Vale Caro Adorini*
A MEMORIAL TRIBUTE TO MY COUSIN WALTER DORIN
My beloved cousin Walter’s life interconnected with my own throughout more than eighty years.
He was born a mere three months before me, our homes walking distance from each other in London's East End, and we met often as children. Then our paths diverged as his family moved to Edgware and mine to Stoke Newington. This was less than ten miles apart, but that, in those car-less days of limited public transport, was enough to keep us from meeting up very frequently.
Then came the War. He was evacuated with his mother and sister to High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. I attended a variety of schools, in a number of locations in England and Wales. But we met up for a time during the school summer holidays, when I stayed with him at his home in High Wycombe. I remember a number of things from seventy-five years ago. His mother’s delicious milk-fish soup, both commodities being unaffected by wartime rationing. His love of music and his introducing me to the delights (particularly) of Tschaikowsky and Chopin. He never lost that love. Every square inch of his home, in the decades following the death of his mother, that was not occupied by his amazing output of paintings, his artist’s accessories and works in progress, contained hundreds, if not thousands, of musical recordings. Firstly vinyl records. Then they disappeared to be replaced by cassettes. These in turn gave way to CDs.
I also particularly remember our setting off from his High Wycombe home determined to walk to Oxford, approximately thirty miles away. We actually managed more than fifteen miles between Stokenchurch and Wheatley, when we collapsed with fatigue by the roadside and were picked up by a roving police car, driven to Wheatley police station, given welcome mugs of tea, and then taken back to our home. I can’t remember what his mother, my aunt Debbie, said to us. We had told her that we were merely going out “for a walk” and we were gone all day. We were 12 years old.
After the War we met frequently. He was studying painting while working as a proof-reader for the Jewish Chronicle. He used to attend a life class in Hampstead and I was at that time living in a flat in Belsize Park, less than a mile away. Having recently been divorced from my first wife, I was dating June - destined to become my second wife. Walter and his friend John Makepeace, a dental technician, used to use my flat as a "photographic studio" to "expand the lesson of the life class". A very embarrassing experience was when June and I had been out for a curry dinner, and Walter and John had failed to meet the deadline of finishing up their photographic session before our return. I had to draw on all my dissembling skills to keep June in the kitchen until they left.
Walter made me a gift of several of the nude sketches he made following his photographic sessions. When I sold my house in Hornsey (it was rented out while I rented the flat in Hampstead) I forgot that they were in a top cupboard above the airing cupboard. I remembered some months later and asked the new owners if they had found them. Somewhat embarrassedly (perhaps because they were nudes) they apologised for having thrown them out. Otherwise I would have reproduced one of them here. I thought they were very good. And quite unlike anything he produced later.
Shortly after the photographic incident he took off for Italy. He had saved enough money from his work on the J.C. to spend six months studying painting in Rome. It was during this period that he had given me a number of his early paintings (including the monochrome nudes) and asked me to look after them for him. I remembered the paintings when I moved, because they were framed. I forgot the sketches because they were simply rolled up and placed in a cardboard tube. But I digress. Coincidentally June and I, who had married in the meantime, decided to spend our continental motoring honeymoon partially in Rome. Walter found us a delightful B&B directly across the street from the most notorious brothel in Rome, just one day before it was closed following a parliamentary Act that had been forced through by a vigilant female member of parliament. The commotion on the street, as the remaining "ladies" were being evicted had to be seen to be believed. This was typical of the kind of experience that Walter seemed to attract to himself.
He introduced us to a wonderful motley crew of local characters, many of whom were (as Walter himself) customers of his neighbourhood trattoria Mondino. Some of these experiences and most of the customers were 30 years later to form the subject of his book Tales of Mondino. Visiting Rome at the same time were two wonderful friends Roger and Juna Hulme. Roger and his brother Derek owned an art restoration shop in Bond Street. Many of my own photographs of the time are of excursions made with Roger and Juna, as well as many of the Mondino characters, of whom I particularly recall the two Aldos. Aldo the painter, and Aldo the avvocato. The latter lived in a vast and luxurious apartment on the outskirts of Rome June and I went to play bridge with him and to admire his fantastic collection of Etruscan sculpture. He gave us a gift of one small piece - a miniature urn. Alas, it turned out to be a fake. Walter later told me that he had been arrested and convicted of illegally trading in Etruscan art. Pity. He was a wonderful character - and you can see him on this photograph. He is seated beside Walter. The others seated are Juna and my wife June. Standing at the back was one of Walter's dearest friends, whose name I have forgotten, but I am sure he is one of the characters in Tales of Mondino.
