Thou­sands of young Vene­tians aid ef­forts in flood of their lives

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD - By Colleen Barry

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.

LUCA BRUNO/AP

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.

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