Dawn beams gently over the Cinque Terre and after days of rain it looks like it will be a great day. Not a sound aside from the waves lapping over the rocks as even they seem to be in off peak mode.
The Cinque Terre is ‘ours’ again, after another hectic season. The last ferry stopped at the beginning of November and only local fishing boats bob about now
Not a soul to be seen on the trail from Corniglia to Vernazza despite it being Saturday and no sign of a drink or rest stop halfway either as the Bar Gabbiano is closed.
Autumn colors dot the rugged terrain enhancing the beauty of the moment. It’s a great time to hike and even free as the check point on the coastal track is closed for the season!
A menacing danger sign and ‘forbidden transit’ indicates you enter at your own risk, since the trail can never be completely closed off as it is the only access some locals have to their private land.
My favourite beach at Vemazza looks tempting but I guess it would be a little too fresh in and out of the water.
Locals catch up on the gossip on the Main Street and only a few stray tourists wheel trolleys from the station in downtown Vernazza. Kids play in the main square under grandparents watchful eye, tricycling amongst the boats pulled out of the water in the recent storm alert.
What is usually the prime restaurant area in the season becomes the winter boat park.
Some people soak up the warm autumn rays relaxing like lizards on a rock outside the church.
Another local casts a line from a super rod and while he had not been successful ( yet there was still half a day to go) said he ‘likes the challenge’!
There is still a mix of shops, bars and restaurants open although as each week passes they become less till eventually the tourist venues close altogether. For those that have their flood protection barriers are in place as no one wants to see a repeat of the damage from the 2011 flood. Cruise ships still dock at la Spezia but less frequently during the off peak season and tourists always look a little shocked to see so little open to tempt them into spending money.
Vernazzans make the most of the sunshine as laundry flaps from terrace to terrace, a reassuring sign of normality. While in the surrounding hills maintenance work goes on to rebuild fallen walls and bit by bit recover abandoned land. I take the trail back home to San Bernardino.
Yet another season over at the Cinque Terre and we can soak up the peace and quiet for the next few months.
On the 4th Nov, Florence called for the Mud Angels of the tragic flood of 1966 to return to Florence to participate in the Anniversary commemorations. The most dramatic flood to hit Italy since 1557 with flood levels reaching 5m high. Level signs along many streets and above shop windows remind us of the drama.
A flood that no one had expected or could imagine. Santa Croce was the worst hit area and the wooden crucifix by Cimabue (c1265), while restored, still bears massive scars from the flood.
Flood level 1557
Santa Croce church
A symbol of the 50th anniversary was the restoration of another masterpiece – Last Supper by Giorgio Vasari ( 1546) only just finished in time for the local and overseas visitors to admire. Paula Deitz, now an Editor of an Arts Journal, and curiously in Florence at the time of the flood, gives details of her experience and the restoration process here.
35 people died, 17 in Florence, 18 in Province, 70 horses at the race course and a favoured dromedary from the local zoo. Around 5,000 people remained homeless and 6,000 business were damaged. Prisoners in the city prison were released and housed by locals in upper floors of buildings, most of whom returned on their own volition to local authorities after the flood subsided!
Florence was without electricity, telephones went down and the city remained isolated for 3 days. Florentines had to rely on each other for assistance and passed requests along by shouting from window to window ” in via di Fico” all the way to the Town Hall for the Mayor to respond back, ” Received Palazzo Vecchio, Over ” Emergency supplies and teams gathered in the Soccer stadium and with whatever means – rubber dinghies, fishing waders, shutters laced together with paddles, brought basic supplies to those afflicted. For months after the city was nothing but slime and sludge with a disgusting smell of naphtha and sewage.
It mobilized the biggest international volunteer movement to save the city and its artistic heritage. Mud Angels, poured in from everywhere, personalities, clergy, art lovers and thousands of young students from the rest of Europe came to clean up the sludge from books and documents, and move artworks to safer abodes. It became a catalyst for new techniques in restoration, of which Florence is now famous.
‘Sotto una Gran Piova d’Acqua” Theatre
I relived the experience of the flood at a performance by an Itinerant theatre group – Teatro delle Seggiole who read from 3 diaries of the period: the Mayor of Florence, Piero Bargellini; a 16yr old lad; and the Director of a national newspaper, Enrico Matteo. It was a gripping account of the reality faced by Florentines before the arrival of outside assistance.
The Lad looks on from his window: “4.30am a crash. The course of the Arno, shortly after is in Piazza Mentana , curves right and rushes under the Ponte Vecchio. The lights of the Old Bridge are low. The current and its overflow has dragged tree trunks and rubbish which transforms the bridge into a dam. The violent water finds vent on the right, causing the collapse of the parapet and the road. Now the furious Arno pours throughout our part of town.”
