The Tarpean Rock in Rome and the celestial summit of the National Research Council

The way I left Rome has something of a movie script, both dramatic and Italian comedy style (Commedia all’Italiana). I was already in Altrove for a year, a nice region of Portugal, much less famous then Algarve and Alantejo, and not to be mistaken by the starting “Al”, since Altrove is from Latin and not from Arab. As I said, it was a mixture of harsh feeling, nasty picturesque facts, and laughable vignettes. More or less a year ago I had my last days in Rome after having lived around 15 years there, mostly continuously. I’ll rapidly cite a handful of anecdotes:

  • The rudeness of the cheap hotel receptionist;
  • A mysterious Sicilian man who – by phone – accused me to have robbed his baggage in Spain, while the contrary was much more probable according to simple evidence (he exchanged our baggage at Sevilla and I spent days in searching and recovering it);
  • The retired professor who – after having ignored you for years – compulsorily asks who you are, having sniffed in the international conference the perfume of the “brain drain”. The retired professor has to know whoever is around to patrol the territory. He is keen to fold you in silence soon by saying “I have still the affiliation [so I’m still ruling my dear!]”. Who am I not to let him think so?
  • The detachedness from the flock and the unpleasant feeling of the sights toward you by those who see you as a ghost (the reader must guess whom I am talking about).
  • The “hey how u doing Giulio?” (in Roman slang) from the pavements, and the international colleagues acknowledging that this is really your place, whereas the locals may not know you definitely left that place this time.
  • The impossibility to meet all the real friends I have over there, and the necessity to attend miserable meetings. What a pity.
  • The former Romanian tenants of my house and their story of the death threats: this point never got a clarification, I only acknowledged that she fled with the baby and the husband had to leave the apt.

I’ll talk about one single detail. After having had an unthinkable rebuke that I don’t detail for decency, I finally get my heavy baggage and I figure out to escape by reaching the station and eventually wait a while there. As a matter of fact beneath the office plants and half-open ground floor of the CNR I catch the sight of a familiar face. He can’t be him. He is Giulio, another Giulio. I mean, a former colleague with whom I shared for a year or two the open space. Quite cool since my name – the male version at least – is not so common in Italy. He was inside the building, I was on the pavement. At the turnstile there is a wide space and we can say hello to each other. We are both happy to recognize each other and a “how u doing” is compulsory, a pleasure added with some discretion commanded by the lack of updated information about the current reciprocal issues and destinies. He says he was employed. Recruited. He was rescued! He entered the National Research Council as an employee and no more as a Post-Doc! He did it; “they made for him”, he says with intellectual honesty. The reader has to know, however, that those contracts are not permanent, but much more probable to end with a permanent position. In any case, you become an employee at that stage, following the law. It’s like to say that bread is a full meal since you are used to eat less than that, but the divide is really there: to become an employee of any kind at the edge of one’s 40. Well. I feel suddenly happy for him, but very embarrassed for me. Should I say, “Well, on the contrary last summer I went here to be rejected in a competion…” No, this would have asked for further explanations and an implicit request of solidarity. That’s not the case to annoy people. So how can I escape that final hindrance to the station? How can I tell something about me without making him feel pitiful (what may equal a fixed term contract as employee?)? I don’t know how, but we left in friendship as usual with this funny vision of two Giulios: one inside, the other outside. It was a sort of “sliding door”: instead of an underground, a turnstile, the hard to be accessed gate to the last heaven-style floor of the National Research Council (usually known as “the canteen”). [The canteen: the only institution I may feel some nostalgia about]


All this goes in my mind by reading about the Tarpeian Rock* and figuring that that is still a real place in Rome. I had even a vision: Mr. Marino, mayor of the city, being pushed down by the whole citizens who reject his personality (too honest, too straight, too alien to the mood of the eternal city). I feel very sympathetic to him, but I made something much less astonishing. I took my heavy baggage and I walked to Tiburtina Station, knowing that any step was the last in that place, swearing at any step that I shall not come back again for a huge while, remembering many of the phases I lived there, and that I had to come back to my real place: Florence. I catch one train out of the many to Florence and I look with no nostalgia at all the platform where I used to come back in my flat in Rome (overcrowded as usual). “What quality of life I had here? What did I do to deserve it” I say. I have to run along the same line I made for more than a decade until having the possibility to have a glance to my flat (visible from railway). Thus, after few seconds I was out of the Municipality of Rome and that was a relief.

