Bridges over troubled waters: the Florence Flood 1966

I HAVE JUST finished reading a book about an incident that made a great impression on me and my close family many years ago. The slender volume, “Florence. Ordeal by Water” was written by Kathrine Kressman Taylor (1903-1996), who was an eye-witness to the event that troubled our family so much. The book was first published in 1967.

During my childhood, my parents, who were keen on the art of the Italian renaissance and Italy in general, took my sister and me to the city of Florence every year (until about 1969), except 1967. Visiting churches, museums, and art galleries was not exactly my ‘cup of tea’ when I was a child, especially when I knew that my best friend was enjoying what sounded to me like a far more exciting holiday than mine. Now with the benefit of hindsight, I realise that the experiences that my parents gave me were actually far more valuable than anything I could have gained from annual holidays at a seaside resort in North Wales, where my friend went every summer.

I mentioned that in 1967, we did not make our annual visit to the city on the River Arno, Florence (Firenze). This was because the city was severely affected by a flood in November 1966. This inundation was caused by heavy storms and ill-advised opening of a dam on the River Arno upstream from Florence. The water caused much damage. I remember that when my parents heard that it had happened, they appeared to be as devastated as if a close, much-loved friend or relative had died suddenly.  They decided that visiting the stricken city in 1967 was inadvisable, so we returned in 1968. What we found in 1968 was distressing. The flood water, which had become mixed up with central heating fuel oil, had stained the walls of the city’s buildings, leaving a tide line at the often-high levels that it had reached. These marks remained for several years. In low-lying parts of the city, the water had reached the upper floors of buildings. In addition to damaging the buildings, the water also destroyed many irreplaceable works of art. Dad was particularly upset about the heavy damage suffered by a crucifix painted in about 1265 by Cimabue, which hung in the Church of Santa Croce. He used to mention this often. I felt that this affected him more than the damage to the rest of the city.

Miraculously, the surging waters of the Arno in spate and laden with tree trunks and other heavy debris did not significantly damage any of the many lovely bridges that cross the river. This is unlike what happened at the end of WW2 when the retreating Germans destroyed all the bridges except the Ponte Vecchio.

Kathrine Kressman Taylor, whose book I have just read, was living in a palazzo in Florence when the great flood hit the city. Her book is a diary of what she and the Florentines experienced when the waters of the Arno almost destroyed the city, and the aftermath. It is a compelling account of the tragedy, filled with vignettes and anecdotes that illustrate the true horror of what happened. What shines out in her account was that despite overwhelming odds, the Florentines refused to be defeated by the events that rendered many homeless and caused an even greater number to lose all their worldly possessions and their livelihoods. As soon as the oil-filled, filthy waters began to subside, the citizens of Florence as well as foreigners who had become trapped there began to work on restoring the city.

Reading Kressman Taylor’s account has given me a much clearer idea of the extent of the disaster than I had as a youngster just after it had happened.

By the way, I must mention how I ‘stumbled’ across this marvellous book about Florence. A friend had given me a copy of the recently republished novella, “Address Unknown”, by Kressman Taylor. First published in 1938, this book subtly drew her readers’ attention to the plight of Jewish people in Nazi Germany. Having read and enjoyed it, I looked to see what else the author had written. When I saw that she had written about the flood that had upset us so much in 1966, I had to read it, and I am pleased that I did.

A new book about London for you to enjoy… without payment!

HELLO, I would like people to enjoy my latest book, “WALKING WEST LONDON”, without having to pay anything for it. Download it free of charge – no hidden conditions!

It is more important for me that this book should get read than it should make any profit.

Your constructive comments and criticisms will be welcome.

PLEASE DOWNLOAD IT BY CLICKING HERE: https://adamyamey.co.uk/walking-west-london/ (click the green button marked “DOWNLOAD” when you reach this site)

About the book:

My book will introduce you to a variety of places in west London, some known, some obscure. All of these places were in the countryside before London began spreading westwards at the beginning of the 19th century. Places in the book include: Acton; Alperton; Bedford Park; Boston Manor; Brentford; Bushy; Chelsea; Chiswick; Ealing; Fulham; Grand Union Canal; Hammersmith; Hanwell; Holland Park; Hyde Park; Isleworth; Kensington Gardens; Kensington; Little Venice; Notting Hill; Osterley Park; Paddington; Portobello Road; River Brent; Shepherds Bush; Turnham Green; and Wembley.

This is a book that can be used while exploring west London or to enjoy comfortably in an armchair. This is a travellers handbook, a history, and a collection of personal reflections.. Walk with Adam Yamey and discover new places and exciting experiences.

