‘Die with memories, not dreams’, is the motto etched on my favourite bench in Belgrave Square Garden, opposite the Italian Cultural Institute in London. Italians tend to think of London as a dynamic urban space, a city in perpetual motion. And yet, like all great cities, London is also a city paralysed and haunted by memory: memories layered, intersecting and overlapping continuously. The mysteries of the Roman city buried in the Temple of Mithras, the secret tidal force of Old Father Thames, the enigmas of its legendary (and long-gone) fogs, the sludge of Victorian workhouses, London’s infamous serial killers. ‘I had not thought death had undone so many’, sings T. S. Eliot on London Bridge, watching a crowd flow into the City of London in 1922, clearly alluding to Dante’s Inferno.
Dante would have recognised his Hellish and Heavenly cities in many parts of London, as did Blake and the pre-Raphaelites, headed by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Giordano Bruno, Gerolamo Cardano, Giuseppe Mazzini, Anthony Panizzi and several other Italians sought refuge in London, fleeing religious and political persecution, weaving threads of italianità into the fabric of this alien and yet also welcoming city.
I applaud the rich urban angle of this Italian Riveter, and its literary focus on a range of Italian cities which map so well, or diverge so surprisingly, from both the cultural memories and the tumultuous present of this great London Town.
By Katia Pizzi
Director, Italian Cultural Institute London
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