EMERGING MEMORIES

November 4, 1966 gets into the history of Florence as another tragedy, from social and cultural context. On that day the Arno river, known as a meeting point of florentine families, showed the strength of its waters and flooded the city in just a few hours, leaving incredulous witnesses of this episode. This memory is alive 50 years later. Alive and pure. 

Since I am a Brazilian from Rio de Janeiro, a tropical city with flood problems every summer, one day, when passing by Piazza del Duomo in Florence, something caught my attention. Positioned on the top of a wall, there was a tiny sign with an horizontal line indicating the height reached by the river during a flood in the 60's. Those signs are part of the deepest stories of the city and if you pay close attention you will find many others in the streets of the city.

In 2016, I collected stories from children, mothers and workers at that time. Listening to their stories with its many colors details, smell descriptions and feelings, allowed me to slowly create visual images in my mind. As a passionate listener, interpretations for me aren’t made only of what we hear, read or see, but they are also formed with our own personal experiences. What I interpreted came loaded together with the information that naturally exists inside of me, which is part of my life.

While receiving these reports, some parts seem stronger and curious to me. It was precisely those parts that allowed me to create a visual memory in a picture. 50 years later, those fascinating stories were still able to be revisited.

 

Stefano M., Bellariva

aveva 15 anni, studente

15 years old student at the time 

Erano 4 giorni che pioveva. Il 4 novembre era un giorno di festa in Italia, quindi quella mattina li nessuno di noi ragazzi era andato a scuola. La mattina alle 8 mi sveglia mio padre e mi dice: "Stefano, guarda! Sta succedendo un caos", perché nella strada c'erano già 20cm d'acqua. La mia strada è una strada parallela all' Arno ma leggermente più bassa del fiume. (...) Io con i mei genitori abitavo al pian’ terreno rialzato, quindi (l'acqua) non è arrivata la mattina in casa. (...) l'acqua saliva, saliva, saliva, fino a cominciare ad arrivare in casa. A quel punto non sapevamo se sarebbe andata avanti o se si fermava lì. (...) Siamo andati al piano di sopra dove abitavano i nostri amici. 

(...) 

L'acqua ha riempito tutta la casa. Noi vedevamo dalla terrazza quest'acqua che saliva, quest'acqua sporca perché l'Arno portava terra con chiazze di nafta (...), un cielo nero, la pioggia, un silenzio totale perché era andata via l'elettricità e quindi piano, piano si faceva buio in questo scenario di devastazione. 

(...)

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It had been raining for four days. It was November 4th, a public holiday in Italy, so on that morning, none of us boys went to school. My father woke me up at 8 and told me: "Stefano, look! There is a chaos happening", because there were already 20cm of water on the road. My street was parallel to Arno but slightly at a lower level than the river. (...) My parents and I lived on a ground floor, so (the water) had not yet reached our home in the morning. 

(...) 

The water was rising, rising, and rising, until it started to get to the house. At that point we did not know if it would keep on rising or if it would stop there. (...) We went upstairs to stay at our friends' house.(...)The water filled the entire house. From the terrace we saw the water level rising, this dirty water because the Arno brought loam with pieces of naphtha (...), a black sky, the rain, a total silence because the electricity was gone. And then, it slowly it got dark in this devastating scene. 

(...) 

 

Loretta B., Coverciano

aveva 27 anni, mamma di 2 bambini piccoli

27-year-old mother of 2 small children at the time

La mattina, verso le 7 e mezzo, io mi sono alzata e ho trovato il mio suocero alla radio che ascoltava tutto l'allarmismo: "C'è l'alluvione a Firenze! C'è l'alluvione a Firenze!" E ci siamo tutti spaventati e non si capiva più nulla. Sicché non c'era l'acqua, non c'era luce, si era interrotto tutto e quindi il mio marito ha preso il mio figlio e piglia la macchina per andare su a Fiesole a cercare un po´ d'acqua. 

(...) 

Qui (l'acqua) era arrivata all'inizio della strada, vicinissima alle nostre cantine. (...) Tutta questa gente stava scappando con le macchine, con la famiglia. Non sapevano cosa fare. (...) Io avevo una paura tremenda di rimanere qui e dissi: “Portatemi su, portatemi su!” Poi, invece, in quel momento é ritornato mio marito e ha detto che lo avevano tranquillizzato, che non c'era da preoccuparsi e quindi siamo rimasti a casa, ma tanto tranquilli no. 

(...) 

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In the morning, around 7:30am, I woke up and saw my father-in-law who was listening to the radio with all awareness: "There is a flood in Florence! There is a flood in Florence!" And we were all scared and did not understand anything else. Furthermore, there was no water, there was no light. Everything was interrupted and so my husband took my son and got in the car to go to Fiesole and look for a bit of clean water. 

