As wartime stories go, this is a nice one.
In the winter of 1943/4, advancing Allied forces liberated the little Abruzzo village of Sant’Eusanio del Sangro. Which is how Lola Lorentini came to meet Charlie Isaacs.
Lola was 23 at the time and because she was already engaged to a local boy, it created no little friction when she started going out with Charlie. Her Mother kicked her out of the family home and Lola had to go and live with an Aunt.
Not that this especially worried Lola. She’d already decided that she was going to marry Charlie, and having successfully lived through the Nazi occupation of Sant’Eusanio, a little maternal displeasure wasn’t going to stop her.
Besides, Charlie wanted to marry Lola too. But life’s rarely that easy. Especially in wartime – and it wasn’t until well into 1945 that Charlie was able to return to Sant’Eusanio.
And did he and Lola get married and live happily ever after ? Yes they did. But it wasn’t quite that easy.
In 1945, even with the war now over, a British soldier had to seek official permission to marry an Italian girl, and in Charlie’s case, that permission had to be given by perhaps Britain’s most renowned wartime soldier, Field-Marshal Bernard Montgomery.
You can imagine what went through Charlie’s mind. Hoping his request would catch the Field-Marshal on a good day; afraid it might not. But one thing’s certain. He won’t have been expecting Monty’s response:
“Yes, you can get married – but only on the condition you invite me to the wedding.”
Which is how perhaps the unlikeliest – and certainly one of the most memorable – of Italian wedding photographs came to be taken. Lola and Charlie occupying pride of place, with Field-Marshal Montgomery standing right behind Lola.
Not a start to married life you’d easily forget.
Charlie returned to England with Lola and for 56 years, they lived in Cambridgeshire until Charlie died in 2001.
Eventually, Lola returned to her Italian family Sant’Eusanio. And not long after our own arrival in Abruzzo in 2007, we came into the story.
Sitting on Lola’s right in the wedding photograph is her brother – the father of our good friend Paolo, owner of Lu Piccione in Sant’Eusanio – our favorite local restaurant.
“I’d like you to meet my Zia (Auntie) Lola,” he told us one evening, before telling us her story.
Seemed that the problem was that although she was enjoying being back in her home village, after 56 years in England, Zia Lola really missed having someone to have a chat with in English. Would we mind ?
That’s how our friendship began. Zia Lola’s now 90. Sharp as a pin with a wicked sense of humour and sixty year-old memories of wartime as startlingly bright as if they’d happened yesterday.
Villasfor2 guests eating at Lu Piccione have met Lola too, and on return trips have brought her English favourites – unobtainable in Italy – like bacon and that love-it-or-hate-it English condiment, Daddies Sauce.
“You know what I really miss about England ?” she said to us rather wistfully one day last summer. “Fish and chips.”
Ever tried finding a piece of cod in Italy to dip in batter and deep-fry ? We managed. So Zia Lola came to lunch and ate every last mouthful.
Washed down with her favorite drink. A small shandy.
This Christmas, we made her mince pies. Every last member of the family seems to have tasted this example of English culinary eccentricity.
She loves music. Opera and all the old favourites of the forties and fifties. And she reads. And Paolo and his kids; and the grandchildren; and countless little grand-nieces and grand-nephews who nibbled on the mince pies constantly keep her company.
Strange how strands of a story can come together in the unlikeliest of ways. A wartime wedding; a famous military commander; our favourite local restaurant; a good Italian friend; us and Zia Lola.
An unforgettable character in our Italian adventure.