“I was born in the town of Renzino (Matteo Renzi, editor’s note), which is called Rosano Rignano sull’Arno”.
Generalizing is never a good thing, but when you think of Omero Galardi, born in Rosano, you think of a typical Florentine: irreverent, seeming to be always ready to laugh and make others laugh, plus he’s a Freemason man and resembles the rockstar Pelù (though these two things have no connection at all).
Omero has one of the last iron foundries in Tuscany. It is located in a side street of Via Pistoiese in Florence, just below the Ponte all’Indiano. He has been working in his father’s foundry since he was a kid, but he is afraid that he will eventually be forced to close it, and that after him this tradition might disappear.
“My grandfather was a peasant – Omero says – my father was a peasant, my mom was a peasant. After the war my father began to come to Florence to work in a foundry in a place called Le Cure. Mr. Ciuffi had a foundry at the end of a closed road called Via Guglielmo Pepe, but Ciuffi was an old man and after 3 years my father took over the company along with my uncle, who was also a peasant. Then in 1953, when I was one year old, we all moved there. We quit working as sharecroppers without any regrets, and we moved to Coverciano: my dad, my mom, my aunt and uncle. In 1961, the foundry itself was moved in Peretola, because the plant was too close to houses. Can you imagine the ladies, hanging out their laundry?”.
Here in the foundry, the flood of 1966 brought 30 cm of water, ruined the sand, the mechanism that carried it and the underground tunnel, but it did not cause too much damage.
“Do you know who Canapone was?” Omero suddenly asks, while he is telling us about the flood. Obviously, I do not know who he is. “You need to know – he says – that back here there is a bit of public ground, where they finally built the bridge. When the bridge wasn’t there, there were only fields and Canapone was buried there. What do you mean by who was Canapone? The dromedary of the zoo in Le Cascine! The Florentines make up so many stories about this Canapone camel. Every now and then they bring it up and I would love to tell them: come and mourn him at my foundry.”
The construction of the Ponte all’Indiano was started in 1972 (the name derives from the tomb of an Indian prince buried in Le Cascine, close to the bridge). It was an imposing viaduct of 3 km passing over the Arno that the city of Florence needed to connect two expanding areas of the city, the Isolotto and Peretola. The foundry avoided being expropriated by just a few meters and the viaduct slowly became part of the landscape. The bridge was virtually the “roof” of the cast iron laboratory.
Today, however, cast iron is not so popular anymore. In Tuscany only six foundries have survived, and Mister Galardi’s is the only handcrafting laboratory. There were twelve workers a decade ago, now only three are left and they work part-time. “Up to 15, 20 years ago, machines made to cut wood, marble or other materials were built with cast iron components – Galardi tells me. “Today, these machines are all modified and iron made”.
Cast iron is nothing more than an iron-carbon alloy, the smelter explains: it is the first material that comes from the extracted mineral baked at 1.300 Celsius degrees in a blast furnace. If you keep it there for longer, it loses carbon and becomes iron: more resistant but less malleable. If you ‘bake it’ even more, it becomes steel. Among those mentioned, cast iron is the cheapest just because of its characteristic of high malleability that allows it to mass produce objects. “Of course, once it breaks, it’s broken. Although there is always someone saying that he can fix it – Galardi says, with his mocking gaze. “But he thinks he is a miracle worker!”