City Lit Blog

City Lit Stories - Laura Cristin

Story added 20th Jun 2019


Laura Cristin, City Lit Membership No. 1019

In the Summer of 1977 I stayed at a family in Enfield, Middlesex, as au-pair. I quickly realised the West End would have been easily reacheable by Tube during my free time. That was wonderful because it would have given me the opportunity to dive into “swinging London”. I knew the atmosphere of the mythical city for having been there on previous occasions but then it was only for a few days at a time. 

Very soon upon my arrival, I dashed to Stuckeley Street off Drury Lane, enroled in classes 200-203-205 and 257 of the mid-summer term that was due to start. My membership card was No.1019 and I still keep it in my photo album together with other precious scraps of memories. I remember the wooden front door that I pushed every day when arriving in hurry and breathless from the Northern Line. 

I had chosen the courses in grammar, translation, journalism and Shakespeare on film, the idea was to improve my English (self taught so far) and to take the ARELS Certificate exam. I could not afford a proper preparation in a language school. Most of the colleges did prepare for an October session of the Cambridge Certificate but I had to leave London before then.

Laura Cristin, 1977 City Lit archive

City Lit fees were within my budget. The institution permitted a do-it-yourself approach to the subjects and one could choose with no fixed boundaries, according to his/her attitudes, wishes and conveniences. In the end, City Lit revealed to be not a makeshift at all. On the contrary, I enjoyed the lessons immensely, the teachers were friendly but well prepared to cope with a international audience. In the class I had the chance to observe for the first time, the entire set of human complexion tones.

I was enchanted by the hairstyles of the African students. The atmosphere was so good. The language of Shakespeare's films was difficult of course, but I still remember how fruitful it was the full immersion in the English Literature! Far from boring! The key, apart from the enthusiasm of the youth, was learning with fun and being able to advance in the studies, without actually realising the effort. 

City Lit poster

When the Midsummer term was over, I took the courage to try to sit for ARELS. I had not studied much outside the lessons at City Lit. I had been busy taking care of a newborn baby and finding accomodation for two Italian friends who had come to London for a short holiday.  

On the day, I went to the place of the test: it was a language lab and I had never set foot in one of these before. First thing I was given a pair of headphones to wear, I had to press some buttons to confirm the comprehension of the sentences. I was expected to interact in the dialogues and to fill some forms. One way or another I carried it out but I was not so confident in having succeeded. 

Few weeks later, in Italy, a  letter arrived with the brand new Certificate inside. The grade was not so high, but I had passed! That was the cherry on top, the fruit of my studies at City Lit!

Laura Cristin, 1977 City Lit archive

In the following months I was called to work as teacher in an area of Friuli hit by the 1976 earthquake. I could make the most of my experience by planning and conducting an approach to English as a foreign language for the children. The school was housed in provisional units and a variety of full-time courses were offered. I remember spending time in hand making educational cards, fully illustrated, for the didactic of English. During my lessons I had The Beatles records played at school along with nursery rhymes. Very often I was telling to the pupils about my experiences in London and around. Children were happy of that!

A couple of years later, during school holidays as a teacher, I went to Leeds to volunteer at a children’s playground. There I painted a mural inspired by Rousseau (the painter). On the way to the airport, before leaving, I stopped in London and I went to Drury Lane, Stuckeley St. to see the place. There and then my intimate pilgrimages to the site have started. Whenever I traveled to 'Inghilterra', I tried to pass by, to recall my memories. In 1987, during a family holiday headed for Scotland with my daughter and my husband driving a camper, we stopped in London. We slept in a underground parking, surveilled by nasty dogs, to cut expenses. On that occasion I picked up a leaflet at City Lit. Another time I went by with my mom, because I wanted to show her the places of my youth, she had contributed to fund. 

In the middle Nineties I quit the teaching job to turn to painting and performance art full time. Then I started to come to London on several occasions, mostly related to London Biennale and/or to visit a friend in Streatham. I admit having missed the pilgrimage every now and then, since 2006. Anyhow, I remember having wandered many times around Drury Lane in search of the City Lit plaque. With no success. A sudden enlightenment occurred on July 2016. My London friend and I were walking along Wild St. headed for the nearby Freemasonry Museum of Great Queen Street. All at once a modern building with the cubital blue sign of City Lit offered to our sight! 

Here we are, City Lit, you have moved since the last time we met but now I have found you again and I will not break my promise of the pilgrimage in the future, to renew my gratitude for the little, but significant, contribution in shaping my art/life.

Laura Cristin 2019

City Lit poster 1977


Laura's website and YouTube channel.

Special thanks to Laura Cristin for sharing her memories and photo archive with us!



Laura Cristin - Artist statement

My painting went towards performance after an art-residency in Ireland (2003). A non-commercial journey – Fluxus – in art/life through the revolving identity of Sheren practicing her peculiarities. The colours of the Sea, the mythical presence of Siren become threedimensional, alive and true, immersed in history, literature, poetry... contaminated by different languages (music by Dario Della Rossa in primis). The BODY counts, extends by flagging waves, involving the audience. The physicality tends to infinity. Among art actions: Mexico, Paris (Pere Lachaise), Coney Island, sea-waste installations (Ponza), Venice Biennale... I wish this – mostly self-financed – art would be better considered by institutions, were offered venues in Italy where I live and abroad. In 2019 I have started the memoir “inFINITO aMARE”.