At 11 years I went to Finland for 2 weeks in the locality of Pohja-Kisakeskus following my parents, thanks to my mother, elementary school teacher, who enrolled all 4 of us to this event reserved for teachers and their families.
Every two years in the chosen “world” location, an “event” is organized by teachers from the host country, attended by teachers from the most diverse countries of the world, together with their families. That year, the 18th RIDEF-FREINET Meeting was organized: a movement centered on the “popular pedagogy” created by the French master Célestin Freinet (1896-1966). We discuss and discuss a topic that characterizes the field, linked to the “freinet” pedagogical system. During the camp there are many workshops, also open to the families of the participating teachers. Ultimately we are confronted with other cultures and educational systems, ways of thinking and visions within this movement, exchanging experiences, opinions, thoughts, making friends and creating human bonds that can last a lifetime.
We started from Rome Fiumicino to Helsinki on board an airplane, for the first time in my life, obviously I was very excited and stayed for the whole trip glued to the window. The flight of the SAS airline that we used, had cost a considerable amount for the time, it was not a low cost flight like those of today, no frills, but it turned out to be comfortable and quiet, I remember for example toys regalatici hostess, to let us pass the time, in addition to unlimited drinks.
When we landed at Helsinki airport, we immediately left by bus to Pohja-Kisakeskus, the equipped sports center where we would stay in tents (due to the high prices and the lack of availability of houses and rooms in the structure) for about two weeks. Upon our arrival, after a short and warm welcome, I remember that we mounted the two new “Ferrino” tents on the lawn of a football pitch in the center. The mild temperature during the day tended to fall in the night, but the biggest problem was the nighttime damp that dunked the curtains and the clothes hanging out to dry in the northern sun.
For us children, however, everything was a novelty and an adventure, and the first days, we ran free and happy throughout the downtown area, along with another couple of Italian kids with whom we had made friends. We participated in our first sauna (strictly naked, and in a “mixed” sauna because the Finns do not give importance to these things, demonstrating a mental and sexual openness that we did not imagine in ’90 ….), We practiced all the most different types of sports, from football, to floor hockey, volleyball, archery and even crossings of the pond by boat (up to “steal” a boat and go alone to the lake with our friends …).
Another thing that struck us as children was the strong tendency to drink the Finns: practically they were able to swallow any type of alcohol, be it beer, wine, brandy or distillate, in abnormal quantities, even for women, at the a comparison of which, for example, “foreign” adults were not really capable of supporting, if not becoming anonymous alcoholics ..
So while the “adults” took part in boring meetings, conferences and voting for programmatic documents on pedagogy and teaching, we had fun and at most we took part in some laboratory, like the Japanese ceramic RAKU (the field had a large delegation of participants Japanese, but I also remember Austrians, Germans, Canadians, Danes, French, Belgians, Swiss, Russian-Soviet, some English, Senegalese, and participants from other African or European countries, coming strictly from countries where the freinet method was applied, the USA for example they were excluded …). At the end of the camp, on the last day, after the final meeting and the voting of the social roles of the FREINET movement, an “international” dinner was held with food and food brought or prepared by all the guests. We got along with garlic, homemade bread, parmesan and extra virgin olive oil (from which clearly my father had made in the previous days also an excellent plate of spaghetti “garlic, oil and chili” to which some Finns had then added the ” classic “ketchup … common heresy abroad). After an evening of greetings and emotion, the next morning we dismantled our tents and we settled on a bus to reach the north, to be precise the city of Rovaniemi, located right on the Arctic polar circle beyond which the sun in summer never sets. The trip lasted a dozen hours, arrived in the evening in the city of the “Sami” Rovaniemi (the Lapland inhabitants of this region commonly called Lapland), we stayed in a delightful little house painted in red. Our goal was to reach the North Cape, continuing by bus from Rovaniemi after a couple of days off.
Taking the ticket to Lakselv, in Norway, from which we intended to embark to get to see the North Cape, we spent the remaining time to see the cozy city of Rovaniemi and the famous “Santa’s House” located in the village of the same name: more like an amusement park, stormed by families with crowds of children in tow, where paying an admission ticket, you can still get around today for souvenir shops, restaurants and boutiques, up to the Santa Claus house, where a man with a beard dressed in red, he is photographed together with the little fathers … … of course ….