Let’s say it was a comedy, it was a commiato (leave-taking).

* Neave, G., 2009, ‘The Academic Estate Revisited: Reflections on Academia’s Rapid Progress from the Capitoline Hill to the Tarpeian Rock’, in Enders J. de Weert E. (Eds.) The Changing Face of Academic Life, pp. 15–35, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke


Andrea Pazienza, the disengaged genius of 1977 higher education movements

Seldom I heard about Andrea Pazienza, a very famous cartoonist (at least among some Italian circuits). All those times I heard about him as a genius fall into heroine. True. He was even compared to Caravaggio. True (I guess it is not exaggerated). He was not just a cartoonist or a living Dada experiment: he was an artist in its utmost definition, despite he defined himself, at the age of 29, “a good talent who believed to be a genius and later realized to don’t be so” (this is the postscript of «Pompeo», a story based on himself and his relation with heroine). His technique is amazing. Embarrassing is even the divide between his capacity to look at phenomena and his naïve look at the world. As I said: an artist. What an artist, is if not a person with some outstanding skills in his/her field looking at things with disinterest and intimate honesty?


He is famous for the affectionate spoof of the former Italian President Sandro Pertini. His understanding of that persona goes to the heart of a generation and to a political soul: in the 80s Pertini was a living myth, an example of honesty (despite being Socialist! Because he was an old socialist!). He represented Italian people with accuracy, but at the same time he was too far from the cultural movements of those times. Pertini was outdated. A partisan was not anymore the ideal of an Italian boy or girl in the late 70s or 80s albeit Pertini was astonishingly strong to rebuke some young leaders of those years (the Red Brigades, communist terrorists). Pazienza saw Pertini as the leading fellow.

Less frequently Pazienza is discussed as the witness of the famous 77 movement, whose epicenter was in Bologna. To this regard his «Le straordinarie avventure di Pentothal» (The extraordinary adventures of Penthotal) is a masterpiece. Usually I hear of this work as a description and a witness of what that movement was. I would say two words about this.

In a world of leaders, so-called leaders and intellectuals, the young Pazienza described what the massive Italian higher education became: a horde of middle class sons and daughters that embodied the ritual of being lefty. A plethora of petty bourgeois’ (often petty-minded) cohorts that pretended novelties, claimed fantasies, fell into a whirlpool of no-sense as the only possible sense-making. Having made already the Italian version of the French ‘68 and its sexual liberation, having already invented the red and black terrorism to cope with a singular presence of both Communist Party and CIA, having already smoked pot, the 77 movement needed the post-modern abyss of nothingness to express its inadequacy.


—-Translation: Man: “If there could ever exist the bottom, for my case” Mickey Mouse “Come on, and the future? It is all depending by you” Man: “Future, bleah, I get tired to even think about it”

Pazienza told the truth as it was: mass higher education is alienating and not aggregating; it is not lefty, it is an apparent joyful Nietzsche oblivion into lax hedonism; it is not about the independence of youth, the 77 movement is the declaration of impossibility by young generation to have a role and a decent identity in society as completely adults. It is not about fighting bourgeoisie and capitalism, it is about nostalgia of one’s little welfare. It is not about the future, Marxism, trends, anti-violence; it is nihilist, esthetically horrible, and extremely violent, especially and above all by means of self-destruction (and only as a matter of rituality against police). It is a triumph of impotence in the perspective of the shining and prosperous 80s.


Pazienza in «Le straordinarie avventure di Penthotal» tells the contradictions of a country that was trying to absorb the mass higher education through the original and basic fears and frustrations of the fuori sede (“nonresidential”, the student from abroad the city). By telling the truth, the truth of a mass of lonely twenty y.o. people he ratifies the end of the 70s by mocking the several collectivistic set-phrases. Not due to a complex of superiority. On the contrary, Paz was a free thinker, very lightly moved.

Pazienza deserves to be translated into English and to be read worldwide.


——Translation: “Dear mummy, dear daddy, I am back forever. I quit with jokes, with drugs and with bad fellowships. I am here to remain here with you, to ask for the money to go to the cinema, to be waken up every morning, I am here to let you buy for me the clothes you want and to dress pressed shirts. The nightshirts! I want my tiny tidy room and to have new good friends, to come with you to the beach, but only if I behave like a good guy” “Do you remember. It was summer time in the countryside and you put me cherries as earrings”