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Carlo Calcagni. Memoirs of Youth, Maturity and Old age. Parts 1-2-3

The Santa Bonosa Church painted by Roesler Franz in 1880 ca.

The Santa Bonosa Church in Trastevere, painted by Roesler Franz in 1880 ca.


Back in June 2009 after some hesitation I decided to post a few excerpts from the memoirs of Count Carlo Calcagni, a true Roman born almost one and a half century ago and my maternal grandmother’s eldest brother.

I now collect all the excerpts translated to English and posted so far at the Man of Roma. Each posted excerpt forms a chapter with a link to the English post and its discussion.

Here are Carlo’s original texts written in a vintage, enjoyable Italian with a Romanesco-dialect scent.

As for the English translation, it is a work in progress since MoR is no English mother tongue.


These memoirs offer a lively cross-section of the cultural Roman life spanning from the first half of 1800, the time of Calcagni’s grandfather, Count Filippo Calcagni, until the All Saints’ day of 1947, when Carlo finished writing his memoirs.

This work has so far circulated among relatives and friends only.

I think nobody was more Roman than Carlo. Endowed with intelligence, humour and a good nature typical from here but also peculiar to him alone, he narrates of a disappeared Rome by vividly depicting the four social milieus that made up the Roman population of his time:

1. The aristocracy (to which he belonged though deprived of financial means;) the clergy (from the ‘Pope king’ down to the last priest;) the generone (a middle class of business people and tenants of the large estates owned by the aristocracy; his wife Bice was from generone) and the popolino (ie the common people marvellously described by Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli) he had contact with since his family lived in Trastevere, a fashionable rione today but in his time the slums of the city.

The copyright of these memoirs belongs to the Carlo’s relatives.


Carlo Calcagni’s Memoirs. Part 1

Chapter 1.1
Birth, Look, Health.
First Teachings from his Father

I was born in Rome on the 12th of August a few years after 1870, the date of the Porta Pia breach, in a house at the foot of the Janiculum, in via Garibaldi. I don’t want to say the exact year of my birth for a residue of reasonable reserve. Why this reserve, a weakness, a coquetry quite odd in a man? I don’t know but I will not tell you. I am old, that’s enough.

I am 1.75 cm. tall (I have not been able to enter the grenadiers as did my brother Gigi, who was 1.82 tall) and I weigh 84-86 kg: I am therefore rather well built – with not too much belly also, a strong type in short and muscular. I was in fact very strong and did practise all sports when nobody was speaking of ‘sports’ yet and people thought I was half mad. My bearing – erect, frank and easy – I  owe perhaps to these exercises.

My eyes are cerulean, almost pale-blue once, and my hair is light brown – which is a bit uncommon for an Italian. My nose is perfectly straight, bending neither to the right nor to the left, a thing unusual they say since generally noses are slightly bending somewhere.

Now naturally at my age my hair is white. My face was once regular and fine, with open and calm expression, rather exotic both in features and complexion: somewhere in between an English and an American, so that I was often mistaken for a foreigner from those lands.

Robust health, capable of bearing whatever toil and discomfort, even unexpected and without preparation, capable of not eating and not drinking, whenever busy or occupied in something that completely absorbed my attention. I was after all the son of my father who, among his numerous aphorisms (many will arrive soon,) repeated almost continuously to us: one must eat what is necessary not to fall headlong.

And he always had preached and showed us how the body must be accustomed to serve us in everything and not to be our master. During our usual walks on foot “Dad I am hungry”, “Dad I am thirsty” we often cried.

“Shame on you, you are what, an animal? If you are hungry put a small pebble into your mouth. If you are thirsty hold a blade of hay or straw between your lips.”

“Dad I’m tired” and he started to run with gymnastic pace to urge us to follow him and not be left too much behind. In those days we were very small, 9-10 year-old.

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Chapter 1.2
Sudden Death of Granfather.
His father is Left to Himself

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

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

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

A Noble Guard of the Vatican

A Noble Guard of the Vatican

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 1.3
Perplexities About
the Family Inheritance

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

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

I never really knew how these things went because my father shrank from talking about them and he used to say that all that didn’t matter since in this world one has to work for a living and must not count on others or on ephemeral hopes.

He told us: birth doesn’t matter, only work and honesty do. Look at our Lord: he has worked, he has toiled as a carpenter in the shop of Nazaret and then aside, quiet, by himself: yet he was from the stock of David.

The important fact, that always has roused my suspicion about some wrongdoing, some abuse or indelicacy from our relatives in the division, or actual assignment, of the hereditaments of the Calcagni family, is this: my father, who was adored by his relatives for his qualities of character and festivity, and who was by them greatly sought after, never lavished much affection on them.

He paid visits to the rich relation, sometimes bringing us along with him, he remained a ten minutes, greatly rejoiced and rejoicing, then he suddenly went away without almost saying goodbye and all was postponed until several months later. Certainly there must be a latent and suppressed conflict, maybe of interests, which is most powerful to disunite, embitter and bring along grief.

There was actually an unbridgeable gulf between my father’s way of life and judgement and that of all the paternal relatives I have known.

