A train taken hastily at the Santa Maria Novella station. And it’s off, heading to Pisa. It’s raining when the train departs, sure, but also when it arrives. Umbrellas collide, the cold raindrops fall on the people’s heads, then their necks, before sliding down their backs. It’s November, but not 1966. We’re already in the new century. Exactly 50 years have passed since that day and this group of young communicators passionate for art and beauty – many of whom had the fortune of transforming this passion into a career – are on board the train to see the national premiere of a theatre performance.

They raced through the rain to reach the Teatro Verdi in Pisa, where Il filo dell’acqua was about to start, written by Francesco Niccolini. He’s a Tuscan dramatist (sorry, aretino) and when the Arno devastated Florence, he was just a year old. But, having collaborated with actors like Marco Paolini, Alessandro Benvenuti and Arnoldo Foà, he knows the story well. Not only did he study it, but most importantly, he understood it. He understood its implications, gathered the emotions of those who lived it, and he gave all this back in the only way a poet could.

Watching the show, performed by the company Arca Azzurra Teatro, spread across two or three galleries that seeped from their damp clothing, were these youths who, a bit jokingly, though perhaps not really, called themselves the Alluvioners. They were there to speak about the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of that dramatic event. And yet, until that moment – despite having seen exhibitions, participated in conferences and attended film and memoir premieres – they had not encountered the flood narrated through art. The exhibitions had brought together photographs and material archives, more or less direct witnesses spoke at the conferences, and during the premieres, they saw documentaries that once again lived up to the difficult task of reinvigorating the force of memory. But not art, they still hadn’t come across that. Or at least not entirely.

“Artistic production tied to the great flood was, in my opinion, scarce (particularly in theatre, cinema and music) if compared to the gravity and visibility of the event, of its importance for Florence and the national and international community,” wrote Giorgio Federici, who, in addition to being a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Florence, is also the secretary of the Comitato Firenze2016.

He wrote this in the preface of Niccolini’s book, Il filo dell’acqua. And while doing so, he recalled the few tributes that art has paid to the flood: the stornelli by Dino Ceccarini, songs by Riccardo Marasco, Giordano’s film (The Best of Youth) and, of course, Monicelli’s Amici miei, when Mascetti, standing in the street in his pyjamas, having already surrendered to history, jokes,

«Oh sor Conte, che ne dice lei?»
«Qua siamo su un dosso, l’acqua un può arrivare. Niente paura.»

“Oh sor Conte, what do you think?”
“We’re high up here, the water can’t get to us. Don’t worry.”

According to Federici, Florence is “missing is what De André gifted to Genoa when it flooded in 1970, the magnificent Dolcenera. But perhaps this depends on the fact that Florence has less singers than Genoa, home to so many legends.” And speaking of Francesco Niccolini’s book, which the professor says is “beautiful and accurate in reconstructing the events,” and that the author “recreates in a poetic form the pathos of the time,” without sparing parallels and differences with the Vajont disaster (the performance by Paolini, with the collaboration of Niccolini himself), Federici makes a jump through time and looks to the future.

Thinking about prevention – as necessary as it is current – he appoints the role of caring for art.

“Francesco Niccolini, I’m pleased to say, would like to revise and update his text in 2026, verifying how this necessary turning point occurred and indicating a positive hope based on concrete facts. The future movement “Sixty years later,” which will conclude the new edition of the performance, will tell us with its poetic language what will have happened in terms of reducing risk.”

gianluca testa