Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Angels Of The Mud

On November 4th, 1966 -- after days of rain -- the Arno flooded its banks to a depth of roughly 12 feet, destroying everything in its path. As an impassioned 16-year-old, I had fallen in love with Florence in April of that year, and I remember that hearing the news of the flood affected me as nothing had ever done before in my short life. When I heard that people from all over the world were converging to help with the clean-up, I begged my parents to let me take a semester off from high school ... to no avail.

If I were forced to produce a list of my regrets in life, that would be one of them. Had I been a couple of years older I would have gone to Florence to be one of what were soon dubbed as "gli angeli del fango" -- the angels of the mud.

The official Angeli del Fango website is definitely worth looking at, with photos and videos and eye-witness accounts of the event and its aftermath. To see images of the water rushing through streets and past the Duomo, and to see priceless frescoes and sculpture blackened with filth is really sobering. It's hard to imagine today what an undertaking it was, how extensive was the damage to a vast amount of irreplacible art.

This Saturday will be the 40th anniversary of that heart-wrenching event, and a reunion of "gli angeli" will take place in Florence.

Hats off to the volunteer angels and the professional restorers who slogged through muck for months,living in seriously uncomfortable conditions, to reclaim the city's artistic and architectural heritage from the mud.

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