Villa Mondragone, once a famous Jesuit school. CLick for credits

Villa Mondragone near Frascati, once a famous Jesuit collegio for young aristocrats

For example, when at a certain age the possibility was aired among the relatives of a first class collegio [boarding school or college, MoR] for the education of us small males of the kinsfolk more or less of the same age, a sort of family meeting was held. They told my father they thought of sending three or four young boys to Mondragone, the renowned collegio of the Jesuits near Frascati [see image above,] and they had my father understand that in case he wanted to send his boy (me) along with the others, as regarded the expenses they would all get together for a facilitation, for a helping hand.

My father replied:
“Thanks for the thought but I will bring up my son by myself.”
“Bravo!!! You will bring him up on the banks of the river …”
And my father:
“Yes, on the banks of the river, but with me … And we’re going to see who will better succeed.”

It is not to me to judge people who are partly dead and partly have drifted rather badly about the world; but certainly my education did not, and does not, suffer from any substantial deficiency compared to the education provided and received even in the best collegi. Quite the contrary …

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Chapter 1.4
and Father’s Funeral
in Trastevere

Piazza S. Cosimato in Trastevere, Rome, as it is today

Every day my father paid a visit to his sister who lived with her husband and their sole daughter Carlotta in via Panisperna – their ‘proper apartment’, as my father said with an untranslatable note. My father instead lived in piazza S. Cosimato in Trastevere (we are all trasteverini,) the district of the poor, since at that time the S. Lorenzo or Trionfale districts didn’t yet exist.

[see above a picture of the piazza as it is today, MoR.]

Another peculiarity of our family was a sort of dignified and reserved isolation. Nobody ever came to our home. Apart from really exceptional cases such as illness or an urgent need, we were always alone, always us, exclusively us. My father with an emphatic phrase used to call our home the domestic penetralia, our home was a sort of sancta sanctorum where no access was allowed to outsiders, to anyone.

Trastevere Today

A street in today’s Trastevere

I believe that, in addition to a sense almost of jealousy and of sentimental reserve, we also nurtured the feeling and the consciousness of our poverty. Our apartment was extremely modest, with scarce furniture, only beds for sleeping, a table for eating on which we also did our homework, few utensils for cooking, no frill, no coquetry, a home of the poor, clean but bare, absolutely bare. And there we felt we were masters and arbiters. Arbiters of what? Well, arbiters of living in our own way, with our poverty not even gilded or disguised, with the consciousness of our union and our love, in an atmosphere of absolute intimacy.

The building tenants neither ever came to visit us. By common consent and by a pact tacit and accepted by all, the Count’s house was respected and seen as sacred and inviolable. All greeted us, were kind and amiable, but they didn’t approach us, there was no union, no similarity of relationships or habits.

Yet a strange fact. When my father died at 4 and a half a.m. (on Wednesday, September 22, 1909) our apartment after one second was filled with people we didn’t know almost – the tenants of the whole building. They did their utmost to comfort us, to give us a help with acts the most humble and welcome in such moments of anguish. Some brought coffee, some hot water, some an egg, some a fruit, in short a sight both comforting and touching, occurring naturally and unexpectedly, in the middle of the night.

And yet we had totally refrained from any display of showy grief or from asking for any help or assistance.

At my father’s funeral there were many or better all his friends who had returned to Rome from their holidays, all his relatives from his father’s and mother’s side, which is natural, and the whole of Trastevere as well. From piazza S. Cosimato to S. Francesco a Ripa the distance is not short, yet the coffin – followed by his sons, I in black (with a suit bought ready-made at Pola e Todescan), Gigi and Paolo in soldier uniforms – passed between two busy wings of people and common people, mute and respectful.

All stores and shops were closed as if for national mourning, better still, right for this reason. A spectacle that certainly I and the two surviving sisters cannot easily forget, the spontaneous and devoted homage to a personality, to a type, to a character which disappeared and which no one else could probably ever replace.

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

I didn’t hear those indistinct whispers, curiosities, those questions or comments that usually accompany the big funerals. Who is he? Who is dead? Everybody knew it and didn’t have to inquire or comment any further. The Count was dead.

Inside the Church [see above], Mass for three voices with excellent music: the corpse on the ground more nobilium, the last acknowledgement of birth and condition – a tardy one to say the truth.

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Chapter 1.5
Elvira, the Eldest Sister,
Makes Someone Behave

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 1.6
Two ‘Brats’ Meet Pope Leo XIII

The Vatican Gardens. Click for credits and larger picture

The Vatican Gardens. Click for credits and larger picture

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

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

When the Pope going down to the gardens for his walk had left in his carriage, the orderly along different and secluded alleys brought us up to the famous roccolo – a place for bird-catching with nets, the paretaio – from where with ease and well concealed amid the vegetation we would be able to see the Pope who used to come near his beloved vineyard close to the roccolo.

This paretaio [or roccolo, see image below], for those who don’t know, was a very large circular surface, surrounded outwardly by trees and boxwood hedges, while inwardly towards the open space it was surrounded by a tall and thick hedge. There was therefore a sort of circular corridor from where one could very well see without being seen what was happening outside and inside the paretaio.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who are these brats?”

