Grand tour by bike | Isolotto

The neighbourhood of Isolotto: the rebel communities

Iacopo Braca and Francesco Gori recount the neighbourhood’s little and great revolutions.

“What is a rebel? A man who says no, but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation. He is also a man who says yes, from the moment he makes his first gesture of rebellion.”

The Rebel, Albert Camus (1951).

Here, Camus explains the difference between revolt and revolution: “(Revolution) is the insertion of the idea into historical experience, when rebellion is only the movement that leads from personal experience to the idea”.

Revolt is a protest which does not involve the system, whereas revolution is an attempt to model a meaningful action on the idea. If, however, the revolution yields to the supremacy of the means over the ends, it takes up arms and assumes a violent character: “Even revolution, particularly revolution, which claims to be materialistic, is only a limitless metaphysical crusade” affirms Camus.

Round trip

B9 is the building at Manifattura Tabacchi that was once used as a tax warehouse, where the trucks and the Manifattura’s own private train left the complex. Today, the Grand Tour departs from the same spot.

In this renovated space we can see the seeds of another possible revolution, for now still just a rebellion, against pollution. In the same place where cigarettes were once produced, a symbol of pollution and poor health, today the air is purified by the Fabbrica dell’Aria (Air Factory), exploiting plants’ abilities to reduce the concentration of indoor pollutants. This innovative system was conceived and created by Stefano Mancuso and Pnat with the intention of making it reproducible and scalable in order to provide a realistic and sustainable solution to increase air quality.

Pedalling begins to the notes of Saremo Tutto – Signor K. feat. Assalti Frontali.

Grand tour in bici Manifattura Tabacchi entrata

Following on from our theme of green rebellion, the tour proceeds up to Piazza delle Cascine, right in the centre of Florence’s own ‘Central Park’: 118 hectares of public parks, situated on the northern banks of the Arno, which host around 60 different botanical species.

Le Cascine started out as a private farm, founded in the first half of the 1500s by the Duke of Florence Alessandro de’Medici. At the time, it was only open to the public for the Festa del Grillo.

Grand Tour in bici in notturna Manifattura Tabacchi

In the 1700s, the Lorraine family began to use the parks for luxurious parties and receptions. In 1868 there was a revolution in elegance: Favre, a bicycle manufacturer, rode the first velocipede through the Cascine park, stirring talk in the public and the press. Since then transport has changed a bit.

In the building that now houses the Faculty of Agriculture, a rebellion is underway that concerns land and communities. In what used to be the wine cellar of  Grand Duke Alessandro we can find the premises of an agricultural collective that supports the Mondeggi Bene Comune occupation against land grabbing, or the acquisition of large landholdings by large transnational corporations composed of governments or private individuals, without the consent of the communities that live there or use them. This rebellion is giving life to a place in decline through responsible cultivation and the formation of a new community.

Gino Paoli provides the soundtrack for this first stage with Ehi Ma.

The pedestrian walkway of the Cascine leads into ‘Sardinia’ (from sardigna: unhealthy land), as the area of Isolotto was called many years ago. In fact, there was a leper hospital, a cemetery for horses and a garbage dump. Slowly, Isolotto begins to change its appearance, following the post-war INA-casa plan that was developed to increase worker occupation, improve the living conditions of the families and counter fragmented development in cities. 

The people who populated Isolotto were those who had abandoned their land, whether it was the south or the countryside, or those who had lost their home during the war; they were people who had nothing left and faced a personal revolt against adverse events to find their place in the world.

Bill Haley & His Comets with Rock Around The Clock ferry the tour onto La Montagnola.

Grand tour in bici tramonto

La Montagnola is literally a mountain of waste that has changed its life. It gave rise to a pedagogical rebellion led by masters like Sergio Ruzich, Luciano Gori and Franco Quercioli. The whole population fiercely wanted a school complex where this act of courage took place, a project debated and won by the parents’ association and the parish, who through protests were able to block the building of a nightclub there.

Isolotto has been the birthplace and still hosts many brave rebels, who have cultivated their ideas with passion. The INA-casa plan wanted to give new life to a pestilential and rejected area and it almost seems as if this desire to change and evolve has been instilled in the neighbourhood, giving the inhabitants the energy and vitality required to pursue their dreams.

With the theme tune to the Japanese animation Ufo Robot , the tour continues on to its next stop.

Grand tour in bici Manifattura Tabacchi

We pass the Ex Baracche Verdi, which were once schools, before becoming a centre for the elderly and then a meeting point and archive for the community in Isolotto. Still today, citizens from all backgrounds come here to discuss issues, pursue struggles and cultivate ideas for a better future.

Continuing on, we cross Piazza dell’Isolotto, where the social and religious rebellion led by Don Enzo Mazzi, Don Sergio Gomiti, Don Paolo Caciolli and involving the whole community took place, which made the church a place of social struggle and turned the square into a new altar.

We put the pedals back into motion with Street Fighting Man by the Rolling Stones.

The stop next to the old Library is dedicated to Conte Mascetti from the acclaimed film Amici Miei, who lived in Via dei Pini. Speaking about Isolotto, he said: “It seems that there is everything when, in fact, there is nothing”, highlighting the conditions in Isolotto at that time:  no shops, no clinics, no schools, no connections to the centre.

It is surely easier, however, to remember Count Mascetti for his famous ‘Supercazzola’ (an Italian term for a nonsense phrase): “[…] On the right, and on the left, the Library for two. Having become a reading room, Antani went straight to Via Canova with the Supercazzola”. The Count rebelled against his poverty with all his strength, and with his camel-coloured coat he walked elegantly through the streets of Florence.

Grand tour in bicletta Firenze

Grand tour in bici Puccini

Pedalling along to the sounds of Pierangelo Bertoli – Eppure soffia,  Bob Dylan – I Shall Be Released, and The Clash – The Guns of Brixton, the tour continues on to Piazzetta di Sansepolcro.

La strada by Gaber signals the return towards the Pescaia dell’Isolotto where we are reminded of the flood of 1966 which, apart from being a tragedy, showed how much people are able to do to help others, coming out of their dens and giving what they could, be it time, bread, or clean water.

The sound of L’alluvione by Marasco flows between one rider and another, the participants say goodbye and everyone is free to choose their own path, but perhaps some new ideas or some small revolts have made their way into the heads of those who have shared the stories of the Grand Tour dedicated to Isolotto.

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