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The Story of the Iron.

How my search for an iron whilst on holiday in San Gimignano, Tuscany, 

      led me to meet some complete strangers, with unexpected results!

St. Francis of Assisi said that we should “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” How often have we been with certain people and they don’t even give you the time of day? Many of them may even consider themselves to be “good” people, having already done their “holy bit” for the day, but often forget the advice of St. Francis!

My faith in humanity was restored one day whilst I was staying at the Convento di Sant Augustino in San Gimignano, Tuscany, for a week’s holiday. I was so busy before the holiday that I had no time to iron and fold my shirts before packing them, so I just threw them into the suitcase. I made some enquiries about the possibility of buying an iron and a waiter at the Locanda Restaurant in the nearby Piazza San Augustino told me about an “Euronics” store in a town nearby at Poggibonsi.

Someone in my party suggested the local Co-op store on the other side of San Gimignano but after looking around there I found that they had no electrical section. On the way to buy my bus ticket to Poggibonsi I noticed a “panoramic walk” which looked interesting, so I took a quick look and the view of the local countryside was indeed fantastic, so out came my camera and before I knew it I was at the house that Saint Fina, a local saint from way back when, used to live in. She has a special shrine in the local Cathedral or “Duomo”.

View from the Panoramic Walk

The Plaque on St. Fina’s House

View from the Panoramic Walk

I got my bus ticket and took a lovely ride through the Tuscan landscape to Poggibonsi, arriving some time before lunch. Having found my way to the main road just above the Bus Station I asked a man where this store was. He did not understand what I was saying but wanting to be helpful found someone who could speak English; and out of this building nearby he brought out a large Nigerian lady who did indeed speak English fluently, having lived most of her life in Nigeria.

She told me that the store I wanted was over two kilometres down the road and after looking at the expression on my face at the thought of a long walk in a strange town offered to take me to the store in her car. “I have some shopping to do first,” she said, “but you can wait in the car whilst I collect my clothes from the dry cleaners because I am returning to Nigeria tomorrow.”

She took me to her car and I nearly died when I saw that it was an automatic Chrysler 4 x 4 Land Voyager.

I had to climb up to get into it and everything inside it seemed to be computerised! It glided around the town as if it was riding on a cushion of air! She collected her dry-cleaning and then drove me through the town and out onto a main road to a Shopping Park some way outside the town. I wished her all the best on her journey to Nigeria the next day and she dropped me off at the “Euronics” store where I did indeed buy myself an iron to press my shirts.

I set out on the walk along the main road back to Poggibonsi, clutching my iron, thinking that two complete strangers had made my day complete - but unknown to me at the time, more was to come!

Having found the Bus Station in Poggibonsi I noticed a small cafe across the road and thinking it must be near lunchtime, and that I needed a rest after a long walk, I went in to order some lunch; but the waitress did not understand English either! Nearby was an elderly man and his wife who came over and said “We speak English, can we help you?” So I told them what I wanted from the counter display and he ordered for me the cheese and salami sandwich baguette, danish pastry and a cafe latte that I wanted. I was going to sit outside - it was a really hot day - and he said that he would bring my order out to me.

He and his wife were quite chatty, asking me where I was from, where I was staying, and what I intended to do during my holiday. He was Italian but had acquired a strong Australian accent through working on the railways in Australia for twenty-five years where he had met his Australian schoolteacher wife. Now that they were retired they had returned to Italy and had an apartment nearby.

He asked me if I had been to various places in Tuscany to which I replied that I had only been to Assisi, Siena and Leccetto and had not seen much of the Tuscan countryside as such. So he talked me into an afternoon in Tuscany which he said I would enjoy, taking me along the road to his apartment where he rang the door bell and his wife threw his car keys out of the first floor window to him waiting below.

Tuscany landscape.

Sam and his car.

Castellina in Chianti in the distance.

So now here I was, in a strangers car, driving upwards into the hills, through vineyards, olive groves and spectacular views of Tuscany and on to Castellina in Chianti. “Stop me whenever you want - to take photos, to take a short walk, whatever, I’m at at your disposal, its no problem”, he said. He told me all about the forests, the vineyards and some local history of the region before arriving at some prehistoric burial chambers nearby to the town of Castellina in Chianti. We spent quite some time there looking over the burial chambers at the top of a hill, and and across the valley was the town of Castellina in Chianti itself, stretched along a ridge with a castle tower at the centre, a lovely view indeed, and from the town itself even more spectacular views. I suddenly realised that I didn’t know his name, so we shook hands and introduced each other - he being called Sam and me being Dave!

Castellina in Chianti from the Burial Chambers.

The entrance to the Burial Chambers.

The main street in Castellina in Chianti

We spent some time walking through this town perched high up on a hilly ridge, strolling through quaint twisted Tuscan streets with local shops, cafes, the castle, and churches and chapels. We had a look around a lovely church there before ending up with a cafe latte and a nice stroll through the town back to the car. He took a different route back to Poggibonsi, downhill all the way through the typical Tuscan landscapes.

Arriving back, and after parking his car, he said “I bet you’d love a cup of tea; my wife drinks it by the gallon, and I’m sure the English love their tea as much as my Australian wife!” How could I resist? So I ended up sitting at his kitchen table being served tea, biscuits and cake by his wife. We sat there talking, putting Italy, England, and the rest of the world to rights and before I knew it it was past 5.30pm! He wanted to drive me all the way back to San Gimignano but I resisted saying that I had a return bus ticket and that he done more than enough for me that afternoon! After thanking them so profusely for their time and trouble and excellent hospitality I eventually got the bus back to San Gimignano, arriving just after 6.00pm, with a big smile on my face having met four complete strangers who had really made my day so unusual, complete, interesting and wonderful.

I had set out that day just to buy an iron, was side-tracked at the start of my journey, and seven hours later I had an unexpected story to tell about four people who, unwittingly or otherwise, had followed the words of St. Francis by preaching the Gospel without words!! That evening as I went to bed I even surprised myself by consciously thinking “Thank you, God, for a lovely day.”     

And all because I wanted an iron!                                                            

(by David West. October 2013.)

Click here for our parish holiday trip to San Gimignano, Tuscany, Italy, October 2012 and 2013.



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