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

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

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

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

Pope Leo XIII (1810 - 1903)

Pope Leo XIII born in Carpineto Romano, near Rome, served from 1878 to 1903 in succession to Pope Pius IX

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

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

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

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

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End of Part 1

Carlo Calcagni’s Memoirs. Part 2

Chapter 2.1
Elvira the Eldest Sister Takes the Veil.
Father’s reaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 2.2
Born Puny Carlo
Becomes a Strong Swimmer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 2.3
Lottery and Eccentric
Passion for Horses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Chapter 2.4
Pius IX Pardons Nino
Then Slaps Him on the Wrist a Bit

Pius IX (Pope from 1846 to 1878). He was followed by Leo XIII (1878 – 1903) already mentioned by Carlo Calcagni in 1.6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pio IX in front of his noble guards

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

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

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

“Holy Father, she is a piano teacher.”

My mother had never touched a piano in her life.

“Ah! brava, brava.”

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

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Chapter 2.5
Nino is Reprimanded
By Prince Altieri for his Conduct

Noble Guard of the Vatican in full uniform. Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ariccia, on the ‘Castels of Rome’, ie Castelli Romani. Click for credits and to enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palazzo Altieri in the 18th century. Rome, Italy

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Get lost! Get lost!”

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


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

“The Thirty Years’ War.”

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

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Chapter 2.6
Carlo, Night Owl,
Comes Back Home Late.
Night Scenes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Street lamp in a Roman night

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

And I silent, without breathing a word …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Unfortunately I do not know ….”

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

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

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

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

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End of Part 2

Carlo Calcagni’s Memoirs. Part 3

Chapter 3.1
Toto and Luigi (or Gigi) Calcagni

Luigi Calcagni, one of Carlo Calcagni’s two younger brothers. Click to enlarge. “To my dear mummy, on May 24th 1909”


Carlo Calcagni had no children but for example his brother Gigi had nine, 6 girls and 3 boys, so I was asking myself: is it possible that no descendant is contacting me as for these memoirs I am posting?

At last Lorena Baroncini, Manuela and Maura Calcagni showed up, a lovely surprise (also Christian Floquet did: I will mention him in a later post).

Lorena, Maura and Manuela are in fact descendants of Gigi Calcagni [see his picture above], one of Carlo Calcagni’s two younger brothers. This is why I’ve decided to dedicate a post to Gigi Calcagni by collecting Carlo’s scattered memories about him.

Gigi was the tallest in his family, 1.82 mt, which, in those days – beginning of 1900 – and in this country meant being really tall. He therefore joined the grenadiers.

“He volunteered at 17 before his call-up – Carlo writes – and was rising through the ranks having no qualification since he had abandoned school in order to embrace the military career.”

Gigi was the one who accompanied his father Nino in his walks:

“When my father was looking for company in his long walks in the country – Carlo continues – the most enthusiastic was my brother Luigi, very young at that time but very big, or lanky, already. He followed my father like a dog for hours, then came back home tired and hungry beyond description.”

He married a certain Margherita.

“Margherita also exceeds the average height for women … their children all turning up colossal: a beautiful family whose females are like valkyries, and the first male a big and handsome young man … So big and beefy they are that they have cost Gigi a fortune in order to feed and to clothe them. Financial means: little, hence great and exhausting toil for him.”

Luigi was extremely strong and a good companion in their swims in the Tiber.

“And he fought with Toto, our dog, in World War I in the Grenadiers’ II Corps which distinguished itself in several battles.”

To proceed further we must therefore talk about Toto, the Calcagnis’ dog. From now on I hand over the floor to Carlo.

 Toto and Gigi, fellow soldiers

Toto, great Toto, priceless Toto … our dog or, to be precise, my dog … a fox [Terrier?] of the purest breed, all white with a maculated head … a dog that people turned around to admire in the street, a dog that Marquis Calabrini, the King’s squire, came to look for up to our house in order to buy him and bring him to the King’s kennel: he would have paid any sum to have Toto.

From our house window my sister Maria, Toto’s closest friend, cried, particularly indignant and resentful:

“Toto is not for sale. What then? Are we going to repeat the ‘Joseph sold by his brothers’ story?”

Calabrini – I remember as if it were now – went away between admired, astounded, confused and very perplexed.

My brother Luigi progressed in his career as a non-commissioned officer of the grenadiers. He came home every day and then went back to his quarters in S. Croce in Gerusalemme.

He had already experienced war, the Italo-Turkish war or Libyan war, from where he had returned safe and sound despite he had found himself in the firing line in battles such as, for example, Sidi Said and Bir Tobras.

Ponte Sisto on the Tiber as it is today. Click for credits and to enlarge

Getting back home from war he looked at our small house with pleasure, the one we lived in overlooking Ponte Sisto (see picture above,) and said with intention “Oh, we’ve got gas now” (great news for our home since there always had been petroleum, and little of it). Then sitting at the table in front of a good steak (a horse steak although he didn’t know that) he began to eat at a good pace. At one point while cutting the meat and it escaping the grip of his fork he deftly caught it and with his deep voice mimicked the carter who tries to stop the horse, “Leh ….”

A dream! He had immediately understood how and why there could be so much luxury of meat in our house. A little humour inherited from my father but more serious, more restrained and, above all, much less frequent.

Toto, War Volunteer

Then came the First World War with the departure of my brother Luigi as warrant officer together with a volunteering Toto.

Toto’s voluntary service went in this way.

