An account by Giuseppe Bottaro (I)
In 1966 I was still a student at the school of Primo Conti, at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, and lived in Via Pisana. I got up very early on that particular morning because I had an appointment in the city centre. I went to P.zza Pier Vettori where I used to park my 500 Fiat and, finding it with water up to the doors, thought that the drains, as had often happened before, had been unable to cope with all the rain that had come down in the night.
I got in the car and drove over Ponte alla Vittoria without realising the state of the Arno (it was still almost dark). I got to P.za S. Marco, where I parked the car (one could in those days), and set off in the direction of Via Cavour. Here I saw what looked like a wall of people moving backwards from the Duomo towards P.zza S. Marco. This was when I realised what was happening. I took the car to P.zza della Libertà, thus saving my one and only possession at the time, though it was never to lose the smell of oil and mud.
In the evening, as I was unable to return home (the bridges were impassable), I went to the Police to see if they could find me somewhere to spend the night. I was sent to the monks at S. Domenico. We all immediately reported to the University coordination centre in Via S. Gallo. Volunteers and soldiers set out with lorries from Campo di Marte to give immediate aid to the population (food, water, milk, bread, clothing, blankets etc.).
I remember that I took some milk to a lady who had small children. She was so grateful to have the milk and, seeing I was wearing sandals and my feet were soaking wet, covered in mud and oil, insisted on giving me a pair of new shoes. Some people travelled around in rubber dinghies, others hoarded food more from fear than need, there was danger of an epidemic.
After a few days I started work at the Academy of Fine Art, removing all the books from the Library and paintings from the cellars. All the helpers were offered a meal at what was then Restaurant Il Rogo in P.zza S.Marco. It was there, while we were working in the mud, that I met my own "mud angel", Susan, an English girl, whom I later married, who had just arrived in Florence to study at the school of Primo Conti and instead found herself in the midst of the tragedy.
Giuseppe Bottaro is now director of the scenery laboratory at the Teatro Comunale of Florence