The great artist Patience Gray Mommens died in her home in Puglia on 10 March 2005. She was 87. She was a Delphic woman. She made beautiful drawings and beautiful jewelry in gold and iron and was known to the world as an amazing writer about cooking, Mediterranean cooking in particular.
After years as a journalist in London, in 1961 she met the Flemish sculptor Norman Mommens, The Sculptor, as she described him in her books. Together they moved to Carrara to live in a little Victorian hilltop villa in the olive groves without any common conveniences. There they brought up water and food on their backs; and Patience made her marvellous meals in a copper chafing pan, while Norman hewed marble into angels, cyclists and fools down in the Nicoli yard in the piazza.
In 1970 they packed up their belongings into their Landrover and headed down south to the Trulli country. They found a masseria made of a cluster of cube-shaped rooms and a tower. It had a huge round stone threshing floor in front of it, the perfect setting for Normans sacrificial statues. The goddesses and fools stood straight, staring into the true sky, benign, hilarious and serious. Patience and Norman lived in the Silento among the Puglian people for many years, drank wine with them, wrote poems with them, fought with them against the garbage Mafia who dumped poisonous trash into the hollows of their lovely ancient sun-drenched land. It was an existence of hard work and hard-earned peace in a terrible world.
Down near the heel of the Italian boot, where Aeneas landed with his father on his back to found an empire, where the S. Maria di Leuca lighthouse sheds its white beam into the night, an intrepid English woman and a Flemish man grew all kinds of greens, all kinds of wine, made all kinds of fine things with their hands. Their friends coming from all over found solace with them. Tall figures in dark earth-colour clothes, with untamed hair, they moved in wind and sun, serene and together.
After Norman died in a work-accident in 2000, all Patience wanted to do was to join him in another world. And now she has.
E.S. March 15, 2005.
Patience Gray books
Plats Du Jour. 1957
Written by Patience Gray and Primrose Boyd with illustrations by David Gentleman.
Penguin books, 1957. First International cook book.
To be re-published by Prospect books later this year.
Honey From a Weed. Feasting and Fasting. 1986
by Patience Gray. Illustrations by Corinna Sargood.
Prospect Books. Cult book. Never out of print.
Ring Doves and Snakes. 1989
by Patience Gray
Illustrations by Norman Mommens
Work Adventures Childhood Dreams. 1999
by Patience Gray
Illustrations by Patience Gray and Norman Mommens
Edizioni Leucasia 1999