Every time someone mentions the Arno and the great flood, new memories always resurface in someone. Each one of those fragments of life is so priceless that they are worthy of care and attention. Every memory merits being collected and preserved. Conserving and nourishing the story means adding new pieces to a puzzle that sooner or later – who knows when, who knows how – will define once and for all its background. But it needs to be soon. Because the witnesses are still around, but with the passage of time, those memories will definitively dissolve. Sharing is important precisely for this reason: identifying and stressing lost memories means colouring figures that for more than half a century were consigned to history in black and white.
The distance that separates us from those days in 1966 seems to have weakened our collective perception of risk. But it has also, aided by commemorations, bestowed us with select, almost happy memories. Or perhaps it’s better to say, “positive”. The most common are the ones that have rightfully revived the spotlight on solidarity, the romantic nostalgia of a distant Florence, melancholic recollections and the irony that the city demonstrated despite everything (just remember the signs hung outside the hard-hit workshops that read, “today’s special: fresh mud,” “stewed dishes,”and “closed for a case of nerves”.
But it wasn’t all romantic. When we talk about what happened in ’66, there are those who still shudder even today. If the noun “flood”is always coupled with the adjective “dramatic,”it’s because it didn’t just bring destruction, but also a lot of suffering. A pain that found space in the comments written on the “Toscana Firenze 2016” Facebook page.
- “I was 19 years old and it seemed like a tragedy to me.”
- “I was 10 years old. I remember that day as if it were yesterday. We looked out at the turmoil from the windows. A lagoon-like wind was blowing, the pines were falling one after the other like bowling pins. My brothers and I were terrified. My mother, seated in the kitchen, recited the rosary incessantly. We went to Grosseto a week later and the images of the destruction, the desperation of those who lost everything, the swollen animals floating in the water of the Ombrone, they were all stuck in my mind and have been indelible all my life.”
- “I was there… but in San Piero a Ponte. While in Florence the water retreated, where we were it was rising. Three nights of hell. Then, on the third night, rafts came by to collect us from the windows on the first, and only, floor. We were more than 60 people, all together: nursing nuns, elderly nuns, orphans and we kids. Then there was the endless trip: first to the Cesare Battisti school in Prato, then to Villa del Palco. Endless days.”
(Sister Damiana De Leo)
- “A truly horrible memory. I had a toy store, with prams and things for children. I shovelled mud with my parents, we lost everything. A terrible memory in my life.”
- When I was 11 years old, I lived in the centre of Figline Valdarno. I have two lasting memories from the flood: the surreal silence when I woke up, when the Arno’s waters surrounded my piazza, flooding the streets that led to it under 2 metres of water: and especially the man that, the next day, drove through the village in his car – where the mud had replaced the retreated waters, those who could, brought their cars to anyone who was worse off – screaming for us to get out, sounding the horn, because “the dam had burst.” The desperate race up the hills around Figline with my 1-year-old brother in my arms is an absolutely terrible memory.”
- “Let’s just say it’s a miracle I’m alive. I was at the fountain getting water to drink, when all of a sudden, the river burst through. There was water at my feet and I made it back to my house just in time because not a second later there were 2 metres of water. I was 13 years old.”
- “I had 2.90 metres of water in my house. The firefighters collected us from the windows on the first floor. More than half a century has passed, but when I close my eyes, I always see that scene. A big thank you to all the volunteers and the families who opened their doors to those who lost everything.
edited by gianluca testa