or non religion), no Gods helping, no religion helping, only our human nature helping (or genes, if you prefer.)”
Of course I am making Magister’s words exuberant a bit since he lectured us with his crystal-clear ideas that imprinted on us vigorously, day by day.
“Sometimes one needs to really be cornered to discover this tremendous bravery we all can have – he kept saying.
“Sometimes one actually needs to feel in danger.”
Magister now sounded implacable, his voice rising.
“Yes! Only in real danger one is sometimes able to stand up with one’s ballsfirm, in order to face things, and FIGHT!”
Gosh, we were STUNNED. We couldn’t but keep staring at him, totally wide-eyed.
I will also add the sublime example of Victorian Kipling’s Rikki-tikki-tavi baby mongoose, fighting and winning even over the dreadful adult female King cobra. Yes, baby mangusta won because cornered (and out of love for the British humans she/he lived with, though mangustas’ behaviour I have no idea about.)
So let us make use of thispotential inner courage we all have in order to face things and act. In other words, let us fight for a better life – personal or collective, it is the same.
Of course, dear readers, this post is also pretty personal since I am living a hard moment, so once more I’m trying to follow Magister’s example to find such inner force and make use of all the personal bravery I am capable of.
Destructive Solution: aggressive Anger
The thing is, being very stressed these days, I am starting to make mistakes.
1) Excess. One mistake is letting excess prevail a bit. No big deal, since once I’m all right I’ll take care of it and tame it (hopefully.)
2) Anger. The worst thing – and a possible by-product of Magister’s teaching on strength? – which I consider due only to age (or bad temper?). I mean, I feel such a great anger inside, together with this constantly re-lost & re-found energy at my disposal now, without a doubt.
Why the hell am I angered? For personal reasons I won’t say and because I see my country (and Europe) not reacting well to challenges. I see people here in Italy full of intelligence and of resources my generation didn’t even dream of (same old song at each generation, I know) looking unprepared, narrow-minded and provincial, not to mention Italians’ almost total ignorance of the whole world picture.
I see the UK and France fantasizing they still have great empires (or great world influence of their own), thus halting in a way or another the European political unification.
Oh this really drives me mad, especially the Brits’ behaviour, really so mad indeed – tending to condone the French out of sentimental weakness: I consider them at present the best fruit of Latin civilization.
This anger thing reminds me of an old man, long white hair, bald, dirty clothes though full of tremendous dignity I met 25 years ago in Pamplona, Spain – see the picture above. He told us two words in Italian in a bar, so I asked him:
“How is government here in Spain?”
His facial expression changed and, looking at me with boiling rage, he roared:
“LATRONES! LATRONES!” (Thieves! Thieves!)
Oh was I startled, plus I got worried for the poor old fellow’s health.
2.1) Made my Indians angry. First totally moronic consequence of my destructive anger (plus lack of concentration): I’ve recently flooded my sweet Indian bloggers (Amith, Poonam, Ashish, Ishmeet etc.) with hard (not against them tho) and/or fussycomments which gave them the impression I wanted their blog space A-L-L for myself.
GOD DAMN! They might ban me from now on, being all connected to one-another, one whisper sufficing to be excluded by the only readers I have (or the core of them.)
It would though be right, it would though be RIGHT, this punishment, because of this verbal abuse of mine that has no excuses, really no excuses at all, going against what I call humanitas, which is basically sympathy & respect for others.
One Big (Tiny) Missile Against The Ex-Victorians
2.2) Stupid attack on Great Britain, i.e.second moronic mistake.
Some time ago I found a high-brow English blog on politics, Westminster Wisdom (subtitle: “mind trained by academia into almost fractal subtlety”).
It was highly ranked in Technorati plus this guy’s (or guys’) nick was Gracchi, which in Ancient-Roman history is the name of two brave brothers who decided to carry out a revolutionary state-land property reform (land to be given to small peasants) since the ancient Roman Res Publica was not so Publica after all, 200 clans (or gentes) basically having ALL the riches (and lands) for themselves. These two brothers were in fact butchered by landowners gorillas. Same old story almost everywhere in the ancient and non ancient world.
Wow, I said. I love this man. He loves the Romans & the common people like I do. Therefore I started reading his blog with a pleasure that diminished the more I was realising how his high-brow British English (which I probably envied) was hard to understand. My anger, while reading, kept surging surging.
Such fruitless sophistication (I thought,) I had to read sentences 3 times to figure out their content (was I just tired?)
You’ll say it’s because I am no mother-tongue. I’m not, and I toil for every sentence I write.
But let’s face it. I read the Economist, Financial Times etc. quite a lot. I used to read over and over the Canterbury Tales (modern English verse, tho,) Pope, Shakespeare, Byron & Milton, bits of Joyce etc. (and, American-English stuff, even more than British stuff, except for English poetry, of course, which I totally adore. I’ll add several historical & political British – and American – books.)
