Tuesday, January 7, 2014

I Am an Angel !!!

I am an Angel!

When I came to Florence four years ago, I arrived in heaven, and this month I actually become an angel.

Florence, like every city, has its share of urban decay issues…graffiti, garbage irreverently deposited on the sidewalks, cigarette butts and even broken bottles strewn around by students. We who love our city get outraged to know that someone is deliberately destroying our treasure. Residents and tourists alike complain that something should be done about it. I’ve always wished that I could personally do something about it. And I just did. Today I officially became an “Angelo del Bello”.

The “Angeli del Bello” is a volunteer organization comprised of Florentine residents who have banded together to fight urban deterioration and to restore and preserve the beauty of our city. These people share one hell of a powerful passion for our city of Florence.

The organization is the result of a collaboration between the city of Florence and several private associations, organized by Mayor Renzi in 2010 in response to his “call-to-arms” to its residents, to join together to fight the battle of the beauty and glory of Florence. The idea was born from the success of the “Angeli del Fango”, known as the volunteers who came from all over the world to unbury Florence from the flood of ’66 and to restore its art, buildings and libraries. The Angeli del Bello is its sequel. Our motive is to defend the city against urban decay. We “Angels” give our time and our love towards physically removing graffiti and stickers from palazzo walls, piazzas and gardens.

After having spent several days working on the streets with the angels stripping posters from palace walls, scraping and painting over graffiti, I’ve learned that this group is not just about graffiti and garbage. It’s so much more than that. It’s about personal involvement and dedication to the love of our city. It’s anything that we want it to be. It’s about personal passion.

I discovered this organization by accident. Recently while participating in a week-long conference at Palazzo Vecchio, I attended a presentation given by Florence’s urban planning committee and learned about the “Angeli del Bello”. I was surprised to learn that the operations “boss” was a man that I worked with in the tour business here in Florence. We connected, and two days later I was messing around with paints and learning what kind of solvents to use to scrape graffiti off the walls of our beautiful palazzi. I subsequently received my official orange angel vest. Over the past few weeks I’ve been donating my time, but most of all, my love, to combat. I feel like I’m one of the Mod Squad.

The work is fun and extremely rewarding. The organization is comprised of passionate Florentines from every walk of life. There’s no set schedule, I can just show up when I have time to spare, and the weekly planned locations are posted on their website, so I can choose those buildings that are right near my house. Mayor Renzi gave us an “Angelmobile”, which is an electric minivan that we use to jump from one location to another, where we store all the paints, solvents and supplies.

My day is spent making friends with the other volunteers, mixing, integrating and learning Florentine vernacular, watching and learning the steps involved in removing graffiti and mixing paint colors to match the palazzo walls.

I’m finding the work to be very fulfilling in many ways. First of all my pride and adoration of Florence is pretty intense. I so appreciate the history and the beauty of the buildings, monuments and streets, that I want to see them shine and not be blemished by urban decay. It feels good to see the city getting better and better every day and to know that I helped it happen. Every time I walk past the walls that I worked on, I feel proud. I’m getting to know the architecture of the city and the history of the palazzi and churches I am working on. When I look at a building laden with graffiti and then clean it up, I’m rewarded with a great sense of bonding with my city. People stop by and with big smiles they watch what we are doing and they thank us and cheer us on, for cleaning up our neighborhood. The merchants usually treat us to free lunch and coffee when we work on their walls.

Being a part of this group, working and sweating together to preserve the glory of this magnificent city gives me a sense of pride and makes me feel more and more now that this is truly my city.