The Great Flood of Florence

Among those cleaning up the Santa Croce courtyard after the flood are Marcello Gori (left standing on the ground), who was my employer at The Leather School, and Padre Franchi (second from right) who became head of the Franciscans at the Basilica.

Some of the men who would become my friends in Florence labored to clean up the Santa Croce courtyard after the flood. Massimo “Max” Melani’s head is just visible (third from the left on the truck bed). On the ground are Marcello Gori (left), who was my employer at The Leather School, and Padre Franchi (second from left) who later became head of the Franciscans at the Basilica.

By Walter Sanders

When I moved to Florence in 1971, the city was still recovering from the disastrous flood of November 4, 1966. High water marks—stained by mud, heating oil, and gasoline—stretched like taut ropes across building facades near the Arno.

It was harsh stuff that floated to the top. And below the crest mark, on walls around the city, were murky shadows of flood residue.

These ugly reminders faded with time, but have been memorialized with plaques designating the height of flood waters throughout the city. Five floods from five different centuries are noted by these marble plaques; none are as high as those commemorating 1966.

I worked at the Scuola del Cuoio, the Leather School,  from 1972 through 1975. The workshops and showrooms were located in the old Franciscan monastery attached to the Basilica of Santa Croce, one of the hardest hit victims of the flood. I still remember the stains, and even the faint smell of fuel, on the exterior and interior walls of the courtyard.

Kayla Metelenis and Diane Cole Ahl

Kayla Metelenis and Diane Cole Ahl

Those memories rushed back when I attended a presentation “Looking Back at the Flood of Florence in 1966: Disaster, Recovery, and Cultural Conservation,” sponsored by the Art Department and The Ideal Center of Lafayette College, Easton, Pa.

Sharon and I had met the one of the presenters, Diane Cole Ahl, Rothkopf Professor of Art History, when she curated a traveling exhibit of “Offering of the Angels” from the Uffizi at the Michener Museum, Doylestown, Pa.

Ahls’s student Kayla Metelenis ’15, art history major, was co-presenter.

Learn more about the great flood

Kanye West and Kim Kardashian Choose Florence

Will Florence's 16th century Forte Belvedere--constructed to protect the Medici city-- withstand the hordes of paparazzi at Kimye's nuptials?

Will Florence’s 16th century Forte Belvedere–constructed to protect the Medici city from enemy armies– withstand the hordes of paparazzi at Kimye’s nuptials?

How hip is the Oltrarno, across the Arno River from Florence’s tourist-action-packed centro?

Extremely hip.

Hip-hop genius Kanye West will wed reality TV princess Kim Kardashian in the 16th century Forte Belvedere, perched on the southern hilltop of the Oltrarno, on Saturday, May 24, 2014.

Walter and Sharon recently explored the less-traveled quarters of Santo Spirito and San Frediano in the Oltrarno and filed this report for

Max, Wally and Lampredotto

C’era una volta. . . once upon a time. . . Max (Massimo Melani) met Wally (Walter Sanders) in Firenze. Here’s the story in their own words.

The Basilica of Santa Croce holds priceless artistic and historic treasures.

First, a few words about the Leather School: Workshop, Laboratory and Show Room of the finest leather goods situated in the old Franciscan monastery of the Santa Croce Basilica in Florence. It was a marvelous place, as were the splendid people working there.

It all started with the Patron Marcello Gori, the owner and director of the Leather School.

Those years in the early 1970s were characterized by a kind of elite tourism. And the Leather School attracted many of these well-traveled, wealthy tourists from around the world. Marcello Gori ensured that his sales and service personnel were first class as well. The staff was multilingual, elegantly dressed, rather good looking and with long experience abroad. I was one of those.

One day in 1972, the owner presented us a colleague, an American boy from Chicago—a certain Wally Sanders, very smiling person, who looked like a survivor from Woodstock or San Francisco–absolutely the first foreigner who was going to work with us.

More about Max, Wally and Lampredotto

Florence Awaits

Story and Photographs by Melinda Rizzo

The Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence.

The Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence.

Florentines are accustomed to waiting.

From Michelangelo to Botticelli, DaVinci to Galileo, Florentines have cultured their passions into pearls, like a single grain of sand nestled deep inside an oyster and emerging over time to become a gem of the sea.

This year was my 30th, or Pearl, wedding anniversary.

To celebrate this milestone, my husband and I opted to take a trip to Florence, the heart and breath of Italy’s Tuscany region.

In January, we made the decision to travel to Italy at the end of November. Planning and executing this trip—one in which we’d invited a cousin and were traveling with our 12-year-old son—took time and patience. Patience, you might say, of the Florentines.

I’ve never considered myself a patient person.