Gigi told me one day:

“Would you give me Toto? I’ll bring him to war with me. He will keep me company and, together with him, I will bring along a piece of home and of you all.”

We were puzzled and between yes and no until the day of the actual departure from the Tuscolana railway station.

All of us, mum, Maria etc. plus Toto went for the ritual adieu. It was a long unending troop train of grenadiers, all the Second Regiment. Gigi went up and down the train to see if everything was all right in order to communicate and enforce orders and regulations. And Toto, without us or Gigi calling him was running back and forth between my brother and us, extremely agitated.

When it was departure time and the train had almost moved, Toto jumped into the car where Gigi was and immediately looked out the window to say goodbye to us.

Toto had left as a war volunteer.

A smooth Fox Terrier. Click for attribution

He behaved very well and always accompanied Gigi in all expeditions there including the very risky ones… Gigi took him under his coat while riding his mule and Toto didn’t utter a sound: he knew very well how to play the military dog … Of course all these feats had won Toto the affection of all the grenadiers …

When Gigi was once on leave he arrived in the dead of night. By hearing the family whistle everyone jumped out of bed to open the street and the flat doors. Toto was there with him and there hugs and rejoicing occurred for the two fellow soldiers. Then of course we went to bed and Toto triumphantly resumed his place on the bed at my feet according to his ingrained habit. Have a good night and rest: lights are turned off.

At one point Gigi, needing a piece of cigar for his pipe, carelessly walked into my room. Toto immediately attacked him since this time he didn’t serve any more as a fellow soldier, but rather as a guardian of his truer and senior master. I remember Gigi saying to Toto the bitterest insults that dog ever received from its master.


When the war ended Gigi returned home, got his discharge with honour and passed to the civil service at the Ministry of Finance. He was then employed at Banco Roma and later obtained a post in the Governorate of the Vatican City.

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Chapter 3.2
Illness and a Thought,
in Great Secrecy

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

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.”

San Francesco a Ripa, Trastevere

The Church of San Francesco a Ripa, in Trastevere, Rome, where the funeral took place. Click for attribution and to zoom in

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.”

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Chapter 3.3
Agnese Calcagni
and the Blue Sisters

Basilica of Santo Stefano Rotondo, Rome. Click for attribution and to enlarge

For my sisters, despite their being quite pretty, no suitor was around [one sister, Elvira, was already a nun, MoR.]

All right for Maria who was extremely young but Agnese [my grandmother, MoR] had already passed the right age and no one showed up so it could represent a little bit of a worry.

Not being a fool Agnese was thinking about organizing her life not around a wedding far to come, but around a job that would both interest and occupy her in a worthy manner.

She became a nurse at the Blue Sisters’, in Santo Stefano Rotondo [see the Basilica above and below.]

She proved very good, attentive and intelligent. Prof. Margarucci was enthusiastic about her, and so were the patients; much less the English nuns on account of her very frank and independent behaviour.

After several small frictions here we are with a decisive, conclusive one.

A Drop of Cognac

S. Stefano Rotondo. External view

S. Stefano Rotondo. External view. Click for attribution and to enlarge

One night she was on call and had a patient seriously ill whom we knew and who at one point asked for a cordial, for something – since he felt like fainting. Custom of the house was that the stewardess shut everything during the night so that no one could take anything out of the pantry.

My sister races to the pantry and finds the stewardess, a nun, who, like every good English, is calmly sipping at her tea. She asks her for a drop of cognac for her patient but the nun, on the strength of her charge, does not even reply.

Then Agnese, with an authoritarian voice, asks her for the keys and after several refusals manages to get them, to take what she had to take and to get back to her patient.

All hell breaks loose. The nun writes up the minutes and the next morning my sister is called by the Direction for a dressing-down.

“In disregard of any regulation … she had dared to insist, better, to force the stewardess to open the cupboard …”

My sister at this point can no longer resist. She takes off her cap and veil and calmly lays them on the table in front of prof. Margarucci, saying:

“We cannot get along with these English nuns’ methods. If a patient, entrusted to me during night-time, needs some help I open all cupboards, I even smash everything, but I seek a way of helping those who are suffering and perhaps dying.”

Margarucci tried to settle things but, while thanking him very much, my sister was unshakable:

“If not this time it will certainly happen another time. It’s a question of mentality.”

Thus ended her first attempt at finding an occupation, a job.

Countess Campello & Beppe Tamanti

Montalcino, Siena, Italy

Beppe Tamanti was from Montalcino, Siena (Tuscany). Click for credits and to enlarge

Another opportunity soon arose in the same sphere of activity. Countess Guglielmina Campello, lady-in-waiting to Queen Elena, was looking for a young lady, good, capable and of civilised condition, who could take care of the direction of a new clinic that the Queen was creating for children predisposed to tuberculosis. The Countess turned to Agnese, who went and returned to her several times to discuss and see, before making up her mind.

During such circumstances the extraordinary fact of her engagement to Beppe Tamanti took place. Beppe Tamanti was one from the Chorus Misticus [a catholic private group of young men, MoR], but had never come to our house and knew Agnese only for having seen her a few times in passing. Agnese had never been mentioned in our talks.

