Our friend Sergio has a dream tucked beneath layers of rust in a salvage yard.
Whenever we need an old unique piece made of iron, we go to see Sergio. He’s been tirelessly collecting everything iron for decades now, and his collection is indeed impressive. He has meticulously gathered everything from enormous iron gates from the largest villas in Tuscany, to the miscellaneous small parts to make them work. He has old statues, machines, beds and swords. You name it. He has it. Sometimes, on rare occasions he actually relinquishes some, selling a random piece or two. We convinced him to sell us a 100-liter cast iron pot, which we transformed into our fire pit on the hillside. We also bought an old iron water pump that creates the feel of ages past and ample water, just outside the kitchen door. Just knowing the history and where they came from makes them especially meaningful for us.
On our recent visit some weeks ago, we were looking for a simple iron fence. As we suspected, Sergio had just the right one, buried in a stack of old pieces and parts. Digging the treasures out, is one of the best parts about going there. The other delight is visiting with Sergio himself—a feisty little Tuscan with a Carl Sandburg shock of snow-white hair and engaging smile.
His villa rests calmly on the hill in the countryside, beyond the outskirts of Florence. It’s obscured by a beautiful old pine grove that gently spills down toward the road. You can’t even see his place tucked into the trees, but if you drive through Sergio’s iron gate, he’ll most likely be there to greet you. His place is actually an agriturismo—a small hotel/B&B on a working farm. And does he ever work! All of the time! It’s fun to see someone doing what they truly love. Even though he spent his life as a local professor, his collecting never faltered over the years. Now it’s time to activate the dream he’s been cultivating for a lifetime.
As our conversation meandered on that autumn morning, Sergio said with a mischievous smile, “Siete in fretta?” (Are you in a hurry?) “No, abbiamo tempo” (We have time.) With a quick turn he said, “Seguami!” (Follow me!) He led us down the hill to a building we had never been in before. He turned the key and opened the squeaky iron door (of course). He flipped on the light switch and there before us was the most delightful collection of rare treasures we had ever seen. We were immediately immersed in an adventure, excited like little kids in grandma’s attic.
We spent the next hour inching our way around the room, taking strange items from the shelves, puzzling over what it could possibly be. Of course everything had its own special story. He remembered every detail about each item: when it was made, when he bought it, and from whom he’d bought it. We all had the best time!
During that late morning exploration Sergio shared his dream—a unique local museum, where all of his historic relics are collected together to tell the story of Tuscan ironwork and invention over the centuries! Although permits are difficult to come by, he’s waited a lifetime to make this dream a reality and a few bureaucratic glitches will not deter him. He’s very accustomed to the classic Italian phrase, “Piano, piano.” (Slowly, slowly.)
Sergio remains undaunted and full of enthusiasm despite the setbacks. Italy is a place where success only comes with extreme patience and persistence. After all, he’s grown up in a world where rust is the mark of beauty and strength, and every iron gate has its story to tell. His dream will only become more beautiful with each passing year!
Note: If you like poking around salvage yards like we do, you may enjoy the story/video, called “Team Cotto.”