Cathedrals take time to build, often centuries, still Florentines seem content to wait knowing their labors are never in vain.

The Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, commonly know as The Duomo.

The Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, commonly know as The Duomo.

As Carl Jung, a 20th century Swiss psychiatrist would contend, any work with purpose regardless of its nature, ultimately provides satisfaction and even pleasure for the worker.

Prosciutto crudo (air dried and cured pork) from Parma and arguably the pride of its area, can take as long as two years from start to finish to be ready for consumption.

Two years for a ham and cheese sandwich, but what a sandwich it makes! Prosciutto for me, and my son, is porcine transcendence.

Does anyone ordering a prosciutto focaccia pressed and toasted, consider the amount of time it took to create the ham? A moment of mastication melts these buttery mouthfuls, and they are gone.

Florentines linger over osteria menus . . .  along alleyways . . . and outside the windows of leather shops.

performersStreet performers sing operatic arias. They pump life into an accordion’s complication.

They strum a guitar or play the love theme from Florentine Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film Romeo and Juliet in the Piazza Signoria, where I rented our apartment. They spend time and care honing their musicianship. For those who love music, they offer kinship without translation.

Street performers share their art in exchange for spare change dropped into a basket poised at their feet. Skilled musicians bear witness to patience and waiting.

Witnessing the patience of Florentines: to execute a 17-foot-tall statue of David in marble, paint the mythological birth of Venus over the ocean waves or slice tissue thin prosciutto from the seasoned hindquarters of a pig, taught me a thing or two about this most elusive of virtues.

Consider the amount of time it takes for someone to carve mounds of
Nutella, vanilla or tutti fruitti gelato, into tempting, irresistible towering creations
decorated with fruit slices, nuts or plump, glistening blackberries and shiny

Florence Awaits continued

The Inner Italian Q & A: Piero Antuono

One in an occasional series of interviews–with wannabe Italians or expatriate Italians–who try to “live Italian” wherever they are.


I was born and grew up in the shadow of the Duomo in Florence until, at the age of 30, I was imported to Wisconsin as a souvenir by my American wife, who was living in Florence. I remember seeing her one day crossing Piazza Santa Croce and thinking she was the cutest girl ever–and I still do. So here I am in Milwaukee. Next year will mark my 30th in the U.S. which means I’ve had three decades of training and working on the “bella vita.”

La vita é bella? Yes of course la vita é sempre bella,  but one needs to work at it and make sure that every day there are reasons to feel that the “…vita é veramante bella…” I think one needs to know how to pause (. . . in your head at least if you cannot otherwise) and appreciate the small things that bring Italy closer. Things which remind me I am not that far anyway, things which allow me to detach, disengage, slow down.  It can be a caffé at the right time, a quick call to a friend, reading the news or listening to radio from Italy. Working at a university, travel is something which happens and I make sure it happens enough so I can visit Italy and reset my system. The most important things are not things at all, but rather a state of mind.

Q: Living “Italian”. . . Is it a good lifestyle or the best lifestyle?

A: I do not think it is a good life style (living “Italian” in Italy is stressful.) I do not think it is the best one (I am sure there are healthier ones.)  I think it is the only one.

Q: Why?

A: Because to vivere “Italian” implies (as for other Mediterranean societies) many social interactions during the day. These casual extemporaneous connections–some good,  some bad–are the condiments that add some spice to life. Even superficial chats with strangers at the bus stop, at the newsstand, or at the market are opportunities to give an “emotional valence” to what would be otherwise  routine. Sharing personal stories and family problems with friends, colleagues, and neighbors is a way of lessening the burden. After all, the word privacy in Italian does not exist.

Q: What does “living Italian” in the U.S. mean to you?

A: Being able to switch. Switching from living the U.S. life in the U.S. to the Italian life in the U.S. and to the Italian life in Italy.  Accepting that change is inevitable after so many years in the U.S.  Switching can last seconds or days. The secret is to switch without becoming schizophrenic. Feeling out of place or misplaced sometimes is okay.

Q: What nurtures your Inner Italian?

A: Being able to talk on subjects with Italian friends without being considered critical, offensive, politically incorrect, crude, rude, or insensitive because of the different cultural values.

Q: What Italian movie, or movie set in Italy, do you most like? Why?

A: Tea with Mussolini. Possibly not a great film, but my mother had a small part in it at 82 years of age. The plot was reminiscent of her life in many ways.

Q: If you could live in one place in Italy for the rest of your life, where would it be and why?

A: Anywhere where olive trees grow.

Q: Last Italian meal. . .what would it be?

A: The company would be the most important ingredient of the meal. The setting would be the second. The food would be the third. And if I could do the cooking with my friends, I would be in heaven already.

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How do you nurture your Inner Italian? Share your comments.