Ciao Remigio!

July 15, 2015 / Local Interest
Rome, Lazio

It’s been almost five years since Piazza Barberini has been “empty,” yet many will remember seeing a curious figure there dancing around the fountain while hollering and laughing at the top of his lungs.

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– by Armando Moreschi, (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

His name was Remigio Leonardis, born on October 31st, 1943… some say he had been a bank manager or a lawyer, who became deeply depressed when he lost his father. His personal story is unknown.

What everyone agreed upon was his “title”… il re pazzarello di Piazza Barberini (the fool/jester king of Piazza Barberini), as he was affectionately known.

He was always well dressed (albeit eclectically), and always sported those huge 1970s-80s FM-radio headphones with decorated antennas, usually held up against his ears with various elastic bands around his head.

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Who knows if his radio headset played any music or piped “inspiration” from parallel universes or other dimensions right into his head… what we do know is that Remigio danced to his own tune, no doubt about that! Drestetica he called it (draesthetics), a contraction of Danza Remigio Estetica (Remigio Dance Aesthetics).

It was a mix of wild leaps from imaginary building tops, a Saint Vitus dance if there ever was one, maddest of mad tarantas. It was an ongoing, ever-lasting kaleidoscope of kinetic frivolity and foolishness… one moment he would be bending over making obscene sounds at a passing member of parliament’s auto blu (gov’t chauffered car). In the next he would bounce up into the air and let out a high wailing laugh turning the tables on the two teenagers making fun of him. He would then immediately shake with crazy-man abandon, dancing on “coals” so to speak, to make a group of small school children giggle (in that Remigio achieved an 100% success rate no doubt). And of course every movement was punctuated with the “magic wand” he often carried (usually a paper towel tube with a cut-out big star taped to the top, or a stick).

Nuttier than nutella, right?

Perhaps. Then again if you stopped and spoke with him you always got crystal clear (if slightly oblique) truths that were hard to argue with.

Remigio, che fai?” (What are you doing?)
Ballo per la mia felicita’ e quella altrui.” (I dance for my happiness and that of others.)

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– by Emanuele, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Or he would pull out perfectly typed, lengthy dissertation he had written outlining his “Filosofia Neo-Rinascimentale (Neo-Renaissance Philosophy) that would not have been out of place in a graduate seminar…

If you asked him who he was, he would simply answer “I’m tersicorean” (Tersicore is the muse of dance and choral lyrics). He would then walk home to his very well-kept (if eclectically decorated, zillions of Italian flags apparently) apartment after his day’s “work” in the piazza was done.

And perhaps that was his greatest performance of all.. by being so completely out of his mind while at the same time maintaining his full faculties, he (happily dancing in his piazza) poked good-natured fun at us and forced us (rushing through Roman traffic, stressed out on our self-imposed stresses) to question who was mad… him or us?

And for this, Romans remember him fondly to this day.

Ciao, Remigio.. ci manchi!

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GB

by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

16 Responses to “Ciao Remigio!”

  1. Debra Duckman

    To honor him today, I will dance in my kitchen !! Thank you GB for the delightful note.

    Reply
  2. Linda Boccia

    There was a similar, although less scholarly character, who “owned” the piazza in “Cinema Paradiso”. The same comments could be made about who was really the crazy one, him who obviously loved dancing and saying outrageous things, or people around him consumed with their stressed daily lives and unable to express themselves? In a time of war and loss at least one person moved beyond it in his own way.

    Reply
  3. Gian Banchero

    Many moons ago in down town San Francisco, California, a few of my art school classmates and I would act as such, it brought on a youthful exhilaration and joy never to be equaled again. I’m glad we played the “Fool” in our youth, so much to remember now while in my rocker.

    Reply
  4. Colleen
    Colleen

    What a lovely homage to a one-of-a-kind! The dancing fool is closest to the Divine hearing tunes we mere mortals only dream of. Thanks for this reminder!

    Reply
  5. I also would like to know when this delightful character disappeared, and what happened to him. Please complete his story for your readers!

    Reply
  6. Jack Litewka

    A wonderful portrait. Reminds me of an elderly gentleman in Berkeley, California, who for a couple of decades stood outside his home and waved to cars passing by…all day long — and brought a smile to many of us.

    Reply
  7. Patricia Welch

    I have a photo of this gentleman from one of my trips. He was outside the Ottico store across from the Tritone fountain, and he was berating some unsuspecting passerby. You never mention it, but I guess he passed away. Another memory of beloved Roma.
    I love your emails! I lead and send small groups to Italy and will be there 3 times this autumn!

    Reply
  8. Lina Falcone

    E ancora vivo questo signore? Ci vuole una persona cosi speciale per fare sorridere la gente per tutto lo stress che c’e. A me piace tanto Roma ma non ricordo di averlo visto a Via Barberini. Grazie GB per questo ariticolo.

    Reply
  9. GB

    Unfortunately, Remigio passed away about 5 years ago. Many Romans showed up at his funeral, sending him off in the only way befitting “il re pazzarello”…. with a deep bow and making funny faces in his honor.

    Reply
  10. Victoria De Maio

    What a lovely tribute to a wonderful personality who touched so many lives and is remembered so fondly…A reminder to find joy and laughter in life!
    V.

    Reply
  11. Barbara Goldfield
    Barbara Goldfield

    Thank you so much for bringing Remigio back to life. I remember him well. The fact that such an outrageous character was not only accepted but cherished by public, speaks volumes about a kinder and more gentle era. Fabulous fotos.

    Reply

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