I was born in Mentana, a village near Rome, well known for the famous battle that took place there in 1867 between Garibaldi’s soldiers and French-Papal troops. With the help of the midwife Delfa Paolacci, my first cry was on a Sunday morning (it was 5:00 a.m.), on November 25, 1956, when outdoor there were 2 meters of snow. My parents, Luigi Alessandrini and Valentina Raffaelli, welcomed me with great joy, just eight years after the birth of my beloved sister Giovanna, who had wanted me so much that, when I was finally born, she started jumping as high as the kitchen chandelier.
I spent my childhood in Mentana, enjoying my life, cared for and protected by my parents and, in an even more particular way, by my sister Giovanna, who for me one day, against her connatural benevolence towards everyone, faced an older girl who had made me cry by pulling the elastic of the hat I was wearing. I loved so much following my sister and I really made everything to attract her attention, even unorthodox actions. At the moment, my sister got angry with me, promising not to take me with her anymore, but then she forgot what I had done, and everything returned as before.
When I was around 5 years old, I moved with my family to Rome, in Luigi Pirandello street (Talenti district), in the north-eastern outskirts of the capital, and we have always been living there since then. The neighborhood was developing at that time and the complex in which we were now, just built by the State Railways Company (my father was an official), was completely surrounded by parks and gardens.
When I was a boy, I discovered the oratory of my parish – S. Achille Martire in Gaspara Stampa street – and I really appreciated being there with the other people. I also loved going there because of the catechism competitions that I always won (my catechist was Antonio Grimaldi, who later became my confirmation godfather as well as my brother-in-law), and eventually it was for this reason that the catechist Davide Mattiocco gave me the nickname «Fognetti» (little sewer). Now I want to tell you in detail how I got to know the world of the oratory… It all started on a Sunday in October 1963, when I was around 7 years old. As soon as I left the church after the mass, a forty-year-old man asked me: «Aren’t you going to catechism?» And I replied: «No. What is it?» And he added: «Come with me» and took me to a slightly old but nice room, just like a village grandmother. After ten minutes my father knocked at the door, and he was worried because he couldn’t find me. Then, he calmed down and the catechist told him to come and pick me up at a quarter past twelve in front of the church. After the lesson, of which I only remember the face of some boys laughing and moving, we went out into the courtyard, that was similar to that of the song “Azzurro” by Celentano. We played “Capture the flag” and some other games I don’t remember well. Then we did “the circle”, where a few cards with stamped stars were drawn in order to let children pay less at the cinema in the afternoon at three o’clock.
In summertime my family and I used to go on vacation to Ladispoli and Santa Marinella (near Rome), Terracina (near Latina), Fontespina (near Macerata) and some other places, sometimes together with some relatives of our big family. When I was on vacation, however, I couldn’t wait to go back home in order to read books, make experiments and enjoy Rome with its theaters, concerts and exhibitions. Then, I went alone to visit Saint-Tropez, Nice and Valencia.
I graduated from the state classical high school “Orazio” in Alberto Savinio street, where I experienced the hustle and bustle of the final period of the student revolt of 1968. With my schoolmates and friends in general, I had a great time. I played the guitar, the recorder and the transverse flute. I loved to take pictures and print them at home, in a closet that I used as a dark room and that my mother used to call – since I used strings there to hang the prints out to dry – a “drying rack”. I used to go to hospitals and retirement homes to spend some time with the sick and the elderly ones. I had so many interests that my father doubted that I could find the time to study seriously but then, since the excellent results I obtained in school, he calmed down. During these years, two of my three beloved nephews (Flavio, Valerio and Francesco) were born.
After the high school, I made a memorable trip to Greece with my friends. I was 19 and we really had a great time, touring the most fascinating places in the country and meeting so many people. I remember that we spent a whole month in Greece (islands included), and we used to hitchhike. Once, we took a ferry-boat to Mykonos with a force 8 sea. We also went to Santorini (the ancient Thera), and visited the archaeological excavations of Akrotiri, started by the archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos. There we ate grapes from the dwarf vines. I remember that once, since we had hooked up with some local girls, we risked to be badly beaten by some local thug guys, but I decided, with my Olympic calm and my Homeric smile, to start playing the flute, and this floored them, as in the fable “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” by the Brothers Grimm.
My intention was to enter the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome. Since my closeness in those times to the communist ideology, which seemed to me to be able to fully realize that sense of justice I felt strongly inside me, my parish priest Fr. Angelo Gentile refused to write me a letter of introduction. So, I entered the medical faculty of La Sapienza University in Rome, together with my dear friend Lorenzo Vulpis. I remember that for the anatomy exam I had found a fantastic study method: I memorized all those abstruse terms by singing. During that time, I really enjoyed frightening my sister by letting her find my anatomy book open on a lectern.
I got engaged. Everybody around me, family and friends, really appreciated me but somehow something was missing, so that I felt partially unsatisfied. This is why I decided to make a trip to India, and this journey changed me profoundly. There I saw the deepest poverty and I even risked dying at least a couple of times: the first time, I got a very high cholera fever and I was saved by a former drug-addict girl I had met; she stayed close to me, day and night, putting pieces of cloth with cold water on my forehead, tearing them off her skirt; the second time, I had bought a beautiful sitar with all my money left, and a man wanted to steal it from me after having stabbed me to death, but the people on the bus we were on intervened to stop him. Once back home, I later learned that:
- my sister had dreamed that everyone saw me dead in a coffin, while only she could see me alive and kept on trying to tell everyone;
- my mother had dreamed of me crying and unable to get to the bus stop, so she tried to come towards me (in fact, on my return to Rome my paternal uncle Aristeo – whom I met by chance – helped me by paying for my bus ticket, since I didn’t have even a penny).
I remember that, after a while from my return to Rome, I had two very special dreams in a few months…
In the first dream, I was in a huge dark cave, full of chests, and I knew these chests were all the good my relatives had done during their lives. I took the chests and arranged them one on top of the other, so to form a pyramid. Then, I climbed on it and was able to reach the vault of the cave. Up there I saw a trap door, through which the sun’s rays filtered. I opened it and took out all the good of my ancestors.
In the second dream, I was in a zoo with many friends. Suddenly, I realized that the exits were about to close and I knew that, once the gates were closed, all the wild animals would be left free to roam. Meanwhile, all my friends continued to wander around, unaware of what was about to happen. Then I started shouting: «Get out!… Get out!…» Someone listened to me and went out. Eventually the gates closed but I continued undeterred to pull my companions out even from above the gate, until, at the end, they were all out. Suddenly darkness fell, and beyond the gates, the scaring noises of the beasts that had been released could be heard.
Then there was the turning point in my life…