NOW DOWNLOAD IT HERE: https://adamyamey.co.uk/walking-west-london/ (click the green button marked “DOWNLOAD” when you reach this site)

An author’s angst

UNTIL NOW I HAVE been self-publishing my books satisfactorily using a print on demand company called ‘X’. I typed the manuscript on Microsoft Word using one of X’s many templates and then uploaded it to the site. In the past, X convert the uploaded document to a .pdf file. As conversion from Word to ‘pdf always results in changes in formatting, I have always had to make modifications of my Word manuscript, often several times, before I am happy with the proofs provided by X. It was always a little time-consuming but, in the end, I produced a printed book that was, if not perfect, always satisfactory.

Now, all has changed. X will no longer accept manuscripts uploaded in Word. Instead, authors are required to submit their manuscripts in the .pdf format after fulfilling extremely detailed formatting specifications, which I must admit are beyond my technical abilities at present. I discovered that a well-known on-line trading company offers a self-publishing process, which permits authors to upload their manuscripts in the Word document format on their downloadable Word templates. I tried this, but the proofs generated by the company’s publishing system looked disastrous, to say the least. Maybe, I could have tried modifying my manuscript’s layout, but there did not appear to be a facility for doing so and, I could foresee hours if not days of frustrating work ahead.

I have spent several months writing my latest book, and even longer researching it, and now I would like people to be able to enjoy it and, I hope, comment on it. So, as many people often say in India: “What to do?”

Well, here is my current solution. I am going to upload my manuscript to one of my personal websites and make it downloadable for anyone who cares to read it. It will be downloadable free of charge because I write for pleasure rather than for profit and I value the thought that people might find what I write of interest. It is more important for me that my writing gets read rather than gets sold. Eventually, I hope to be able to produce a satisfactory paperback version of my latest work, but in the meantime, watch this space!

If anyone can offer me a simple solution to my problem, I would be grateful to see your suggestion!

Author at work

Walled garden at Fulham Palace, London

I have been creating daily posts on this blogging website and have been flattered by the number of people who have taken time to read and, sometimes, to comment on, my writing.

I am putting the finishing touches to my latest book. This is a time-consuming process. So, I might not be posting items every day for the next few weeks. I hope that you will be patient with me if, for a short while, a new posting does not appear every day.

I will let you know more about my new book soon.

In the meanwhile, I thank you for your support and patience and keep well.

Hitler for children

hitler

 

In a previous blog (see: https://adam-yamey-writes.com/2019/01/15/hitler-on-the-shelf/ ), I have written about the prevalence of copies of Hitler’s Mein Kampf in bookshops all over India. Here is an article I wrote a few years ago about a book about Hitler aimed at Indian children.

I was browsing the shelves in Gangaram’s Bookshop in Bangalore (India) when I found a book about Hitler, which was published in 2007 (ISBN: 9788131002520). It is part of a series called “Biographies of Great Personalities”, aimed at younger Indian readers . The garishly covered book caught my eye in that large well-known bookshop in Bangalore. When I flicked through it, I noticed that it was illustrated with line drawings, many of which showed Adolf Hitler in Indian settings with palm trees. At 40 Rupees (less than half a Pound Sterling), I could not resist buying the 93 page book.

 The author, Igen B, is a prolific writer. He has published well over 70 short books including biographies of personalities as diverse as Jesus Christ, Bhagat Singh, Mother Teresa, Ashoka the Great, Chhatrapati Shivaji, Shakuntala, and Netaji Chandra Bose. As well as these he has written versions of great Indian classics such as the Vedas, the incarnations of Lord Vishnu, and the Mahabharata. That these books are probably aimed at children is evident from the format and appearance of the books and also the fact that one of his titles is “Illustrated Model Book of School Essay etc.” Therefore, his potential audience is the innocent and impressionable younger mind. This should be remembered whilst paging through his children’s biography of Adolf Hitler.

More than half of the text is dedicated to Hitler’s childhood about which not much is known in detail, his career as an artist, and his rise to power. The author of this book, Igen B, blames a disturbed childhood in a dysfunctional family for much of what Hitler was to become.  The future dictator’s disillusionment with the lack of German national pride and his disappointment with the country’s leadership during WW1 were, according to this book, also important formative factors. As, are also the Jews: unquestioningly, Igen B repeats the kind of dangerous nonsense about the Jews that Hitler and many Germans believed.

Having gained power, we learn of Hitler’s campaign to relieve the Jews of any role in public life, and his hatred of the communists. We also learn of his desire to tear up the Treaty of Versailles, and how he went about doing so. So far, the reader is presented with something that faintly resembles what is now common knowledge about the history of Germany just before and during the brief, but long enough, era of Nazi rule. The penultimate 4 pages of the book describe some aspects of WW2. The last page of text is dedicated the last days of Hitler and his new bride Eva Braun.