The Mayor announces to his city by radio. “At this time I have been informed of the sad news that the Arno water has arrived in Piazza del Duomo. In some areas the flood reaches the first floor. And it is that area that needs our most urgent help. I invite everyone to stay calm and minimize your circulation. Any owners of rubber boats and amphibious vehicles, even in plastic, please make your way to the Palazzo Vecchio, to assist with immediate sanitary, food and rescue relief ”. In the days following he continued to protest loudly to the TV and newspapers indicating the gravity of the situation seemingly underestimated, and to the political institutions with a special plea to the Prime Minister to understand the scale of the tragedy “the damage is immense”.
The Journalist: “On arrival I found along with the Florentines who were not affected – that unforgettable night spent in mournful vigil on the edges of the another city, a city that water had separated from us, mysterious, inaccessible like a world inhabited on another planet, and that touched us with its breath, with a dank breath – a scene of total despair ” It was largely due to his reporting of the dramatic tragedy to Rome, together with the Mayor, that forced the mobilization of military and others to the aid of Florence.
25 May 2016
Working 24hr shifts
4 Nov 2016 completed
Also completed just in time for the 50th Anniversary was the road alongside the Arno which had collapsed in May due to a burst water pipe, devouring a number of parked cars in the process!. The worksite was operative 24hrs a day and only asphalted in time for the President of the Republic to walk down it on 4 Nov 2016. The next day following days of rain, the Arno level rose to alarming levels again and equipment from the worksite had to be hurriedly craned up.
5 Nov 2016 ‘La Nazione’
Photo credit Maro Mori/New Press Photo
Photo credit Vigili del Fuoco
Which just goes to show we should never take it for granted, and keep an eye on the Arno and Mother Nature! Having been involved in the Vernazza flood of 2011, the drama of Florence 1966 seemed even more credible.
I was rather intrigued by a recent post from the Mayor of Vernazza – Cinque Terre about an old custom that started around the 1800’s – the benediga. It appears to be almost unique to Vernazza, and I remember some years back being surprised by sweets that rained from the heavens onto the Main Street of Vernazza as a bridal couple tossed them from a balcony above.
Enzo Resasco ( Mayor) writes : “This is one of many traditions that has remained unchanged in Vernazza and it would be nice to tell the many tourists who visiit here.When there is a wedding or a baptism, after the religious ceremony, the bride and groom or the godparents, from a balcony that overlooks either the square or along the main street of the village, throw “the benediga”…..
Often, the many tourists are suddenly caught up in the middle of a crowd of children, women and men from the village who bend down to pick up candies, chocolates, nuts, confetti raining down in torrents from the sky. Immediately it is difficult for them to understand what is happening. In their eyes you can see the wonder and perhaps a hint of fear, of seeing people gather, shouting and shoving, for this manna from the sky.”
Investigating further another Italian, Guido Allegrezza writes: “A benediga worthy of respect, must “weigh” a total of at least 45 kg, evenly distributed between sweets, chocolates and confetti ( sugaredalmonds). In the past, when poverty was a daily reality, the benediga saw the launch of nuts and almonds festively wrapped…..Throwing 45 kilos of candy and confetti can take 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the skill of the couple or godparents parents…..” and if ever caught up in this melee he suggests to be wary of the elderly who while not at a soccer match tend to fight for the sweets with almighty fury, elbows out and baskets and sacks on the ready. Locals scream and wave their arms then dive on the goodies as they fall – something of a pagan ritual, a homage ….,”he benediga gives concrete expression to the sense of belonging to the community,” a festive celebration of a key moment in the community….and a temporary belonging to the tourists surprised by the event!
The Mayor is very concerned about maintaining traditions and not letting economic interests of tourism override the social fibre of the community. He writes:
“The biggest mistake we can make with our tourists is to make them feel as if they were still in their own country. Street signs type Fast Food, Take Away, Sangria, Happy Hour. This is not what they want.
They want Italian spirit. They want to live the rhythms of Italian life and our rhythms are special. Sit on a bench or at a table in a bar along the main street or square or the Ventega, in the evening at sunset with a Cinque Terre Doc. They do not want the supermarket, do not look for any “Gardaland” effect. They want the small shop or the weekly market knowing that to be served will mean a queue and maybe waiting for the seller to finish his conversation with the old lady of the place.”
The Mayor is fighting something of an uphill battle to retain the authenticity and uniqueness of Vernazza overrun with mass tourism and slowly depopulating, changing its face…or at least putting new make up on.