(...) 

Here, (the water) had reached at the beginning of the road, very close to our cellars. (...) All of these people were running away with their machines, with their families. They did not know what to do. (...) I had a tremendous fear of staying here and I said, "Bring me up, take me up!" Then my husband returned and told us that someone reassured him that there was nothing to worry about, so then we stayed at home, but not very calm. 

(...)

 

Agostino C., Campo di Marte

aveva 18 anni, studente

18-year-old student at the time

Abbiamo guardato tutto alla televisione e poi la sera, dato che mio padre non si convinceva del fatto che non si andava a scuola il giorno dopo, prendemmo l'automobile e vedemmo il disastro che era avvenuto, perché praticamente si arrivò fino a Piazza San Marco a piedi e vedemmo tutta la piazza allagata con tanta acqua che sembrava il mare. 

(...) 

La città é rimasta sempre immersa nel fango per alcune settimane. (...) si scivolava con grande facilità. Camminare era difficile e pericoloso. Io volevo aiutare: il primo giorno sono stato alla Biblioteca Nazionale. (...) il lavoro consisteva nel fare una catena umana, partendo dalla cantina, cioè dal piano di sotto, dove c'erano i libri, prendendo i libri uno o due per volta, passandoli di mano in mano fino ad arrivare alla fine. (...) Si è vista la differenza fra le persone: i negozi (...) erano completamente distrutti (...), le borse sporche di fango erano invendibili. (...) La prima cosa che molti hanno pensato é stata quella di andare nei negozi delle grande firme per procurarsi capi firmati che altrimenti non avrebbero potuto comprare perché sarebbero costati tantissimi soldi. 

(...)

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We were watching television and, in the evening, since my father was not convinced that we could not go to school the next day, we took the car to see the disaster that had come. We practically arrived on foot at Piazza San Marco and saw the entire square flooded by so much water that it looked like the sea. 

(...) 

The city remained immersed on mud for a few weeks. (...) It was very slippery. Walking was something difficult and dangerous to do. I wanted to help. On the first day, I was at the National Library. (...) The task was to make a human chain, starting from the cellar, which was downstairs where there were only books, by passing one or two books at a time and from hand to hand until they got to the end. (...) We have seen the difference between people. The stores (...) were completely destroyed (...), muddy handbags were unsaleable. (...) The first thought of many people was to go to these famous label stores looking for designer brands that otherwise were not affordable. 

(...) 

 

Mauro B., L’Isolotto

aveva 34 anni, padre e bronzista 

34-year-old father who worked with bronze material at the time 

Sono uscito di casa la mattina del 4, che è festa delle Forze Armate. Arrivo nella mia fabbrica e cerco di mettere la roba sugli scaffali, i tavoli, tutto quello che c'era in terra. Poi ho visto che l'acqua cresceva, cresceva. (...) Vado a casa, mi metto degli stivali (...) poi non ce l'ho fatta più. L'acqua superava già gli stivali. Se torno là, non so cosa succede. Poi c'avevo i bimbi piccoli, poi era festa, avevo invitato delle nipoti a mangiare il pesce, sicché mia moglie aveva comprato tanto pesce (...) e poi (le nipoti) non sono potute venire, stavano dell'altra parte della città. Quel pesce non si poteva neppure buttare via perché c'era l'acqua. Probabilmente c'era anche pesce dell'Arno qui dentro. 

(...) 

Insomma, non sono potuto riuscire, sono rimasto in casa per due giorni. 

(...) 

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I left the house in the morning on the 4th, which is a holiday in Italy, the day of the Armed Forces. I arrived in my office and I tried to put the stuff on the shelves and tables, everything that was on the ground. Then I saw the water rising and rising (...) I went back home and put my boots on (...) but then I had nothing else to do. The water had already covered my boots. If I went back there, I do not know what would have happened. Also there were the kids and it was holiday. We had invited the family to eat fish, so my wife had bought a lot of fish (...) but then (the family) could not come, because they were on the other side of city. That fish could not even been thrown away because there was the water inside the house. Probably there was also fish from the Arno in here. 

(...) 

In the end, I could not go outside so I stayed at home for two days. 

(...)

