I was horrified, the desolation looked like the after-effectsof an atom bomb
Francesco Leonetti (I), an ex "Mud angel" and now the Director ofthe Florence Symphony Orchestra
He was only 15 years old in 1966, lived in Rome and was studying classics at the lyceum; like most people, he heard about the flood on the radio and television. His school, like many others in the city, organized coaches to take the student volunteers, which meant almost everyone, to Florence.
The older and university students travelled to Florence under their own steam and most of them stayed on there. The school arranged for those in his age group to collect up, restore and catalogue the books from the State Archives, probably so as not to dampen the enthusiasm with which the younger students offered their help.
"After having left Rome, the coaches took us as far as the Arno Valley which was covered by an enormous expanse of water - he recalls - I was horrified, the desolation looked like the after-effects of an atom bomb, nothing moved, there was just water and utter silence". It was the first time he had been to Florence and, once in the city, they stopped off in the suburbs at a collecting station, where they distributed blankets to the homeless, who were left with nothing but the clothes they stood up in.
"I remember all the books buried in the mud - he continues - some of the most badly damaged volumes, the ones that we were not allowed to touch in case they fell apart in our hands, stayed in Florence; all the others were taken to our school in Rome where some rooms had been prepared for carrying out their restoration. They first had to be cleaned with great care and a sheet of absorbent paper of the same size (which therefore had to be prepared beforehand), was then placed between one page and another of each book. Every student worked on about 40/50 books.
"We had to wear gloves for this work - he continues - because word had gone round that if we had any small cuts or wounds on our hands we were in danger of catching viral hepatitis. I found one of the books I restored particularly surprising and amusing: the subject covered the legal adventures of a real knave who was delightfully unconcerned about the fact that he spent his time in and out of prison for all sorts of crimes, from theft to molesting women. He had been into so much trouble that he kept the Florentine Law Courts fully occupied for years. The restored books were sent back to Florence in the late spring of the following year".
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