Left click to enlarge.
Walter served in the Royal Air Force from 1947 to 1949, as his compulsory national service. During that time he took part in the Berlin Air Lift. His interest in painting came immediately after his air force experience, but it was not until 1958 that he determined to take up painting seriously and decided to give up his job and go to Rome. Later he moved to the colourful and picturesque Lake Garda in northern Italy, which was to become his home for two decades and to provide the inspiration for much of his painting.
I visited him a number of times in Desenzano del Garda after the job I was doing, for the Sea Containers group of companies involved responsibility for the Mediterranean area. The following pictures were taken on the veranda of his home in Desenzano in the late 1960s where we appear miraculously young.
He was, and remains, extremely popular in Italy and while there was ultimately able to live on the income from his painting. In this connection he was supported by a number of Italian organisations, mainly left-wing political and many of his painting in this period was of people involved in judicial and political life. He also produced a large number of paintings on religious and semi-religious subjects. In all of this work he never failed to display his wonderful, slightly eccentric sense of humour. Many of them are, of course, displayed in the website that I created for him more than 20 years ago and have continued to host ever since. http://www.conts.com/DORIN.html
Upon return to London in 1980 he produced a collection of a series of paintings devoted to well-known loving couples throughout history. These were beautifully crafted and wonderfully lewd. He showed them to Tom Maschler of publishers Jonathan Cape, and he was so taken with them that he arranged for appropriate descriptions to be provided by George Melly, a noted jazz musician, writer and broadcaster. The book is still available online from Amazon and Abe Books.
The following "blurb" accompanied the publicity for Tales of Mondino: "During the late '60s he travelled extensively in the USA and Canada. He has exhibited in Italy, the UK and the United States. His works figure in numerous collections, private and public, throughout the world: in countries as varied as Italy, the UK, the USA, Sweden, Canada, Switzerland, Australia, Spain and Cuba. Now nearing his eighty-third year, he lives a rather reclusive life in an outer London suburb."
The reclusive life was of his own choosing and was a further demonstration of his loveable eccentricity. The front of his house, the front door and either side of it, was covered with a dozens of printed and written injunctions warning callers not to call! Among the more amusing of these was one that informed the caller that the bell was not working, next to which was a further notice instructing callers not to knock. Alongside this was another note to the effect that if anyone wanted to see him, they should phone first. But no telephone number was provided.
It was always a joy to meet Walter and he was always a popular guest at my several birthday BBQ parties. The photo on the left shows Walter chatting with some of my friend at my last such party in 2009. The centre photo was taken when I invited Walter to celebrate his 87th birthday with me in July 2016. The final photo was a meet-up for my own 87th birthday in September 2016. The deterioration in his health was, alas, becoming all too apparent.
Click on these thumbnails to enlarge
I was grateful for the opportunity to spend some time with him at his home during his last weeks. While he was still able to talk he expressed his delight at my visit. "It's wonderful to have someone intelligent to talk to", he said flatteringly. But he was already fading. "I'd like to go," he confessed during my last visit, with considerable difficulty in getting the words out. That night his wish was granted.
Farewell darling cousin. Vale cugino mio. You may not have survived, but your wonderful cultural heritage will survive and bring pleasure to a lot of people for a long time to come.
* For part of Walter's stay in Italy he adopted a sort of Italian adaptation of his name: Walter Adorini.
MY POETIC TRIBUTE
He has gone.
A mere shadow of his former self.
But I still see him in the passing faces,
or queuing for the bus,
or shopping In the supermarket.
I see him
not as I saw him last
wasted in his bed:
his penultimate resting place,
but as he was throughout those
an adolescent evacuee,
a youthful, excited participant
in all those artistic delights.
The nudes, the landscapes,
the biblical, familial and historical
And during those
Honing his artistic style.
Enjoying, and being enjoyed by,
that colourful scene
as eccentric as he himself
was destined to become.
And now he is no more.
And I am suddenly
struck by this terrible thought:
he was the oldest surviving relative
of that generation,
the offspring of
a mother who was
the sister of my father.
It is a mantle I have had thrust on me.
I am now the patriarch.