September 29, 2023 | Rome, Italy

The headmaster

By |2018-03-21T18:43:27+01:00February 20th, 2011|Area 51|
Solar panels atop the Vatican.

he headmaster with the effeminate voice wants solar panels installed on his school. He believes in solar energy, in ecology, in progress. This at least is what he tells my friend, who works in the industry. What perplexes my friend isn’t so much the headmaster’s evident zeal, but his voice, which sounds like that of a teenaged girl. No matter, business is business.

The headmaster asks my friend for an estimate, which takes my friend by surprise. Estimates usually come after a visit. But the headmaster is adamant. “No,” he says, “let’s do the visit later. What I need is a general idea,” he says. A sense of what it would cost. After that, the headmaster promises to schedule an appointment in which all involved meet to discuss the subject further. Approfondire is the Italian word: to deepen.

My friend asks him a little about the building, its Rome location, the size of the roof, the number of classrooms. To which the headmaster replies, if a little haltingly.

How many instructors does the school have? my friend asks, taking notes. Many, replies the headmaster. How many students? Lots.

My tries to imagine this girl-like headmaster and his suburban school. He agrees to furnish a rough estimate on what it would cost to equip the school building with solar panels.

“Excellent!” says the headmaster. “My cohorts will be pleased. Call me when you have the estimate,” he says.

Using the rough data, my friend and his partner assemble an estimate based on the size and dimensions of the building and its use, as explained by the headmaster. They’ve been working in solar energy for two years. While no Italian business is booming, theirs is doing very well. Sun-power is beginning to catch on, though central and southern Italy, as always, lag behind.

A few weeks later the estimate is ready. My friend calls the school, gets a voice he thinks he recognizes, and then asks for the headmaster. Pause. Finally, the headmaster, as effeminate as ever, comes to the phone.

“The estimate is ready,” says my friend.

“Fine,” says the headmaster.

“We should meet,” says my friend.

The headmaster agrees.

“At the school, then?” says my friend.


“No,” says the headmaster, “best that you come to my… personal residence, so we can discuss the matter privately.”

My friend is perplexed but persists. “What’s the address?”

“Wait,” says the headmaster. The line goes silent. A minute later the headmaster returns and furnishes the address.

“What time?” asks my friend. More waiting. The time is set for the following day at 4 p.m.

“Oh, one more thing,” says my friend, “what is the name on the buzzer? Is it the school name?”

The headmaster says yes, then no, then stops speaking entirely. Finally, he says only “See you tomorrow.”

My friend and his partner are stuck between amusement and bemusement – until the phone rings a few hours later.

This time it’s a man’s adult voice. “Listen, says the man, I’m the headmaster of the school…”

My friend is perplexed.

The man continues: “I just understood what’s been going on. You see, I have a 10-year-old son who believes in the environment and ecology and in solar energy. He’s been telling me that we should convert the school to solar energy. It’s a little crusade of his. He’s absolutely determined that we do this, and it may even be a good idea, but I think this time he may have gone a little too far…”

On the other end of the phone my friend is smiling. The effeminate headmaster finally has a face.

“Please accept my apologies,” says the real headmaster, “since I’m afraid it’s just a case of my son taking the initiative just a little bit too far…”

As my friend tells me this story I can think only one thing: Let Italy open its doors to similarly driven 10-year-olds, the fanciful and the undefeated; give them a nation willing to hear them out and encourage them, and a hopeful century awaits.

The kids are out there, which leaves only the country.

About the Author:

Christopher P. Winner is a veteran American journalist and essayist who was born in Paris in 1953 and has lived in Europe for more than 30 years.