Nowhere in the book are the mass murders perpetrated by the Nazis even hinted at, let alone mentioned. This worries me greatly considering that the book is sold in bookshops in India, and most of these also sell Hitler’s pernicious ‘autobiography’ “Mein Kampf”.

Igen B’s book is aimed at an Indian audience. It is appropriate in a way that the illustrations are drawn with an Indian ‘flavour’, as many readers are unlikely to have visited Europe or are ever likely to do so. The spelling of many German words and names is peculiar. For example we read of ‘Hebzburg’ (Habsburg), ‘Strum Abtiling’ (Sturmabteilung), ‘fonn’ (von), ‘Versai’ (Versailles), and ‘Hoffbraha’ (Hofbrauhaus). Whilst these original spellings are used more than once and are thus unlikely to be typographic errors, they may also be purposeful. It is possible that the author, realising that most of his readers are likely to be unfamiliar with German pronunciation, has transliterated them so as to make them pronounceable by readers of English.

I picked up this book as a curio, and read it. The author appears to have done some research, but his or her interpretation and presentation of the facts is somewhat unusual. His lack of emphasis of Hitler’s evil influences and deeds in a book aimed at impressionable youngsters is worrying to say the least.  The impression I had after reading it was that Hitler was portrayed as an unfortunate child, who grew up with the aim of making Germany a great nation. I was not given the impression that he was even a fraction of the monster that he was in reality. I had rather the same impression after watching the end of the film Downfall made in 2004. Hitler’s final moments during that film were almost heart-rending; the power of film and literature cannot be underrated. This is why Igen B’s book on Hitler might well be considered malevolent, even if the author’s intention was otherwise, to be purely informative.

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

Creation and correction

My latest book, whose subject I will not yet reveal, is almost but not quite ready for publishing.

 

ancient blur calligraphy czterolinia

 

I have reached the stage with my latest book where I am looking out for things like: putting commas where full stops ought to be and vice versa; checking spelling; replacing a word or phrase with a more suitable one; making sure that names start with upper-case letters; and so on. In other words, I am trying to edit my text prior to publishing it. I read my manuscript over and over again, hoping to spot errors. However, frequent perusals of a familiar text can cause errors to be missed. So, I will ask someone else to proof-read my work. Even then, one cannot be sure that all ‘blemishes’ have been identified, but two sets of eyes are better than one when it comes to spotting ‘typos’ and other mistakes.

Even when it has been proof-read, there is still much to do before the book can be published. I will need to choose some illustrations and decide where to place them. I will also have to re-format my text so that it conforms to the publisher’s requirements. And then, when the book has been published, the really hard part begins: marketing my work!

 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It was not all bad in East Germany

 

For those of you who are too young to remember, Germany was divided into two separate countries, West Germany and East Germany (‘DDR’), between the end of World War 2 (‘WW2’) and 1990 (when the two countries were united into one). The DDR was a socialist republic overshadowed by the USSR.

Many years after the re-unification of Germany, our German-built Bosch dish-washing machine broke down. The engineer who came to mend it, fixed it in a couple of minutes, but remained talking to us for half an hour. He had been brought up in the DDR. He wanted to explain to us that contrary to all that we might have heard about the evils of the DDR and the difficulties its citizens faced, it was not all bad. He told us that, for example, education was good, there was little or no unemployment, and there had been a great sense of camaraderie. It was very important for our engineer that we should not think ill of the former DDR.

Recently, I finished reading an excellent book about the DDR, Red Love written by Maxim Leo and published in English in 2013. Leo was born in 1970, and like our Bosch engineer, does not damn the DDR, but takes care to point out that living in that former country was not at all easy or straightforward. For anyone curious about life in the DDR, this book is very illuminating. However, there is much more to this short book than describing the DDR.

What is most fascinating in Leo’s book is his stories about his two grandfathers, both of whom lived in the DDR. One of them remembered life being reasonable during the Nazi regime. Despite his grandson’s questioning, it is not clear what he did during those terrible times. The other grandfather led an exciting and dangerous life as a member of the French resistance during WW2. His story is gripping. 

Leo’s parents are also interestingly described. They were both in favour of, or atleast not completely against, the regime in the DDR. Each of them expressed their didfferent critical views of the political system, but neither of them did so strongly that they fell out of favour with it.

The book is a very readable translation of the original German translation. It provides a fascinating insight into life in the DDR and the period that preceded it. It was a book that I found difficult to put down, a real ‘page-turner’. Some of what I read in it chimes well with what our dish washing machine engineer told us.