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Calcagni’s Memoirs. Illness and a Thought, in Great Secrecy (14)

View from the top of St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome. Click for attribution and to enlarge

14th excerpt from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni – see the original text in Italian -, a true Roman born almost one and a half century ago. Read all excerpts posted so far in English or in Carlo’s original Italian text


My mother had looked after and cured her husband since he was 50, because of a chronic catarrh of the bladder and urine retention that also caused him perineum abscesses.

He, who held in low esteem doctors & medicines, refused any treatment and only when he could not take it anymore and was forced to urinate lest his bladder would burst, he went to an emergency ward where he got syringed or cut, depending on the circumstances: then with open wounds he was imprudent enough to get back home on foot.

“Nature must follow its course when an imminent danger of death has been avoided.”

I remember having gone through all the hospitals of Rome in order to accompany my father to the various emergency wards. He used to stay a few hours, then he started shouting so he was discharged.

[…] Had my father taken a bit of care of himself he could have turned 100, since at 70, when he died, he still had the arteries of a young man. And he suffered no other inconvenience than this urine retention […] which was his continuous worry, his fixation, so that when […] he heard someone say “that man is very ill” he asked:

“Can he micturate?”
“Nothing serious then.”

Mum was at times ill because of that blessed liver of hers but he didn’t worry since my mother suffered no bladder inconvenience.

“Nothing to worry about,” said my father, “such things have no real consequences. What is fundamental is to be able to urinate, like that, naturally, happily.”

The Church of San Francesco a Ripa, in Trastevere. Click for attribution

A Thought, in Great Secrecy

When I, as a higher-level clerk, was better set up financially the idea came to my mind to rent a piano so that my father could enjoy himself a bit given his very great passion for music.

My father got wind of it and objected, saying:

“Tell Carlo not to bring the piano here otherwise I will p*** into it.”

Much perplexed as I was by this very strange eventuality, I however decided to try and, taken the necessary arrangements with the shopkeeper, I had the piano arrive in great secrecy to our house, and closed it into a room.

My father came home and went to bed at 9 o’clock as usual, without having seen the piano.

When I arrived home at night I said to my mother:

“How did it go?”
“All’s well. He didn’t notice anything yet.”

At about 5 am, however, we are awakened by discreet, very much discreet piano chords. We get up to our great surprise and approach the piano room in our nightdresses. There we see my father who, in his nightdress too, was blissfully tickling the piano keys.

He had not p*** into it … my battle was won, to the great delight of the poor man who was in truth very much pleased by my thought and my boldness.

All Efforts were Hopeless

My father died of a fever, as a result of absorption, that had been dragging on for several days, but disaster was caused by a pneumonic fact, as it usually happens. I was nursing him that night and I perceived the end approaching by the fact that he, almost in a coma, did not call Rachele anymore, but his mother … mamma mia, mamma mia […]

He passed away peacefully, assisted by the comforts of religion and by a special blessing from the Holy Father. He had confessed himself a few days earlier.


On the 23rd of September 1909 Il Giornale d’Italia published this obituary notice in the local news:

“Count Calcagni’s death, General Brigadier of the Pope’s noble guards.

This morning (Wednesday 22nd, 4:20 AM) Count Giovanni Calcagni, retired Brigadier of his Holiness’ noble guards, died in Rome. He was one of the most respected and characteristic figures of the Roman Catholic patriciate.

Count Calcagni was a likable gentleman of the old school: although seventy-year-old he still retained an exceptionally vigorous body which led him not to care about the assaults of the illness which has now brought him to the grave. His health had rapidly worsened in the last few days until all efforts to save him became hopeless.

He passed away assisted by the comforts of religion and by a special blessing that the Pontiff wanted to send him.

Although Count Calcagni had retired several years earlier from the active life that he had led as a result of his duties at the Papal Court, his demise however will be felt with deep regret by all who could appreciate the rectitude of his character and the originality of his spirit.

