Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Advent Calendar #20: Fermi's driver

Enrico Fermi had quite a dry sense of humor. George Gamow, in his book Thirty Years that Shook Physics: The Story of Quantum Theory, relates the following story from the time when Fermi was a professor in Rome in the 1930s:
Once Fermi had to attend a meeting of the Academy of Sciences at the Palazzo di Venezia, which was strongly guarded because Mussolini himself was to address it. All other members arrived in large foreign-made limousines driven by uniformed chauffers, while Fermi drew up in his little Fiat. At the gate of the Palazzo he was stopped by two carabinieri who crossed their weapons in front of his little car and asked his business there. According to the story he told to the author of this book, he hesitated to say to the guards: "I am His Excellency Enrico Fermi," for fear that they would not believe him. Thus, to avoid embarrassment, he said: "I am the driver of His Excellency, Signore Enrico Fermi." "Ebbene," said the guards, "drive in, park, and wait for your master."


  1. Hi Bee & Stefan,

    It has been rumoured that after getting out of his car to join the conference he was stopped again by one of the guards and asked why he wasn’t waiting for his master, to which Fermi replied while continuing on his way the following:

    “The man Enrico is driven by the chauffeur of Enrico if the man of Enrico doesn’t drive himself; does the chauffer drive himself?”

    It’s has been furthered rumoured that the guard can still be seen standing there:-)



  2. The barber was a woman, and European. "8^>)


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