Thousands of young Venetians aid efforts in flood of their lives
VENICE, Italy — As soon as waters receded from last week’s devastating flood, about 50 young Venetians, wearing rubber boots and gripped by a sense of determination, showed up at the city’s Music Conservatory to help save precious manuscripts.
Thanks to their work, some 50 linear meters of archival manuscripts, dating from as far back as the 1500s, lay strewn in the conservatory’s upper floors to dry when Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini visited this weekend.
“This is our city,” said Laura Franco, a student at Venice’s Music Conservatory who showed up with a handful of friends Saturday morning.
A growing network of more than 2,000 young Venetians are responding to the worst flood in their lifetimes to help salvage what they can, wherever help is needed.
Modeling their network after the so-called “Mud Angels” who famously poured into Florence from all over the world after the 1966 flood swamped that city’s treasures with mud from the Arno, these youth are calling themselves “Angels of the Salt,” for the corrosive, destructive saline content of the lagoon water.
Social media allows them to be mustered where there is the greatest need. On Saturday that was the island of Burano and the hardest-hit area, the barrier island of Pellestrina, where one man died in Tuesday night’s floods.
“We are going to bookshops, to libraries, to shops and restaurants, giving them a hand to try to help out. And when we find a lot of trash piling up, we organize carts to clean it up so it doesn’t go in the water,” said Vittorio da Mosto.
Many have been helping out at the aptly named “Acqua Alta” bookstore, which poked fun at the frequent high tides that until recently would typically rise playfully and recede, as if another tourist attraction. But last week, the bookstore was completely swamped, with the invading lagoon nearly floating a gondola that serves as a book display and waterlogging countless books.
“I lost thousands and thousands of books, worth thousands and thousands of euros,” Luigi Frizzo said ruefully as he instructed the volunteers to bring the ruined books to a nearby boat for disposal.
Institutions like the Venice Music Conservatory limited the volunteers to current and former students after an enthusiastic first-day turnout of the socalled “Angels.”
“The problem was trying to stop all the volunteers. There were too many arriving with wet boots. We need people with some expertise,” the conservatory’s president, Giovanni Giol, said.
Giol said the manuscripts will be saved “thanks to the work of the volunteers.”
Irene Maria Giussani, a 22-year-old viola student, has been using absorbent paper to help prevent ink on the manuscripts from running, and standing up books, including precious volumes containing all of Wagner’s opera, to dry.
“It is mostly a disaster for the manuscripts, because for some there aren’t even copies,” Giussani said. “It means the music is lost forever.”
The most precious manuscripts were being transported Saturday to Bologna and Florence, where they will be frozen in order to block any mold and also help push out the salt.
Volunteers pile damaged books outside renowned bookstore Acqua Alta, or High Water, on Saturday in Venice, Italy. The flood soaked “thousands and thousands” of books.