One morning Beppe appears in my office on Lungotevere Raffaello Sanzio …

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Chapter 3.4
A sudden Twist
in Agnese’s Life

A building in piazza Trilussa, Lungotevere Sanzio, Rome

Piazza Trilussa, Lungotevere Sanzio, Rome. Click for credits and to enlarge

One morning Beppe appears in my office on Lungotevere Sanzio. As usual I welcome him very warmly and fraternally because you must know that Beppe had a special charm, with his open and serene face, his sly but good eyes, his ways so candid as those of a child to the extent that, among us in the group, he was called ‘the pure fool’, like Parsifal.

I tell him:

“How come you’re in Rome?”
“Right, I’m in Rome.”
“To do what?”
“Yes, right, I have to do something. Come on, let’s go out”.
“Well, I can’t right now.”

He stays there with me and we finally go out together and, while he is talking to me about lots of things not related to the reason of his trip to Rome, he says point-blank:

“How’s your mum? And your brothers and sisters?”
“Everyone’s fine, thanks.”
“And Agnese, what is she doing?”
“Well, I think she went to Countess Guglielmina Campello’s for matters related to a clinic.”
“Right, because I’d like to propose to her.”

We keep walking and walking – he now and then stopping, as it was his invincible habit, and pinning you in a way that was only his – and we head towards Piazza Colonna and then via del Tritone [see below] while speaking about Agnese and the proposal he had made.

Halfway we stumble right upon Agnese who was coming down towards home […].

Beppe tells me:

“Shall we stop Miss Agnese?”
“Ah yes, let’s stop her” I say being on tenterhooks since I was unable to inform my sister in advance.

Via del Tritone 1890

Via del Tritone in 1890 (a bit earlier than the facts narrated). Click for credits

Then Beppe, an expression on his face that I now still see, rather clumsily begins:

“Miss, are you free?”
“How do you mean free?”
“Well, free.”
“At this moment at least, yes.”
“Because I’ve come to Rome to ask for your hand … and I will not leave Rome until I get a definitive answer, whatever it is”.

All this right in the middle of via del Tritone, at a time of maximum crowd, around one pm.

All disconcerted Agnese says to me:

“But, did you know that?”
“No, I have known just one hour ago. I tried to take time to see you first, but Beppe kept a hold on me, sticking to me as a stamp to an envelope.”

There we are, the three of us, crestfallen, without being able to exchange any thought, walking back towards home. Finally, God willing, Beppe leaves us but says he’ll return in the evening for an answer.

So, without any notice or any preparation, our family and especially Agnese found ourselves fully launched into this new, strangest and almost neglected-by-us subject: marriage.

For my sister Agnese I couldn’t hope for a better match under every aspect: good social status, good economic condition, but most of all, intelligence, unflinching honesty, a truly superior spirit with the goodness of an angel.

But what about the feelings side of it? Agnese and Beppe did not know each other and love between them could not arise like that, as with love at first sight.

View of Montalcino, Siena, Tuscany

View of Montalcino, Siena, Tuscany. Click for credits and to enlarge

I was much perplexed but even more perplexed was Agnese, who kept repeating:

“… since for a husband one’s got to have love feelings, it’s the only thing that counts.”

“All right – I said – but love may come and it will come once you’ll get to talk, to frequent, to know each other.”

“Well then, well then, what do you advise me to do?”

“I? I can’t advice you on such a critical matter. Quite the opposite. I do not want to advice you. All I can say is that Beppe has all the good qualities one may desire in a man, at the highest degree. But that he also has two faults at the highest degree: he’s long and boring; and he has a peculiarity that is located between, so to say, faults and virtues: he’s pigheaded.”

“But that’s not all!”

“I know it’s not all but it’s already a lot and it is what I can honestly say being sure not to be wrong. If you say yes you will have a reliable, clear, serene man who will love you forever: if you will be able to love him … provided you don’t feel revulsion for him …”


No way of beating about the bush with Beppe. In the evening he returned and got engaged to Agnese, amid mum’s surprised contentment and mine, more tranquil and peaceful, since I knew what kind of a treasure – it is the word – she had found. […]

Marriage followed at a few weeks’ distance. Agnese left for Montalcino [see image above.]

She lived happily with Beppe and with a crown of 7 children, 4 males and three females.

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Chapter 3.5
Home Tutor at Prince
Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi’s

Palazzo Margherita, ex palazzo Ludovisi, ora sede dell'ambasciata americana

The austere Villa Margherita in Rome, now seat of the US Embassy. It was built, together with Via Veneto and the Ludovisi district, on the Boncompagni-Ludovisi property. An area of 200,000 sq meters out of 247,000 was sold by the Boncompagni-Ludovisi Princes. On it lied one of the most beautiful Roman villas, Villa Ludovisi, now disappeared. Wikimedia

In a period of my life I worked as precettore during the first two years of university.

Yessir, precettore. In order to keep up my studies I was already giving private lessons but […] I was offered by the Apollinare deputy prefect and by Don Francesco Faberi a proper tutoring position at Prince Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi’s for his son Francesco, the one later to become governor of Rome.

What was my job about?

I had to pick Francesco up in the morning at the Apollinare Catholic school and, after a long walk, take him home in via Porta Pinciana. I then had to take him from home back to school after which I picked him up again and brought him back home after another walk.

There I made him do his homework for next-day classes until 9 pm.  […] Basically I was a precettore but no in home tutor. I didn’t eat or sleep in their house […].

