Once we reached the city we saw that a real catastrophe had taken place

An account by Susan Glasspool (GB)

"I had just arrived in Florence on a scholarship of 45.000 lire a month. I had recently completed my degree in painting at the Slade, University College, London and came here to follow a course at the school of Primo Conti at the Academy of Fine Arts.

I was staying at Trespiano, outside Florence and, on the morning of the flood, a landslide had blocked the road close by the house. We didn't realise that there had been a flood and thought that the bad weather was the cause of the lack of electricity, phone and water. My landlady somehow heard that someting serious had happened in Florence and asked me if I could drive her down to see if her relations were in need of any help.

Once we reached the city we saw that a real catastrophe had taken place. I hadn't as yet learnt any Italian and had to wear my sandals (luckily it wasn't cold) as it was impossible to find any wellington boots. There was no water, light or food. Students at the University canteen in Via San Gallo would tell us where to work each day, either cleaning the mud out of the cellars at the University in Piazza Brunelleschi, or helping to clear out the Uffizi Archives, the Academy or other parts of the University.

We extracted books and paintings from the mud but the work did become a little less messy after a few weeks because we were given the job of putting absorbant paper between the pages of books and on paintings. What impressed me most of all was the feeling of solidarity that united all the people who were helping during the emergency. No-one thought of themselves and the usual "chase" after foreign girls, which was such a bore for most of us, was completely forgotten. We all worked together as a single body. Anyway, it was impossible just to stand aside and look on at such a terrible tragedy; the Florentines were wonderful and a lot of things were functioning again within a week .

One of the first things that really struck me was the Ponte Vecchio which was completely jammed up with tree trunks. I honestly don't know how it stood up to the flood. Then I met my future husband while I was helping clean up the works of art at the Academy and he was the reason for my remaining in Italy. I think that, like myself, most "Mud Angels", probably have many fond memories of that time. I'm rather curious to know whether any of them have since experienced anything like the solidarity we found during the flood in Florence.



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