It was a bright cold day in January as I waited outside on the steps of St Peter’s Italian Church in Clerkenwell. I was waiting for Fabio, our Italian friend and translator. [I love italian but my accent is far better than my vocab or ability so his help was crucial] The ceiling of the church’s porch is a sky blue with golden stars, elegant and lovingly maintained.
Circolo della Terza Eta, literally translated “The Third Age Circle” hosts a weekly lunch club where I hoped to meet Italians living in London who had memories to share of The Italian Hospital in London. Stories & memories would have been enough but what we experienced was so much more. In order to honour the building that GOSH are converting into a state of the art sight and sound centre, Sabina and I wanted to look into its history and where better to start than the London Italian community with living memory of the hospital itself.
We arrived in a charming familiar room with several tables all laid out for lunch, people milling and chatting, music blaring and a handful dancing in the open space in the middle of the room. Pietro, who runs the lunch club, was acting as DJ, spinning some tunes on his laptop that immediately transported me to the late night social dancing on my holidays in Sardinia, everyone danced at those irrespective of generation or musical taste! I was already in Italy and we’d barely introduced ourselves. Pietro urged us to sit and make ourselves at home, he’d announce us after lunch and then we could chat. I hadn’t realised that we’d be invited to lunch too but Italian hospitality is no cliche, it’s real and we were treated like special guests at a wedding.
We sat down and without hesitation wine was poured, Fabio politely turned down offers of a dance before lunch and we got chatting to our table friends, a delightful couple from Sardinia Then the most delicious “pasta e fagioli” a beans and pasta soup as only Mama makes. The chef had a small cohort of ladies, who also sat down for lunch – a kind of Italian WI that take care of everything (I met some at the Queens Square festival in the summer – the best cakes and focaccia ever)
Pietro told us that when the Hospital was sold and shut down no one wanted the plaque from above the door so he’d kept it. He’d be happy to send us a photograph for us to see – I couldn’t believe our luck!
Honestly, I thought that just being immersed in this delightful community was inspiring enough. I want to write some music that would give a sense of that lunch, the sound of Italian spoken is also musical but the feeling of this pocket of London being a piazza in a small town in Italy was in my mind a window onto the same community 100 years ago. I bought some raffle tickets, Pietro introduced us and Fabio spoke to the room, giving some insight into our enquiry. Half a dozen hands went up when Pietro asked who had memories of the hospital and then a quiet voice behind me spoke up in English, “oh yes, I remember the hospital…I used to work there”…
Meet Angela, who didn’t seem remotely old enough to be at a pensioners lunch, but had for about a year in her very early 20’s, worked at The Italian Hospital. She wasn’t even expecting to stay in London in 1972 when she’d been persuaded by her friend to take a weekend trip but one thing led to another and she worked there for a whole year. Thanks Angela, you gave me loads more inspiration!