I accepted the job since the allowance was remarkable for that time, 100 lire a month.

Hotel Excelsior in Via Veneto

Hotel Excelsior in Via Veneto, built on the Boncompagni-Ludovisi property. Click for credits and to enlarge

Don Ugo Boncompagni

For those who don’t know, Don Ugo Boncompagni was a man endowed of wit & humour, a certain degree of originality and great experience having had two wives and numerous children, having become a priest and almost been sovereign of the Piombino Principality and having squandered almost twenty millions for the construction of the Ludovisi district [where via Veneto and Palazzo Margherita are located, see pictures above and below, MoR.]

In essence he was a great gentleman – nice, friendly though also a bit, how can I say, haughty and almost jealous of his personality.

While talking with me about the education he wished for his only son he showed the best ideas and highly proclaimed them: I should not care that D. Francesco was a noble and I should see to him becoming a good, hard-working, modest and well-mannered young man, almost like the son of any other good person.

Now I wholeheartedly endorsed these principles of healthy democracy but was naive enough to believe them truly and deeply felt by D. Ugo while he deep down did not believe in them and did not wish them to be actually realized in his son.

Hence slight misunderstandings between him and I, a few discussions about the attitude young D. Francesco showed in some occasions: obstinate and haughty at the same time, not with me since it was not really the case but with others, especially his mates and peers from the great aristocratic families.

Via Veneto by night

Via Veneto by night, Rome. Wikimedia. Click to zoom in

Don Francesco’s Studies

As for his studies – even though I had found him rather weak in Italian (at home he spoke French with his father and German with his sisters’ governess) –  he was doing very well. Perspicacious though not very hard-working he liked to make a good impression so by exploiting this weakness I could get what I wanted from him.

At the end of the school year he managed to be the top student of his school also in Italian and get the transition to a higher class without examination. A real triumph for him and for me with endless congratulations from his father.

This result achieved I would have preferred, as far as I saw it, the boy to rest during his holidays, to run free at his pleasure also because he was a bit emaciated, not fully developed and needing a more intense and healthy physical life. His father instead absolutely wanted the boy to study each day a couple of hours in the morning and two hours or something in the afternoon. Hence I spent the summer holiday with the Boncompagni family in a small village in Casentino, Consuma, near Vallombrosa.

Summer Holidays at Consuma, Tuscany

Lovely site since located almost at the summit of the road that from Pontassieve crosses the mountains up to Poppi-Bibbiena. The village then consisted of two rows of houses on either side of the road, a church, four grocery shops, 300 souls. There were only women and children in the village during the day since the men were all coal miners and were away at work.

Salotto rosso Palazzo Patrizi

‘Red living room’ in the Patrizi palace, S. Luigi dei Francesi, Rome. Click for credits and for a virtual visit to the palace

Also the Marquis Patrizi’s family spent their summer holidays at Consuma, with the same big number of children, including one, Patrizio, who was the same age as my Francesco and who was being tutored by my friend Pericle Cardinali. Cardinali was also in home tutor in Rome in every sense of the word since he ate slept and lived in the Patrizi’s Rome’s palace [see picture above] in S. Luigi dei Francesi.

I being in Rome so to say part-time spent now more time with the Boncompagni’s in Consuma though I did not sleep there since they had not enough room. Therefore I slept in the parish house at the parish priest’s, a great Tuscan fellow who kept me late conversing, playing cards, drinking glasses of excellent vin santo and smoking Tuscan cigars […]. I did not smoke yet at that time […]

The good curate offered me a sound half cigar and after the first puffs waited for the symptoms of discomfort he foresaw as certain. He waited in vain since I smoked the half cigar undaunted, much enjoying my host’s disappointment. I had become a smoker and had a pipe sent me from Rome which I started with pieces of chopped cigars in order to save up. This is the reason why I cannot conceive smoking up to this day but in the form of a pipe full of good Tuscan cigars.

Passo della Consuma, Toscana

Pass of Consuma. Click for credits and to enlarge

Except for the hours of forced study Francesco and I went through, that we tried to shorten or even eliminate by common consent via a series of makeshift, quick-and-dirty expedients, life flowed quietly and rather pleasantly.

We walked, we conversed at the Patrizi’s where we often gathered, we made music too since Marquise Maddalena played, the German M. Richter also – the daughters’ governess – and so did a bit don Ugo’s eldest daughters, Lady Guendalina and Lady Guglielmina, who were never left alone by an ugly old German.


The peculiarity of my attitude was this: I was Don Francesco’s tutor but of a peculiar kind since in my behaviour and during conversations I acted free-and-easy, self-confidently, at times amusing, at times a man of the world; and the others understood very well, partly amused and partly like annoyed by this kind of deviation from the line of the perfect tutor. I didn’t care much and went on my way.

The one very proud of my attitude was Don Francesco who hanged on my words and without a doubt assimilated much of my bent and way of responding. We were both considerate and correct though with a greater ease than that of Cardinali’s and Patrizio’s. For example, Patrizio, thin and little as well, was a bit like a helpless babe in the wood if one had to leap over a ditch or climb a steep path. Our couple was instead much more energetic.