 

Lorenzo R., Centro

aveva 40 anni, vigile 

40-year-old vigilant at the time 

Io dovevo andare in servizio la mattina dell'alluvione. Era primo mattino, verso le 8, mi telefonò la sorella della mi moglie, che era moglie di un vigile urbano che anche lui si doveva trovare in servizio, e disse che a lui avevano telefonato per dirgli di stare a casa perché c'era l'Arno che straripava. (...) Allora mi telefonò un'altro, dicendomi che dovevo andare: "Guardiamo se facciamo in tempo ad andare in ufficio a rimediare qualcosa." Io prendo la macchina (ero tranquillo, non pensavo alla gravità), arrivo in centro e vedo che c'é l'acqua. Io dovevo andare in Piazza Santa Croce, in ufficio. (...) Quando arrivo a metà strada, in Piazza San Firenze, l'acqua era già arrivata a mezze scale. Giro, piglio un'altra stradina e arrivo in Piazza della Signoria e da là ho visto Borgo dei Greci, l'acqua era già in pari con le macchine. Sono andato a prendere un caffè in un bar. Anche li c'erano i colleghi che parlavano ed il barista si arrabbiava perché non arrivava l'acqua per fare il caffè. 

(...) 

All'ufficio non si poteva andare perché era già arrivata l'acqua. 

(...)

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II had to go work in the morning of the flood. It was early in the morning, around 8 o'clock; my wife’ sister called us. She was married with a vigilant and he should have been at work as well. She told us that someone had called him saying to stay at home because the Arno river had overflowed. (...) Then someone else called me, asking me to help, and said: "Let's see if we make it to arrive at the office on time to save something out". I took the car. I was fine, I did not think about the seriousness of the situation. I arrived in the city center and I saw the water. I had to get to Piazza Santa Croce, to get to the office. (...) When I was half way, the water in Piazza San Firenze had already reached the stairs. I turned around, took another road, arrived in Piazza della Signoria and from there I saw Borgo dei Greci. The water was already was at the same level as the machines. So I went to have a coffee at a bar. There, I found my colleagues who were talking about the flood and the bartender was angry because there was no water to make the coffee. 

(...)

I could not reach the office because the water was already there.

(...) 

 

Luca M., Borgo San Lorenzo

aveva 9 anni, studente 

9-year-old student at the time 

Non abitando a Firenze, andai il giorno successivo a quello dell'alluvione con mio padre e i miei fratelli dato che avevamo dei conoscenti in centro. Volevamo vedere quello che era successo perché non ci rendevamo assolutamente conto: nel '66 non era come oggi, che le immagini arrivano praticamente in tempo reale. Io ricordo che la sera dell'alluvione c'era il servizio del telegiornale dove non c'erano immagini ma si sentiva il rumore dell'acqua a Firenze. (...) Quindi il giorno dopo trovammo una città completamente distrutta dall'alluvione. Anche a Borgo c'era stata una bella situazione alluvionale, però assolutamente non uguale a ciò che è successo a Firenze. Non ci eravamo resi conto della gravità della situazione.

(...)

Mi ricordo che sono rimasto sorpreso una volta arrivato in città. (...) Quello che mi colpí e che mi è rimasto impresso é stato l'umorismo delle persone che, avendo perso tutto con i negozi sfondati, avevano messo dei biglietti ironici sui negozi. (...) E chiaramente era tutta una situazione: persone che giravano con una scopa per buttare fuori l'acqua che rientrava da tutte le parti, ancora non c'era organizzazione, non erano arrivati gli aiuti, non c'era niente. (...) Mi ha colpito questa situazione contrastante, questo umorismo. (...) La reazione delle persone, che non era di disperazione. Forse ancora non avevano nemmeno focalizzato cosa era sucesso, non lo so. Però il trovare in un momento del genere la voglia di scherzare, di far una battuta, di ironizzare, da bambino la trovai una cosa meravigliosa.

(...)

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As we did not live in Florence, on the day after the flood, I went to the city center with my father and my brother since we knew some people there. We wanted to see what had happened because we did not realize what was going on: 1966 was not like today, there were no real time images. I remember that in the night of the flood there was the TV news but without image. We could hear the sound of water in Florence. (...) On the next day, we found the city completely destroyed by the flood. Even in Borgo where there had been a big flood situation, it was definitely not the same as that one that happened in Florence. We had not realized how serious the situation was.

(...)

Once I arrived in town, I remember that I was surprised. (...) The thing that impressed me and that I remember until today was the sense of humor of the people who had lost everything on their flooded stores, but even so they had put ironic signs on their stores. (...) And of course it was a bit of a chaotic situation: people using brooms to throw out the water that turned back on from all over, yet there was no organization, help had not yet arrived, there was nothing. (...) I was hit by this contrasting situation, this sense of humor. (...) The reaction of the people, which was not of despair. Perhaps they had not yet even realized what had happened, I do not know. But to find the desire to make a joke in a moment like that and to make fun of it, was a wonderful thing to me as a child.

(...) 

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