Rome Day 3: Roman trash talk, perspiration, and prostitutes – UPDATED


Below, I inserted the Great Roman’s reading of the Belli Sonnet.  It’s a hoot.


In the rush to get a few things posted yesterday, I forgot this.   I saw this chasuble at Gammarelli.   I don’t in general like those columns of different fabrics in the center, but this simply works.

And the white fabric has gold threads running through it horizontally.  Quite acceptable.

At Ss. Trinità I spotted an oddity.  This is the Paschal candle.   Pretty plain.   Pretty short and stubby.  But it is on a very high floor standing candelabra.

Anyway, on a brief errand I had some familiar, and new, sights.  Why not post them?

I wonder how many countless times I’ve been up and down this way.

But wait!  Here’s something new, above something old!  The something old is about not throwing garbage here lest you get fined and/or beaten.  The top one… well… I like the older one better.  That’s how things are in the Roman way all around.   This Novus Ordo poster doesn’t get the job done.

You can read a lot of the city’s history in the walls.  Mary Ward was here and founded a school for poor children.

Another garbage sign… but this one is special.  More below.

More garbage.  The fine is 15 scudi!   Whew.

QUAERITUR: Who can figure out how much that would be in today’s dollars?

A Latin inscription over the door of a school when, in happier times, it was the Church’s, not the State’s.

More trash talk.  Roman Trash Talk.

This isn’t about trash, and it is REALLY old… set up by the Emperor Claudius, of I, Claudius fame (as in Robert Graves and the incredibly good TV series).  This defines the pomerium, or border of Rome beyond which no man with imperium postestas could cross.  We’ve seen this stone before.   Now, however, it has a new neighbor: a great supplí shop!

Shrines to Mary are simply everywhere.  This one is rather grand and it also includes St. Philip Neri, who is Rome’s co-patron.  He was busy in this neighborhood and he is not forgotten.

What’s this in the alleyway?

Moooore garbage advice.

And, as a bit of a digression, I was stunned to find antiperspirants in the store!   What is the world coming to?  Italy?   Have you finally found the 20th century?

Back in the day, antiperspirant (not simply deodorant) was unheard of, indeed scorned, as was ketchup.   Someday one of you must remind me to tell my Roman seminary ketchup story.

And, as a digression… you never know what you are going to get in a short let apartment.   Or what you are not going to get, but should have.  One thing I didn’t get this time was a place to park soap and shampoo etc. when in the shower.   A minute later, with my Swiss Guard Army knife and one of the twist ties I always keep in my bag, that problem was solved.  #RomeHack

And this, dear friends, is the last of today’s Roman Trash Talk.

Today is the very anniversary of the edict that prompted this sign. 22 May 1761.

Ahhh… I remember it well.  It was a Friday, so no meat.

It was a warm spring, and we who were in the know were excited about seeing the Transit of Venus in a few days.   Jesuits were useful for something other than destroying the faith of young people back then.  They had good astronomers and mathematicians… such as Clavius, of happy memory.  I would very much like to find where he is buried.  He died in Rome and must be here somewhere, under some floor or other.   If the Augustinians could honor Onofrio Panvinio, then why wouldn’t the Jesuits have for Clavius something even more impressive?  But I digress.

Ahhh… Roma del settecento!

And guess who was felicitously reigning?  Why Clement XIV of course!  Ganganelli!  He who would suppress those Jesuits.

Let’s see…  what was a scudo worth back then?

First, let’s have a look at a scudo d’oro.   And the first thing to remember is that back in 1728, Benedict XIII, the scowler, had replaced the scudo in the Papal States with the zecchino.  But people went right on calling it a scudo because that’s… well… what Romans do.  Nihil innovetur, right?  Res novae, and all that.   Always bad.

So, here is a gold zecchino of 1772, the year after the abovedepicted garbage sign went up.

This coin weighs in at the usual weight for the scudo d’oro of old, 3.39-3.40g.   At one point, when the zecchino was introduced, minted by the Banca dello Spirito Santo (which building still stands near where I write), it was so valued that it went out of circulation (this is Gresham’s Law) and was replaced by one with less gold.

So, you can figure out the worth of the coin in melt value, at least, by calculating the grams in today’s rate.

But… when we talk of value, what could you buy?

Moving the clock forward a few years, they started using scudi again in about 1814 when the Pope’s authority was restored.   During the time of Pius IX, the Roman poet Giuseppe Gioachino Belli was acerbically commenting on life in the day.  And on death.

It has the names of coins of the Papal States, such as the quadrino, paolo, grosso, testone, lustrino, papetto.

Not for little kids, by the way.  Belli is definitely grown-up stuff.  Be advised.