I can well believe it. The first thing I had asked Francesco was:

“Can you run? Can you jump? Can you do somersaults?”
“I can’t”
“Really? What do you do?”
“I bowl a hoop”
“Yes, like a girl!”

He then had learned to do somersaults and got used to run together with me. All of this had created a sort of moral and physical superiority over his pal Patrizio.

A quip by Marquise Patrizi, a woman of top quality and superior intelligence, became famous:

“Calcagni, I never know when you speak seriously or when you joke.”
And I, promptly: “Consider that I am speaking seriously also when I laugh.”
“Perhaps, but I doubt it.”

Original version in Italian
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Chapter 3.6
Carlo and Francesco Meet
Princess Agnese Boncompagni Ludovisi,
born Borghese

Prince Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi during his function as governor of Rome (from 1928 to 1935). Courtesy of Mediateca Roma. Click for attribution

Prince Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi during his function as governor of Rome (from 1928 to 1935). Courtesy of Mediateca Roma. Click for attribution

A few times a year there was a ceremony, in Rome, of greetings or good wishes to Princess Agnese Borghese, Don Ugo’s mother and Francesco’s grandma. Francesco was really terrified of it and took it as an inevitable thing, an evil he had to yield to.

Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi, Francesco's father. Click for credits

Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi, Francesco’s father. Click for credits

Don Ugo, the first time [see picture on the left, MoR], told me that I had to accompany his son to Princess Agnese [see picture below, MoR] and carefully prepared me for the task by telling me what Francesco should do and what I should do. I outwardly listened carefully but inside of me I was quite amused. Giving a grandma, even if a princess, one’s best wishes did not seem a big deal to me but something so simple and natural instead.

Princess Agnese Boncompagni Ludovisi Borghese. Click for attribution

Princess Agnese Boncompagni Ludovisi Borghese. Click for attribution

On our way to her Francesco told me that his grandma filled him with such an awe that he did not know what to tell her, he did not know what to do.

I reassured him by saying that he had to feel infinite respect and reverence for his grandma, because she was his grandma and because she was a person in a very high social position, but also, and most of all, that he had to feel a dear and warm affection for her, that he had to love her as much more or less as he loved his father, his sisters and friends …

“But, have you ever seen her? Have you ever spoken to her?”
“Good! Then you’ll see why I’m right!”

We walk along via della Scrofa up to her palace and are introduced into a vast and very dark living room. At the very end of it, seated on a sofa, was a very little old woman, clothed with great simplicity and looking not at all imposing: she was Princess Agnese Boncompagni Ludovisi, born Borghese.

I drew near, together with Francesco, and with much ease and openness I bent down and kissed her hand.

She looked at me and said:

“Who are you?”
“I am Francesco’s new tutor” and introduced myself by name and surname.

Casino dell'Aurora (via Veneto), what is left of the immense Villa Ludovisi, the most beautiful of Rome, admired by Goethe, Elliot, Gogol, Stendhal, D'Annunzio and others. Click for credits

Casino dell’Aurora (via Veneto), what is left of the immense Villa Ludovisi, the most beautiful of Rome, admired by Goethe, Elliot, Gogol, Stendhal, D’Annunzio and others. Click for credits

Having seen my calm Francesco began to sort of relax, became more tranquil and self-confident, kissed his grandma’s hand while his behaviour appeared freer and easier.

The grandmother invited us to sit down with her on the sofa, began to talk to us and especially to me. She clearly wanted to see what kind of a person I was.

It seems that I passed the exam rather well since she became another person, talked about this and that, got interested in his grandson’s studies, wanted to know what we were doing, how we spent our time and ended by asking if Francesco was happy about his new tutor.

Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi

Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi. Click for credits

Francesco replied with some enthusiasm and most of all with great self-confidence. As a result, with a fine smile the Princess started talking to her grandson and to me. In short, she was never taking leave of us and there we were, tranquil, serene, conversing with this intelligent little old lady who didn’t seem the bugbear that had been described to me. When we finally left the palace Francesco naively said: “Well, it all went very well this time and grandma even kissed me when I said good-bye to her while leaving.”


The following day Don Ugo called me to his office and congratulated me.

“On what?”
“Well, on the visit you paid yesterday to my mother. What did you tell her? She was so glad for the long visit received from you and told me lots of good things about you.”
“About me?”
“Yes, about you. And she told me she has found Francesco really changed in better, freer and easier, more well-mannered and loving.”

With that visit to the Princess of Piombino – I knew it later, though I had sort of perceived it earlier and almost immediately, I would say – I had won a big battle and passed a great test.

A word from the Princess and I would have been dismissed without remission and regrets. I cannot describe Francesco’s gratitude. He had got over his appalling uneasiness towards his grandmother. Since I was not his grandson I had treated her with much respect but also with great simplicity and no effort.


During our holiday at Consuma there was only one thing that was really bad and that I found absolutely unbearable …

Original version in Italian
Original post and comments

Chapter 3.7
The Ram


Click for attribution and to enlarge

Things got out of Hand

During our holiday at Consuma there was only one thing that was really bad and absolutely unbearable to me: a ram.

The two boys, Francesco [Boncompagni-Ludovisi, see picture below, MoR] and Patrizio, had received from their respective fathers an enormous ram as a gift – and so far nothing wrong.

