Francis - the secret ingredient

Don’t get me wrong: I’m thrilled with the strides I’ve made learning Italian. I even fought a traffic ticket in Italian, for crying out loud.  (Sort of – watch this space. I’ll tell the story soon.) Still, after 5 weeks fending for myself, it was a relief to be treated to a day in Tuscany, in the care of Francis Surman. To say he’s a driver undersells what he offers. Yes, he’s a fine driver — with a large and comfortable 8-person Mercedes van — but, more than that, he has extensive experience as a personal assistant.

In short, Francis is a “fixer” who makes things happen. Guests at our villa have hired Francis to negotiate their rental car in advance (whether in Rome or Orvieto), to pick them up at the airport, to help ship their purchases home, to tour them around Rome, or, as we did, to take them on a ramble through wine country and get them home in one piece without any close encounters with Italian authorities.

Here are two examples how Francis has helped our guests: for some, he has met them at the airport in Rome, added his name onto their rental car contract there, driven them to the villa, and helped get them settled; for others, he has picked them up at the airport and driven them in his car or van to the Orvieto rental agency and then led them to the villa. Letting Francis work out these sorts of details can be a very gentle way to begin a trip to the heart of Italy.

A thoroughly delightful companion, Francis speaks 5 languages, has an encyclopedic knowledge of films (ask to see his Hannibal Lecter impersonation), and is at ease in any crowd. And it’s easy to see why so many of Francis’s regular clients are affiliated with the UN (which employs thousands in Rome): he could give the professional diplomats a run for their money. On the day we toured Tuscany with Francis, the plan was for Jeff to come to Benano early in the morning to consult with us and the workmen on the construction project, while Francis would come later with Jeff’s wife Robin and our other three friends. As we were wrapping up our meeting, Francis came to the door and announced his arrival. Jeff asked, “Are we ready to go?” Without a “yes” or “no,” Francis gave Jeff all the information he needed to discern the answer for himself. He replied pleasantly, “Your wife is in the car.”