A Requiem Mass will be celebrated in honour of the extinct in the Parish Church of S. Francesco a Ripa at 10 AM. Our deep condolences go to the desolate family.”

Original text in Italian


Related posts:

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

About Man of Roma

I am a man from Rome, Italy. I’m 60 and a Roman since many generations. In my blog,, I’m writing down my meditations. The idea behind it all is that something 'ancient' is still alive in the true Romans of today, of which few are left.

25 responses »

  1. I love the scene of him tickling the keys. We do remember sometimes inane details; but oh, how important they are to the whole text.
    Thanks for sharing this.

    • Little details, so important, both in life and in any narrative. On another note, it took me a while to translate “sonicchiare” with ‘tickle’. In Italian there are more diminutives than in English: caldo can turn into caldino, calduccio etc. Hard to render.

      Thanks for reading Rosaria.

  2. That Count Calcagni was really something.
    I magnified the picture and could see your, or at least make out, your residence. Nice memories.

  3. Alas, I am so medically oriented that I find myself thinking: Was this prostatic hypertrophy or a stricture? (I feared for the piano, especially as “tinkling” has such a reference to micturition in colloquial English.)

    • I feared for the piano, especially as “tinkling” has such a reference …

      Now YOU are really something. Giovanni Calcagni might have liked you :-)

      I changed ‘tinkle’ with ‘tickle’, as Rosaria perhaps tacitly suggested. English is full of traps, damn.

  4. I was right there with you, Sled; you beat me to it. Damn.

    This story is more evidence for the “Italians and Jews are just alike” file. Maybe just the men, I don’t know.

    I just remembered a joke about a man in New York flashing a Jewish woman. (Hope you know what flashing is, Roma.)

    Ugh, she says, such a poor lining.

  5. @Jenny

    I hate to cool you two girls off … :-)

    But 1) this is 19th century blasphemous Rome, not Italy; 2) the jest the old man cracked was felt both as characteristic and eccentric but not (ehm) sexual or dirty in any way.

    At any rate, Jenny, if you perceive connections between the Jews and the modern Romans, what about the Roman Jews? (the most Roman of the Romans, and the most Jewish of the Jews? – as it seems.)

    Sledpress, you therefore transitively connect 19th century Romans with the Scots-Irish-German-Norwegian mix. THAT is mind boggling :-)

    [especially after an almost sleepless night]

    • Sexual, no, but you’d have to agree that even the vagrant thought of pee in a piano amounts to… well, untidiness.

      I am just a barbarian from the Northern Provinces, part Veleda, part Boudicca.

    • Ok, dirty in the sense of untidiness, of course.

      A joke not tolerated in many other parts of Italy belonging to the same milieu. Which makes Rome a unicum. Roman ‘scurrility’ is undeniable and I trace it back – as you know – to ancient Roman times, although it cannot be easily demonstrated.

      Part Veleda part Boudicca … God, the perfect enemy of Rome … now I better see why Manius Papirius had to fight you :-)

      • Think of it as a Batman and the Joker relationship. What is Rome absent a contrast with the fractious barbarians? Or the fascination of barbarian women…? :p

        • True, true, true, Rome woudn’t exist without the barbarian women absent a contrast with the barbarians, or Batman, absent the Joker. Gosh, didn’t think of it, thank you Sled (or Veleda, or whatever is your name.)

          • Oh, Rome would exist, but would she have that cachet of a shining beacon in the barbarian miasmas?

            I have so many names I could be a Tolkien character. Now you will laugh, but the reason I ever heard the name of Veleda originally was that there is a German made line of massage oils called Weleda which my German-born first therapist and mentor would break out with great ceremony to work on me, saying she did not use it for everyone, only other professionals, because it was special and expensive. The Germans remember all their face-offs with Rome, I think, I once saw a huge ornamental beer stein which had been glorified with a busy relief illustration of the Schlachtung Im Teutoburgerwald.

