Italian Republic Day -A Celebration Aug 2023 by Debbie Hulston
Ian and I pushed passed the crowds of happy flag waving Italians celebrating the Festa della Repubblica (Italian Republic day). It was the 2nd of June in Florence and we were following a map to our campsite to join our soon departing tour bus. The campsite was at the top end of steep uphill zigzag path that ran through a pine forest next to the Amo River. The public holiday celebrated a historical day in 1946 when Italy voted to become a republic. Thousands of people were celebrating in the streets and the edges of the river. A large colourful flotilla of boats carrying famous dignitaries was slowly travelling down the Amo River.
After squeezing our way through the crowd, we started to walk up the zigzag but were stopped halfway up by a military guard waving his hands in the air.
“Fermare i fuochi d’artificio!” he said in Italian and pointed to the evening sky.
After failing to explain to the guard (who couldn’t speak English) that we urgently needed to catch our bus, we gently pushed pass the guard and started the long walk up through the trees. The guard shook his head and shrugged his shoulders then spoke on his radio. We could see the crowds waving at the flotillas below us. Suddenly there was a terrific boom from above us that shook the ground. We looked up as a huge firework exploded into a spectacular pattern in the sky directly above us. At first we thought “wow this is cool” as more fireworks banged above us. Then to our horror, hot burning red embers fell from the sky directly onto us. They smashed into the pine trees above and bounced on the ground. Small fires started to appear in the under growth. Small hot embers hit our bodies and started to burn our T shirts and skin. I panicked as my brains neural survival centre launched into fight-or-flight mode. I did what I do best and hunched into a small pathetic ball with my hands over my head on the path. Luckily Ian was in full flight mode and pulled me up yelling “Run or Die!”. We couldn’t see in front of us as the air was full of thick white smoke, so we turned back down the path. The fireworks kept on exploding and followed us along the zigzag path. We looked down at the crowd who had turned from the river and were looking at us taking photos and laughing. We were met by the military guard and onlookers at the bottom of the path.
“Fermare i fuochi d’artificio” said the guard smugly shaking his head. Which means “Stop, Fireworks” as young man nearby translated to us in English. Suddenly more hot embers and fireworks exploded over us and the crowd. Red embers filled the air, burning people’s clothes and skin. One young man’s afro hair caught on fire. Everyone including the military guard started to panic and ran screaming down towards the river’s edge. When the fireworks had stopped, Ian and I made our way back up the zigzag through thick acrid smoke and black smouldering embers the size of oranges to our camp site. Some soldiers were putting out the small fires burning in the pine undergrowth. As we finally reached the top of the zigzag path, we found ourselves standing amongst a group of Italian army soldiers. The soldiers looked startled as our faces were smudged in black soot and our T shirts dotted in scorch marks. Large cannons, boxes of empty fireworks and empty metal casings of smoking shells were scattered across the camp car park. It was the source of the fireworks display. They spoke in Italian and all laughed and waved us along towards our waiting tour bus. I thought we deserved a survival military medal. Talking to our friends on the bus tour, we had taken the wrong street entrance into the campsite. I remember that Italian Republic celebration every time I see fireworks. I jump at each bang and just watch from a long distance away.