School Memories

Written by  Vittorio Emiliani
Pupils and teachers of the Liceo Ariosto... a few years ago.
During my secondary school years at the Ariosto, nearly half a century ago now, Ferrara was still the weakest of the provinces of Emilia-Romagna in economic terms, still home to a population of day labourers who were starting to move away from their roots in other parts of the country.

The unblemished Ferrara of those days was seemed to be a city under siege by a mass of impoverished landless labourers. There was indeed a fundamental difference between those who were born and lived within the walls and those who came in from the outside. As for me, born in the Romagna and brought up in Urbino, I along with many other boys and girls arrived each day on the little train from Veneta da Copparo.

From this mass of commuting schoolchildren only a handful headed towards the Liceo Ludovico Ariosto, which then had fewer than 300 pupils, in a city with more than 140 000 inhabitants and surrounded by densely populated countryside. Regrettably, a clear majority of those 300 were boys; of the school's two classes per year one was all-male and one mixed. Selection was rigorous and social connections certainly counted. Those who failed exams were directed towards the less demanding magistrali or took other paths.
Although some of the teachers were socially open and treated pupils equally, in the end this liceo classico really did represent the crème de la crème of Ferrara's professional classes.
There are two teachers from the school who I recall with great affection and recognition: Giordano Romagnoli and Mario Roffi. The first taught literature and was, thus, fundamental. A sturdy figure with the tough but fair looks of a Clark Gable, elegant, a chain-smoker, he was a man who loved life and loved women. As a teacher he was generous, perfectly prepared in every aspect, a formidable teacher of Latin and perhaps still better at Greek. However, he would not tolerate even the slightest mistake on the part of the better pupils; once when I made an error in a Greek translation and a test, he marked it down to a fail and even wrote a note to my father to tell him to keep an eye on me.

Mario Roffi was a different type altogether. Tall, thin as a rake, moustachioed, always scruffily and even a bit comically dressed; he used to arrive at the school gate on a massive black bicycle decorated with messages on white card along the lines of "Bread FOR the workers" and "WORK FOR the unemployed". In other words he was scandalously left wing in a politically fairly moderate area. Later on he became a member of parliament for the Communist party. He came from the Modena area and was part of the group who trained with Roberto Longhi at the University of Bologna.

All people of the first rank. And, as a teacher of French Roffi was one of the best, for both the linguistic and the literary aspects. With him I perfected a knowledge of French which I have never lost.
The religious education teacher was a Jesuit with a great future who unfortunately passed away on the threshold of maturity, Father Maddalena. The maths teacher was Bellino Rosina. He knew his subject well, but was a terror to us, the pupils. I paid the price at school when he made me resit my exams in October, and because I failed to answer one question he had me suspended, marking me so low that the marks given by the teacher's council and the headmaster were not enough to bring it up to a pass. The affair caused something of a scandal, since I had a very high average in my other subjects. He would not stand for my passing with flying colours in Greek and Italian while I was weak in algebra, and he told me so.

I decided to take the matriculation exam privately, even though my father was only able to pay for lessons for a few subjects. In these trying circumstances it was Giordano Romagnoli who showed all his generosity; he reassured me "I'll take you for the Greek and Latin authors and the Divine Comedy. Don't worry about paying me; do it WHEN you've made something of yourself". I studied long and enthusiastically with him; it's possible that I've never studied that hard again. The whole matriculation exam went perfectly. I even scored excellent marks in mathematics and physics.