            “Sonicchiare” is a pretty word by the way. It makes me think of chimes being sounded by the wind.

          • See my reply to you below.

  6. Sled,

    I have a good deal of German blood and Scottish blood. (It’s a long story. On that topic, I read a poem called “Creole” by Robert Pinsky yesterday. I liked it. Good opening line: “I’m tired of the gods, I’m pious about the ancestors…”) Maybe that accounts for some similarities.


    “Roman Jews…the most Roman of the Romans, the most Jewish of the Jews…” sounds like some formidable (and wise-cracking…and good-looking!) super heroes. :)

    • Well, they kinda really are, ie many have the best qualities of the Romans & of the Jews. A friend of mine, who works at the Ghetto – intelligent, great sense of humour – looks btw like a big gladiator and each of his words has weight.

      Pity Roman Italians are basically inexistent in the New World, so you don’t know them.

      In any case a certain Michael Sullivan, an Irishman who lived 10 years in Trastevere, has just translated (Windmill Books Ltd, London: “Vernacular sonnets of Giuseppe Gioachino Belli”) hundreds of Belli’s sonnets [Belli is Rome’s major poet: his poems are a monument to 19th c. Roman spirit].

      In order to render the Roman dialect and ‘tone’ he said he utilized all sorts of British dialects (from Glasgow, Belfast, from various spices of London’s cockney etc.). I’ll end up buying it.

  7. @Sledpress

    You always appeared to me as a Tolkien character, but then you said Tolkien was so Catholic he squeaked (therefore I didn’t insist) :-)

    The Germans remember all their face-offs with Rome

    As for the European Germans, many are attached to their historical past as far as I know. As regards Rome, some *love it*, some *don’t*.

    [I link, here and elsewhere, to some of my posts in case readers are interested]

    The latter are more philhellene and – often mixing with those who dislike modern Italy – forget that they owe their civilisation to Rome much more than to Greece, there including the Angles and Saxons who were christianized directly by Rome: Bede, the first great British historian and Anglo-Saxon himself, is very informative about it, no need to tell.

    In 19th century especially – when nationalism roared in all European countries – a lot of nationalistic statues were built: *Ambiorix* in Belgium (he defeated one of Caesar’s legions), *Vercingetorix* in France (well known hero of the Gauls), Hermann or Arminius in Germany (battle of Teutoburg Forest, where more than 3 Roman legions were annihilated.)

    Apart from the Hermann’s memorial – close perhaps to the place of the battle – it suffice to add that Hermann was one of the first German heroes to be inserted (as a commemorative plaque only: Bede has one too) in the Parthenon-like Walhalla temple built by Ludwig I of Bavaria (in 1807?), a huge Hall of Fame containing busts & plaques of all great Germans in history and whose architectural style will be imitated by 1930’s German architecture, if I’m not wrong.

    I visited the temple in 2007 together with some Bavarian friends. Really impressive.

    Long and stuffy, I know.

    • Not at all stuffy, what you say gives some unexpected depth to add to the observations I had when I was singing with expatriate Germans so long ago. I hadn’t heard of Ambiorix, and I had forgotten Ludwig’s temple.

      I hope I didn’t ever give the impression I disparaged Tolkien because of his Catholicism, it’s just that when I read his work as an adult I can see the imprint of Mariolatry, of the doctrine of the Fall and so on. But that doesn’t spoil it, and it doesn’t come across as Catholic propaganda — the influences are too subtle. Heck, Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries *are* Catholic propaganda and I still love them; I prostrate myself at the altar of story and, in Tolkien’s case, gorgeous use of language.

      • Oh don’t worry, not that I care about Catholicism. My religion doesn’t regard any religion or, perhaps, all of them. As you say I also prostrate at the altar of history and story and literature (plus music). So Catholicism is part of our (hi)story (also family’s story), one reason for mentioning it in my blog. Besides, as you might have read, my father had a protestant background, this all adding up to a lot of confusion.

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