Additionally, my anger was surging surging also because this guy dared to call himself Gracchi.
This Briton I mean dared to use a Roman name that since more than 2000 years always meant: with the common people! For the common people! Caesar himself, though from the noblest breed, wrote works that even a baby could read and belonged to that Gracchian youth and all that democratic bunch which helped him to gain power.
In ten minutes I was like the man in Pamplona: all rage, my pent-up grudge against the Brits exploding – the only real Trojan horse of Europe (forget the French.)
Well, it didn’t explode, to say the truth. It imploded, probably making my life 2-3 years shorter.
I didn’t (and don’t) nonetheless care a f*** about my health, being a citizen of Rome with all his couldn’t-care-less attitude, non ce ne frega riccamente un cazzo a noi romani.
Although, I did care, and got so angry about this after-all-innocent-Brit-guy’s blog. Hence, rage being rage:
Vendetta is a dish
You have to eat so cold,
Oh yes, my fellow countryman,
so cold, cruel, perfidious.
Perfidious-Albion-like ah ah
perfidious-Albion-like ah ah ah ah
ah ah ah aaahhhh ….
Such a silly poem actually – I love my silly English poems – though this one (among the silliest) may somewhat describe my feelings while so perfidiously I was about to prepare my missile against the UK.
Once my comment was completed – and well equipped after two hours oftoil – BANG! I shot my legions forwards, feeling like Maximus Decimus Meridius in the moments preceding the German Marcomanni’s annihilation (in the Gladiator’s initial movie battle, btw.)
“Your blog seems great to me, although a bit too sophisticated. Is this sophistication the essence of what you call academic? (I know this is not your thought). Trying not to be provocative I’m only disappointed.
I thought only the French and Italian Academias (or their respective literatures) suffered from this illusion that sophistication of style immediately translated into quality of content, or from this aristocratic (id est corporative) disease that makes intellectuals more concerned about other intellectuals than about talking to a public. The natural consequence of this undemocratic attitude being of course that the world does not read our works any more.
Britain was such a happy exception. You did so much not only for the ‘public understanding of science’ but also for the ‘public understanding of humanities (and politics)’.
Where is Europe going if even the shepherds are getting lost….?
A man of the street of Rome
[downgraded to middle-brow status
(though proud of it),
whose ancestors were noble citizens of Rome
since at least 10 centuries]
Saturday, October 20, 2007 3:49:00 PM
The arrow was cruel, no doubt, and painted with subtle venom, especially if you consider his nick, Gracchi, and the fact that only 40 years earlier sublime (and high-brow) Bertrand Russel, together with hundreds of other high-brow British intellectuals, had the rare quality of being understood even by porters (or street cleaners, if you prefer.)
This dirty shot to the Gracchi guy was in fact such a blow in my view that, thinking of it now while I’m writing, I am not so proud of it, I’m not so proud of it at all.
In any case my legions of words having been too quick for him – and too well organized, I’ll confess my silly pride – this poor, decent Briton thus finally replied:
“Thanks TD [TD?]
Manofroma cheers for the praise. I’m sorry about the sophistication- I do write some simpler articles- but basically I write this for fun, so though I’ll try and be more concise in the future I suspect the subjects won’t change! I do think that there is a point in there- and I think TD [??] has found it for example- anyway thanks for visiting and sorry your visit disappointed you in some ways.”
Saturday, October 20, 2007 4:12:00 PM
Nice reply, after all, and his blog highly cultivated and interesting indeed, of a higher quality than mine, no doubts about it.
But then, total victory of Roma over the UK? Oh no no no, of course not. Great Britain always backfires.They never give up, never, even during Alexandrian-style decadence.
After 1 day an anonymous comment in fact came out:
“No no no don’t listen to Manofroma’s incomprehensible post. There is absolutely nothing ‘too sophisticated’ about your writing – it is most lucid and precise. Stick exactly to what you are doing, it works beautifully! One of the few blogs out there that is consistently a joy to read.
Sunday, October 21, 2007 1:08:00 AM
Probably true, although, what if HE HIMSELF had written the anonymous comment? There must be reasons why they are called Perfidious-Albion. Well, in truth, difficult to say whether the Romans were instead more honest, in their total brutality that spared nobody if they deemed it necessary. So hard to say. In any case, as for Gracchi, I’ll never know if it was him to backfire or someone else.
Truth painted with Sorrow. Ghosts
The thing is, what the hell do I care, my dear readers. I was an aggressive bastard, whatever the result of this microscopic war between Roma and the UK – who probably didn’t even notice the battle, and Rome in any case couldn’t care less, ah ah ah.