Things though got out of hand with the purchase of a four-wheeled cart that they attached to the ram and that was making a grinding, terrible noise rolling on the road far from being asphalted at that time.

And there they were, the two boys, having fun at attaching and detaching the beast and taking their time as it happens and remaining much behind us along the road. And we calling and screaming at them that they at least rolled in front of us, where we’d always have been able to watch them and monitor the road whose sides had ravines and gullies.

We were two tutors like obsessed by the fact that we had to be in our walks not only tutors but also shepherds and had to endure numerous vexations on account of that innocent animal and of that even more innocent cart.

Opening ceremony of the Royal Accademia d’Italia. From the left: Balbino Giuliano, Ministry of Education, Tommaso Tittoni giving a speech, Mussolini, Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi, governor of Rome, and Gioacchino Volpe, Secretary of the Academia. Courtesy of Istituto Luce

Cardinali and I were young, you know, and easy to get overly excited, but I certainly realize  – now that I look back at those days – that the boys’ and their relatives’ demands were a bit too much. Playing with a ram, I can understand, but carrying it around for miles and miles (!!) among the laughters of passersby even if seldom met, it’s quite another question.

A Mephistophelian Idea in Mind

Now it happened that in the evening, after returning from excursions that had been particularly disastrous, I brought back the ram into the barn and worked the poor animal over with frequent though not too hard blows.

I was the one who always shut the beast into the barn, with this furtive, Mephistophelian idea in mind. Boncompagni’s cook instead picked the ram up in the morning before our daily walk.

One day the cook appeared before us with a bump on his forehead and a black eye.

“What happened?” I told him.
“I have no idea. While opening the barn this morning the ram charged me like mad and hit me here and here. I don’t know what’s the matter with that beast. It’s like furious, possessed.”

Of course I knew what the matter was but kept mum.

One day, during one of our very unfortunate walks together with our pupils and the ram attached to the noisy cart, the boys had remained far behind busy as they were with their good time with the crew. After a bend in the road we could not see them any more so we started to call, to yell. Nothing. So we went back and after reaching them we gave them a harsh reprimand.

Down the Ravine

To our reproaches good Patrizio stood quiet and mortified; not so Francesco who, freer and easier, stood in a stark attitude of protest and almost battle and said a few words that I can’t recall but sounded as if he, they, willed and had the power to have fun to their liking.

It happened in a flash. I grabbed the ram attached to the cart and threw it down the ravine which flanked the road. Everyone remained shocked and frightened. In its fall the cart fell to pieces and the beast broke free and fled.

We returned home crestfallen without the usual accompaniment of the rudimentary vehicle and of the poor animal. Francesco said nothing to his father. The poor boy felt however very much defeated and depressed.

Click for attribution and to enlarge

Click for attribution and to enlarge

The next morning he was as usual studying reluctantly and kept standing up and reaching the window to look around the countryside. He of course was thinking about the ram but said nothing. In the end he said to me all out of breath:

“Look, look, teacher! The ram, on top of that far away hill!”
It was in fact the beast but I seriously exclaimed:
“What ram are you talking about! Study, since it’s now time to study, not to think of your ram.”
But he, out of his mind: “No! THAT is my ram.”
Thus, pretending to be surprised, I said: “Well, if it’s really out there let’s run and catch it back.”

So we let books and studies to hell and hurled ourselves into the fields in order to grab the ram. Which kept quiet until we were far from it. I then walked into play and the ram which knew me very well fled like hell as soon I got close to catch it.

This game lasted for a long time. During the whole morning other spare chasers were recruited and it all ended up in a real, frantic hunt.

At last the beast was captured and put back into the barn.


If nothing else, I had obtained that there was no cart any more and that the ram with his tutors was always ahead of us since as soon as I moved closer the ram sprang forward in order to escape from me who had been and was his persecutor.

My tutorship ended because I had to be in the Army and my father had sensed from my letters that something was wrong so he called me back to Rome in an abrupt and final way.

Original version in Italian
Original post and comments

6 responses »

  1. Pingback: Carlo Calcagni. Memoirs of Youth, Maturity and Old age. Part 1 « Man of Roma

  2. Hi Man of Roma,
    Please sort me out here. In these stories Carlo speaks of his grandfather, the Count, who died in 1909 and he speaks of his own father. Was his own father also a Count? What was his name? Sometimes I can’t make out who Carlo is referring to as he switches. Thanks.

    It’s great to hear the voice of person from 140+ years ago. Carlo would have been over the age of 77 when he stopped writing and was your maternal grandmother’s eldest brother. I guess his genes swivelled to you. 🙂

    • Hi Geraldine, lovely to see you again!

      Complicated, I know. These memoirs were written by Carlo, born a few years after 1870, my maternal grandmother’s eldest brother.

      Nino, his father, whose funeral (1909) is described in I,4 and who is a constant character in these memoirs, was an orphan since his father – Filippo, Carlo’s grandfather – had died in a coach accident (I,2.)

      Filippo, Nino and Carlo were counts (I am not.)

      I think some genes were passed on to me since I am eccentric and have an inclination for music – 2 traits typical of the Calcagnis (and unknown to the rest of the family.)

  3. Thank you. I’m enjoying the story.

  4. Pingback: Manius Papirius Lentulus. Progress so far « Man of Roma

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