Recently on fine sunny days, we have been getting out and about discovering new towns in the vicinity, doing some local research and taking photos for my new website about South Lazio. One day we visited the town of Castelforte for the very first time.
When we arrived the town was sleepy as it was still after lunch siesta time. Feeling thirsty we found a little bar to find some liquid refreshments. We chose to sit outside in the fresh air, and suddenly an English voice said: “So we are not the only English people here in Castelforte?”
We introduced ourselves and began chatting to the couple at the next table, and a friendly Italian chap called Antonio who spoke some English having worked for several years in London.
It seemed that Dominic and Jill were on a short holiday in Rome and during their stay they had decided on the spur of the moment to do a day trip down to Castelforte, by taking the train and then catching a local bus. Dominic’s Italian side of the family had originated, many years ago, from this charming little hilltop town.
I explained that my maternal ancestors were also Italian, originating from Atina, near Montecassino, and that they had settled in the Clerkenwell district of London. Dominic , who is a London cabbie, went on to say that his family had also settled in London and mainly lived in the St Pancras area.
He had been brought up by his Italian aunts, and knew the area well. He was curious to know where exactly my grandparents had lived.
My Nonno and Nonna lived in what once was known as Little Saffron Hill, now renamed Herbal Hill, which is just around the corner from St Peter’s Italian Church. We talked about all the nearby streets, such as Farringdon Road, Ray Street, Back Hill, Grays Inn Road.
Dominic immediately rang his elderly Italian aunt “Mala” to tell them about our encounter. Apparently she is aged 92, but is still bright as button, and actually lives with Dominic and Jill.
I then went on to explain that my mother, Tina, had passed away a couple of years ago, aged 85, and that she had lived much of her life in London’s Italian community. She would have so enjoyed meeting people who had come from “Little Italy” and talking about the old times. I mentioned that a very good old friend of my mother still lived nearby, near the Mount Pleasant sorting office, named Rita. Dominic went on to say that he knew a Rita, who was the best friend of aunt “Mala”. It turned out that we were talking about the very same Rita !!!
I still try to keep in regular contact with Rita, as she so enjoys reading our stories about our new life in Italy – she keeps telling me to write a book !!!
Rita had been my mother’s life-long friend, and during WWII they had both shared the misfortune of contracting tuberculosis. After the war they took a couple of holidays in Switzerland to aid their convalescence.
Dominic felt he just had to phone his aunt again to tell her about this remarkable coincidence. By this time “Mala” had already phoned Rita to let her know about our amazing encounter in Castelforte.
He asked his aunt if she remembered my mother, a Concetta (Tina) Leonardi, and she said that indeed she had known her well, mainly through the Italian church . It was quite amazing !!!
We chatted for a long time, and I asked the Italian gentleman Tony, who was still seated beside us, what his job had been during his 11 year period working in London. He said he had been a Porter in some hotels near Russell Square. This immediately sounded familiar to me, as my late father had worked for 42 years as a plumber for a small independent hotel chain located in this area.
Not really believing that this day of coincidences could continue in the same vane, I asked: “It wasn’t Imperial London Hotels, was it?” “Yes it was !!!” he replied, “Why?”. I explained, and from just the name he couldn’t recall my father Hugh (Hughie), but I promised we would go back to Castelforte before too long with some photos of my Dad, which might help jog Tony’s memory.
Tony very kindly offered to act as a tour guide and show us around the historic quarter of Castelforte, so whilst Tony went off, arm in arm with two camera laden ladies, Dominic and Paul remained steadfast at the bar, drinking beer and trying to get their heads around this unusual day of coincidental encounters.
When the girls returned we happily gave Dominic and Jill a lift back to the station, so we could enjoy their company for a little longer, saving them the bus ride back to Formia to catch their train back to Rome for the last night of their stay in Italy. We very much hope we can keep in contact with then and of course Tony.
Jill has sent me a recent photo of Rita and “Mala”, which would have been lovely, but the flash seems to have been too bright so their faces look rather ghost-like. I hope to get a better photo soon.
Sending both Rita and “Mala” all our love !!!