Che? stammatina t’ho ddato uno scudo,
e ggià stasera nun ciài ppiú un quadrino?!
Rennéte conto, alò, ssor assassino:
cqua, pperch’io nu li zappo: io me li sudo.

Sú: ttre ppavoli er pranzo: dua de vino
tra ggiorno; e cquesti ggià nnun ve l’escrudo.
Avanti. Un grosso p’er modello ar nudo.
Bbe’: un antro ar teatrin de Cassandrino.

Sò ssei pavoli. Eppoi? Mezzo testone
de sigari: un lustrino er pan der cane…
E er papetto c’avanza, sor cojjone?

Nò, ppranz’e vvino ve l’ho mmesso in cima.
Dunque? Ah, l’hai speso per annà a pputtane.
Va bbene, via: potevi díllo prima.


What? This morning I gave you a scudo,
And this evening you are already left without a quattrino?!
Give account of it right now, you squanderer:
Come here, ’cause I don’t grow money: I earn it working hard.

Come on, three paoli for the lunch, two for wine
During the day; and I’m not complaining about these.
Well then. One grosso for the nude model at the Academy.
What else: another one for the theatre of Cassandrino

Makes six paoli. And then? Half testone
For cigars: one lustrino the bread for the dog…
And what about the spare papetto, you blockhead?

No, I counted food and wine as first,
So then? Ah, you spent it on prostitutes.
Well, it’s OK: you should have told me before.

August 30th, 1835

A conversation often conducted between parents and their money spending children, in the fact if not in the details.

Belli was an interesting guy.  If you go across the big bridge into the Viale Trastevere, you see a great statue of him, in his grand stove-pipe hat, leaning on the balustrade of the bridge that connects the island to the Ghetto, by the old herm that survives even now.   He was terribly anti-Catholic and wrote hilarious anti-clerical stuff about clergy in Rome.   Then one day he saw the dominating Masons dragging confessionals out of the Church of San Carlo ai Catinari (where I lived for a bit as a deacon and whose dome I could see if I lean from my window) and burning them in the square in front of the church.  That’s why, today, the confessional on one side of the church are different from the others.  He had a conversion experience and eventually became the Censor for the Papal States.   Ironically, this writer of sonnets in the Roman dialect, banned publication of one of the greatest writer of sonnets of all!

Let’s hear this read by The Great Roman himself!

Really, we need to have this read by The Great Roman himself.  I’d do it, and I’d do a pretty job of it, but nothing like The Great Roman.


Scroll back up a little.  I inserted the Great Roman reading the Sonnet.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Kathleen10 says:

    Thank you for the photos. They make Rome very real for some of us who have not been. It looks lovely, when even signs are beautiful, you’re in a lovely place.
    Watch out for those scooters, etc., please!

  2. acardnal says:

    Yes, it seems ketchup is indeed difficult to come by overseas. When I was travelling throughout the middle east on business in the 1980’s, ketchup was not available in restaurants so my colleague travelled with his own bottle.

  3. acardnal says: difficult to come by

    Thus the stage is set!

  4. West of the Potomac says:

    I was at Ss. Trinita for the Triduum and that Paschal candle was very tall. The MC had to climb a large step stool to light it.

    It must burn *really* fast!

    P.S. Try the panchetta pizza at Pizza Zizza if you have a chance. Mmmm.

  5. JayDeee says:

    Love all the Roman history, so thank you for posting.

    Was admiring your small apartment hack, then I thought, wait……… how did he manage to get a Swiss Guard Army knife through airport security? None of my business though. :-)

  6. Gab says:

    Enjoying Your travelogues, Father Z.

  7. Credoh says:

    From this web page, it appears that 4 scudi are worth roughly US$500 in AD2000 money. Which makes 15 scudi equivalent to around US$1,875. That’s a hefty fine alright…
    As a small aside I didn’t twig that FIAT had named vans/MPVs after antique coins, eg Fiorino, Ducato, Doblo, Scudo. I drive a Scudo as it happens. Have a mighty good excursion, Father!

    [We might even say, “the coin dropped” for you.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  8. hwriggles4 says:

    Fr Z

    Good job on the contraption for the shower. When I was a Boy Scout, we were taught to use our resources and think. You did what works.

    I was also glad my dad trained my brothers and I how to fix things.

  9. Semper Gumby says:

    Thank you Fr. Z for the photos and travel writing. Please keep an eye out for scudos and scootas. (Mea culpa for that one Faddah.)

    acardnal: Sure, a travel bottle of ketchup will work. But to really make a statement a crate of tomatoes and a sledgehammer in one’s luggage should do the trick.

    Then there’s this news item about Heinz Egypt:

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