Things, you know, are much more complicated. And they are not painted with venom, they are painted with sorrow …
Truth being I cannot but love Britain of course. I wouldn’t have toiled so much to learn its language; I wouldn’t have listened to Sir Edward Elgar‘s Victorian music so much, a bit too romantic to Roman ears, though providing that feel of imperial greatness I needed to write my most Roman posts, this introductory post, for example.
And the thing is I do not only love the Britons. I most of all love so much the people and the place I am departing from.
Is it guilt that is making me aggressive, my departure though being not deprived of reasons and fairness?
And, out of guilt, is it a ‘hating-myself <–> hating-my-beloved-ones’ type of thing? Or is it just fear?
“Ok man, this is personal stuff – one might say. Let’s get more practical. We just learned you are leaving: where the hell are you going?”
Well, I’m going somewhere to the south – only 30 minutes by train will take me back to my beloved city.
I’m going where I can watch our Mediterranean sunset reflecting on the salty sea water, every day that is left to me, every single day, away from all the smog, away from the big city chaotic pace, although, unfortunately, also away from all that I love unconditionally.
And one danger is approaching, ruthless. Ghosts from my mind are about to attack. I can feel them.
They’re approaching and even if it was foreseen that doesn’t mean I am not scared, being totally alone, nobody waiting for me, now and in the future, I believe.
This might be the final reason why I got so armoured, aggressive. Mind ghosts, theonly real ones in my view (see the post Ghosts from Asia,) will make my life a lot harder, for a length of time whose duration I cannot predict.
They are the ones to be really fought, not the Brits, certainly, whom how can I judge they being superior to Italians in many respects (not in all respects though, oohh really no doubt about it.) I will not judge them, though pls allow me to strongly disagree with their stubborn, anachronistic (plus self-destructive) Trojanism.
I really do hope that love, harmony and joy will soon circle back in the life of everyone, me being though a natural born loner, as it always was and as it always will probably be.
I might lose my battle with ghosts (and with fear). Even though in the end, in the very end:
When the unwanted Guest arrives …
I might be afraid
Or I might smile and say:
My day was good, let night fall.
In Deception Point Dan Brown describes the editorial office of ABC News, “at a fever pitch 24 hours a day”. When a scoop arrives this paroxysm goes even beyond its limits: “wild-eyed editors screamed to one another over the tops of their compartments etc..” Then in another wing of that same place reside “the glass-walled private offices reserved for the decision makers who actually required some quiet to think”.
Actually for real thought one needs quiet, relaxation. This reminds me of a Roman top advertising agency where, at the end of the 80s, extremely well-paid copywriters and art directors were walking around in robes or catching the sun on a very elegant terrace overlooking Parioli-district-haute-bourgeoisie Rome. I was puzzled at the time but I later realized how ideas actually come out brighter this way since, as it has been observed, they are often suddenly presented to us when we are relaxed and not when we are actively striving for them (true for remembering things as well: the more we strive to remember, the less we succeed). See also Buddhist meditation (or meditationtout court) and its effectiveness upon creativity and mental health.
See also the scientific discovery process. British scientists talked a lot about the three Bs — Bed, Bath and Bus, which appear to be those idle-mind situations where great discoveries are favoured. Obviously Anglo-Saxon buses are much more relaxing than their Roman compeers.
A few days ago our bunch of friends decided to have a Chinese dinner at our home. Everyone loves Chinese cooking. This food is of course not a novelty any more even here, but since while getting better it keeps being incredibly cheap, we still eat it a lot and like it (a lot.)
Advised by the youngest of us all I therefore went to this Chinese restaurant close by, located at the end of Via Cavour, not far from Via dei Fori Imperiali. I ordered a take-away meal for 8. I had never been there before. Wow was I surprised by the place and by the people!
The restaurant was elegant enough. I admired the professionalism, dynamism and hard working style that reigned in the place, everybody being so serious and dedicated.
A big family clan, I believe, with all ages being present: male teenagers serving tables; middle-aged women organising, calculating, pinning small sheets of purple paper to the wall; young sweet-looking women serving too, clad in traditional silk dresses with fine motifs on them; a man who I think was the husband of one of the older women and apparently the boss; the eldest woman finally, white-haired, the grandmother definitely, who worked hard at the counter despite her age, so incredibly attentive to all that happened and typing the bills on the counter keys with solemn vigour.
I smiled at her and she smiled back. Romans are good-natured but they have some difficulty in understanding such closed-up and reserved people who nonetheless, when they feel one doesn’t perceive them as aliens, quickly respond. I told her I had a few friends from China and asked her what town they came from, what type of Chinese language they spoke, whether their language was Cantonese- or Mandarin-related. She said that their speech was related to none of them, that it was an entirely different language. The way she said it revealed she enjoyed answering to me even though it was not apparent (although I felt it clearly.)
