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The Mistress of Wondrous  Spigolizzi

Aldo Magagnino did not live far from Salve and the Masseria Spigolizzi where Patience Gray spent the last thirty-five years of her life. He was a teacher with a serious interest in writing. Circumstances and good fortune led to a friendship with the renowned British writer and Norman Mommens, her sculptor husband. Aldo’s life and his career as a literary translator were profoundly influenced by his visits to the masseria that had already become something of a legend. Personal tragedy struck Aldo at thirty-eight when his wife died and he was left alone with his eight-year old daughter. Patience, who had not always been at ease with her own family, was quick to offer motherly consolation. Aldo would become a regular guest at her table. All of which makes him a living link to a magical place and two of the most striking creative personalities of the late twentieth- century British cultural scene.

It was no wonder the Berkeley Circle heard what Aldo had to say about his friends with hushed excitement. His remarks were accompanied by the projection of a splendid series of photographs and relevant texts. He began with an account of Patience pre-Salento, as it were: Her upperclass youth, elite education, taste for travel, disastrous liaison, motherhood and spartan life in a remote and primitive Sussex cottage during the Second World War that ended for her in a London career as a cultural journalist. 

Her meeting with Norman would lead to the Greek, Catalan and Italian sojourns she wrote of with such originality and flair in her subsequent books. 1970 saw Patience and Norman finish their restless wandering and settle for good not only in the extreme south of Italy, but in the bottom-most point of its heel. From that year, Aldo left information about Patience that is available in books and entered into detail that only an intimate friend could provide. We learned what it was like to be at home with the couple in the poetry of Spigolizzi.  It was a working farm with the two of them as part-time field hands and full-time artists. Norman worked in stone and Patience in words, adding to and refining what in 1986 would appear as ‘Honey from a Weed’, her masterpiece.

Furthermore, the saga of Spigolizzi continues. The sculpture of Norman Mommens will form an exposition in Presicce in June that the Berkeley Circle intend to visit. There are plans for a talk on the sculptor’s work in the autumn season.

Peter Byrne


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