Well, my friends, we have just finished seven weeks of children’s courses – and have survived. Can you imagine having 15 exuberant children in your house for seven weeks? Well, exactly. Not always, of course, the same children, as the courses vary from one week to two weeks in length, but after a bit you confuse one child with another and during the last course you can’t remember the components of the first one. Some, of course, stand out from the others: the two Russian sisters Luisa and Sasha, both as beautiful as their mother, Ludovica with her affectionate hugs and dimply smile, Francesca with her extraordinary pencilled in eyebrows, Gabriele obsessed with insects, Lucrezia who loved learning English (unlike most of her compatriots, I’m afraid), Uberta who at eighteen has been coming for seven years and is like a mother with the younger children…I could go on.
What makes a child came back time and time again? Well, I think the freedom is a great attraction. Most of these children live in the city and can’t just wander out of the house just when they please, as they can at Rendola. In the evening I sometimes showed them a video – Black Beauty and Flicka are the perennial favourites – but usually they amused themselves, playing cards, table football or pingpong, kicking a ball round the ring till it got too dark to see it, chatting or playing with their i-phones. Then, of courses, there is the riding, which on most days they can do twice, either in the ring with Eraldo, both feared and adored, or out in the countryside with me. The average age is about twelve, when girls are going through their horsey stage and having to get up early and clean the horses at seven thirty does not weigh on them at all (teenagers tend to be more reluctant and sometimes had to be dragged from their beds). I do realize that most children consider the English lessons a necessary evil, but I do my best to make them fun and horse-orientated and the three foreign girls – Magda from Poland, Livia from Hungary and Valerie from Holland – were there to speak English to the children up at the stables and supplement my teaching. Trips to the swimming-pool are a welcome diversion, particularly so this summer with temperatures over 30°C every day. An important aspect are the friendships that are formed during the children’s stay. Facebooks and SMS’s help them to keep in contact after the holiday and many arrange to come back again together: I gather we will see many of them next year, too.
Any dramas? Not really. Only three falls, which considering that over this period we provide over a thousand riding hours, is a pretty good record. None was serious, luckily. Then Ludovica got a bruised toe because she left her foot under Nerone’s – I refuse to let children say that the horse stepped on them. Oh yes, and for the first time in forty years we had an outbreak of lice in the fourth group! It’s such a common occurrence in schools nowadays that there is no longer a stigma attached, as in the past when lice were considered a sign of unhygienic habits. Only five children were affected and under the supervision of Uberta (one of the victims) special shampoos were regularly applied and lice combs put to work, so by the end of the stay the beasts were eliminated and didn’t appear again. Then, with the same group, some of the children got chilled at the Teatro di Paglia, the straw theatre, which kept them up till after eleven at night, and were sick the next morning, the day of their departure. An unlucky group, you could say, though at least the trip into the Chianti with a bivouac near the Castle of Brolio went very smoothly. Otherwise, no mishaps at all, as is usually the case. As you can imagine, the responsibility weighs heavily on me, so once again I was able to heave a sigh of relief when the courses were over. The next day the house seemed strangely silent, as for all the time we had been used to a high decibel count, especially at meal-times.
One thing that strikes me about the Italian children is how well-behaved they are. This may surprise you, as I have already told you how exuberant they are: but their exuberance may exceed in decibels but never turns into rudeness or unsociable behaviour. Okay, some of them have to be chivvied into making their beds, but they keep their bedrooms reasonably tidy (I do inspect them once a day!), and not all of them observe the rule of silence after eleven o’clock (I bang on bedroom doors to make them shut up) but on the whole they observe the rules, necessary when you have a houseful of eighteen people. So – vive la jeunesse! The horsey jeunesse, at any rate.