After two days we left for Lakselv, after a journey of several hours, we crossed the border by bus entering Norway. Upon arrival in the town of Lakselv (actually a very simple small fishing village), we discovered that the ferry to the North Cape left only the next morning and it was too late to catch it, so we stayed in the cold, even though it was August. waiting for the bus to go back down to Rovaniemi, not having where to stay overnight.
Sitting at a wooden table in a picnic area, attacked by hundreds of mosquitoes until the coldest hours and covered by windbreakers and anti-mosquito lotion, we saw the slow path of the sun, in its daily journey, go down to the line of horizon, and then continue its journey without dusk during the night, illuminating us in a day that lasted 48 hours. Upon arrival of the bus for the return we threw ourselves on the seats, where sleep has taken us to an unexpected: a breakdown in a brake that has overheated and forced us to stop in a forced service area. While the drivers were trying to get the worst of the breakdown at the gas station to repair, the passengers (mostly foreigners like us, there were also some Italians and French from the RIDEF camp), were scattered throughout the service station or in the restaurant / motorway. I remember buying a knife with a bone handle here is a reindeer skin bag from a “Sami” seller, who had his stall right at the exit of the station. After several hours we finally resumed the journey at low speed, with the brake “patched” to the least worst and the second driver who did not finish up apologizing in English, crossing the northern landscape of Finland, flat or slightly wavy at most, dotted with birches and bushes, often running into small herds of grazing reindeer, an elk and even some wolves that have crossed the road at a safe distance.
Towards evening, always with the omnipresent midnight sun on the horizon above the Arctic Circle, we arrived in Rovaniemi.
Here, quite exhausted, my parents opted for a night trip to Helsinki by train, booking a compartment with 4 berths for the night.
Arrived in Helsinki we have the last three nights in a hotel, spending the last Finnish brands for food, accommodation, transport and some museum of which I do not remember anything.
I remember traveling by surface trams through the sunny streets of Helsinki, rich in German Jugendstil, which I did not know at the time, the crowded lakes and parks and an almost “torrid” afternoon heat.
At the end arrived the day of the departure, by bus, we reached the airport of Helsinki-Vantaa, to embark on the afternoon flight that would bring us back to Italy, of that short flight I remember especially the anxiety about the invasion of Kuwait, it happened a few days before August 3rd and whose consequences we did not yet know. Everyone on the plane read the newspapers available in Italian or in other languages and we children were free to play and drive the hostess crazy until landing a bit “noisy” at Fiumicino.
Basically this trip took us along with his memories and feelings, leaving us above all a great interest in Scandinavia, in which we would return again, attracted by its diversity compared to Italy, by the quality of life and very high welfare, despite the difficulties of adapting to a rigid climate and certainly not “Mediterranean” even in summer, as well as the diversity of a much fatter kitchen based on fish or meat and animal seasonings, not to mention the difficulty of the Finnish language to which we some French from my mother and a few words of English learned on a pocket dictionary from us. For us it was a great journey, because the Finns have always given much importance and attention to children, without being obsessive or slavishly controlling their intellectual development. In reality we found more “freedom” to experience or play and move freely than in our country, and also the extreme freedom and openness of the teaching method in schools was reflected in the RIDEF field.
In essence, for me, Finland and its people, who were Finnish or Lapps, we seemed very hospitable, it was certainly an expensive experience for the pockets of my parents, but different and exciting as a Nordic saga, as well as rich in biodiversity and nature (not I will forget the excursions between the lakes of Pohja-Kisakeskus studded with firs, mosses and lichens, grazing reindeer, sightings of elk or wolves and of course the clouds of morning mosquitoes and the endless days when sleeping 6 hours a day In the short Finnish summer there was always something new or exciting to do for everyone, and wasting time sleeping seemed almost a “crime”.
In the eyes of the Finns we had to look exotic and a little funny, especially for our habit of covering ourselves with layers of sweatshirts and sweaters, while they were swirling around in a shirt and shorts, or talking loudly in public. All this has left us a deep mark in the soul, which has led us to participate in time, at least for some of us, to another RIDEF field and to return to Scandinavia other times in time, favoring different itineraries and even more “adventurous” , but this is another story and I’ll tell you another time ….