She then said they all came from Wenzhou, which (I later learned) is a town in the south-eastern Zhejiang province residing “on the Ou Jiang delta, with picturesque buildings and surroundings. The port (…) very active in the 19th century (tea export) was later used for fishing only” (La Piccola Treccani). Thence the emigration to foreign countries of large portions of these active people with “a reputation for being an enterprising folk who starts restaurants, retail and wholesale businesses in their adopted countries.”
Wenzhou. Such a difficult word I remember only because the guy got close – the one I thought to be the boss – and was so pleased to write it down for me, and he asked me if I was a real Roman, and I said yes, I am a real Roman, and after a while I realised ALL of them suddenly knew this Roman had an interest in them. They sort of suddenly knew I was sympathetic.
Someone probably overhearing the said conversation and exchanging quick Chinese whispers they all were immediately aware of everything getting immediately hidden-attentive, hidden-agreeable, while two young men prayed me several times to please sit down while waiting for my package (till I finally accepted) and offered me gratis this unbelievable Chinese H-bomb liquor (of which I drank two shots.)
I felt this quasi imperceptible attention, these good vibes in the air despite their not showing it much. Chinese people are delicate, steel-strong, intelligent and – I must gather – telepathic, while most of the people here consider them a totally indecipherable marble-faced folk – funnier than stone-faced, it is a joke I have with some Hong Kong IT students: I tease them, they tease me back.
Oh such a lovely lovely evening it was! My fantasy was flying high, this nitro-glycerine booze being not totally guiltless.
And then – like a sudden cool breeze coming from nowhere … I looking at the paintings around … looking at the smiling faces around – I clearly felt like the presence of a God as my sight began to blur …
At home our Chinese dinner was a success. It went on and on as only Roman dinners can go (for hours,) mixing both Chinese and Italian dishes washed down with an icy Italian white this time though, a tuscan Galestro not at all bad.
I didn’t bring any of the Chinese H-bomb though (meeting Gods too often can be a problem beyond a doubt.) I in fact know I owe that stuff a brief, intense encounter with Bacchus-Dionysus (son of Semele and Jupiter) in that Wenzhou restaurant and in the cool open air outside, a place right at the border of the ancient Roman Subura.
While actually my sight slightly blurred within the restaurant I remember I was gently given my take-away meal.
Moments later I was driving back home with my motorbike, winding and winding like a crazy birdie, fresh crisp air on my ecstatic face.
Rome, the eternal loose woman, imperial, magnificent, was smiling all around.
After all these books and reflection we really need a break. What about a good Italian espresso? Read this here:
“The espresso at Sant’Eustachio in Rome is so well-regarded that William Grimes of the New York Times advised those in the US seeking the perfect espresso, “…When the need for a real espresso becomes overpowering, buy a ticket to Rome, tell the taxi driver to head straight for the Sant’Eustachio cafe. The espresso will be perfect. A little expensive, but surely worth the trouble.”
This original article by William Grimes is so funny in his frustrated search for the best espresso in New York, and provides a lot of infos on a great town and on coffee. I agree. Sant’Eustachio’s espresso is actually great, and we cannot but be flattered that this NY guy appreciates it. Thank you Mr. Grimes, really. It can even be worth a flight to Rome, no kidding.
The only thing though being this: YOU ARE TOTALLY WRONG MR. GRIMES. I’M SORRY.
I mean, why don’t you US guys ask Italians first before writing such things? I know Grimes asked a few, but I mean the people of the street in here, in this country. If you’d asked them before, every Italian (or 90%) would have replied that the real best espresso in the world is not made in Roman Sant’Eustachio café (where they just perform inspired tricks, that crema etc.). The real best espresso in the world is made in Naples.
The truth is how can Romans compete with Greek cousins in food, pastries and general refinement of life? In Neapolis they have dozens, even hundreds cafés where espresso is much better than Sant’Eustachio’s, even in the poorest suburbs where camorra rules.
So, apart from the real pizza (which in Rome is not bad but hasn’t got the original Neapolitan taste) and apart from a choice of pastries whose quality is definitely unknown in Rome (sfogliatelle, babà, pastiera etc.) where is then the best of the best espressos?
It is served inIl Caffè del Professore, 46 piazza Trieste e Trento, in the heart of Naples. There they make their own blend or miscela of a superior quality so they can serve you the best of the best of the best. No tricks. Only real sublime coffee from a superior sublime miscela. Then of course they also do tricks and variations on the theme. How? In ways and varieties that can make the guys at Sant’Eustachio get pale from depression.
More on our Greek Cousins, the Neapolitans, who can provide a lot of surprises, not only coffee or food. It will be our duty to relate some of this in other posts.
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.