I had heard all the horror stories of au pairing but I had the best year any 17 year old could have dreamt of.
I applied to a small agency called Baxters, put down my choice of countries as Portugal (I had been on holiday there that year) Spain (I had heard that the boys were nice) and France (studied it at school
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for five years) and waited. A week later a gentleman called me from Italy explaining he and his wife Olga had adopted 2 girls Giovanna 8, and Stefania 5 distant relatives who had lost both parents and would I come and teach them English.
A week later with a battered suitcase containing all my possessions and restaurant Italian i.e. spaghetti, pizza and ciao I arrived at Genoa Airport to be greeted by Vanni and whisked off to the mountains of Piemonte to a tiny village called Cervasca near Cuneo.
Vanni spoke about 20 words of English and Olga and the kids nil. And so began my education
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, everything I touched or ate they gave me the Italian word for it, by two weeks I could make myself understood and by six months I was fluent and dreaming in it. Every afternoon when the children did their homework I was told to study Italian grammar.
When I wasnâ€™t studying, Olga taught me how to cook the Italian way, carni zingari (thinly sliced raw beef fillet marinated in lemon juice and covered in a splash of olive oil), vitello tonnato (slices of cooked veal covered in a homemade mayonnaise mixed with tuna.) Bonet pudding (cold chocolate pudding with a layer of amaretti) still my favourite. Roasted peppers, stuffed peaches far too many to mention and give credit to Olgaâ€™s culinary skills.
Each weekend from December we would go skiing at a tiny resort called Entracque where I met a variety of people I would never have met in England who would fuss over me.
When I wasnâ€™t studying, cooking or skiing I broke a few Italian hearts, I can no longer remember their names.
At Easter a group of us went to Venice for the weekend, July we stayed in Nice for the month, August we holidayed in Bari.
But the greatest gift was Olga who cared for me as her own, never displayed public affection but you just knew.
I am now 43, my children were brought to her as babies; given their first taste of Parmesan as babies, tagliatelli their first solids.
My daughter now 18 visits her every summer to learn
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Italian and watch Stefaniaâ€™s babies.
I still visit Olga at least once a year, Vanni passed away many years ago but I still expect him to come through the door waving his hands in the air.
We still laugh at when I first arrived, I caught flu, the doctor arrived and left me with a strange looking capsule, asked me if I knew what it was, I nodded and after he had left the room I swallowed it with great difficulty. Olga and Vanni returned asking what I had done with the pessary. Needless to say panic ensued and they rang casualty when I explained I had swallowed it. The reply from a casualty was muffled laughter assuring them I would be fine, In fact I was better the next day never better!
I only have wonderful memories of that year and even more precious, my own Italian family.
: Clare Shipston
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