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All photographs ©Brenda Coffee, 2017

Like an Italian Woodstock, people of all ages and nationalities, wearing Rolling Stones t-shirts, poured into the walled Renaissance city of Lucca, Italy, to see what might be the last tour of the Rolling Stones. A reported 55,000 to 75,000 people made the pilgrimage for the Stones’s #NoFilter European tour, and I was one of them. It’s always a great day when I get to see the Rolling Stones. They’ve been part of my life since I was 12 and had a front row, center seat to their second U.S. performance in San Antonio, Texas.

It’s an even better day when I get to see the Stones and meet an angel.

When my train arrived early Saturday afternoon, Lucca was already a zoo. People were streaming through the gates into the old city, partying in the cobblestone streets and camping outside at the concert venue.

“Paint it Black” and “Satisfaction” were blaring from outdoor speakers at local bars. Many of the revelers I saw would be lucky if they were still standing when the Stones came onstage.

I stood in line for an hour for a taxi to drive me to my hotel outside of Lucca. The hotel restaurant was closed, so I checked in and waited for another taxi back into town. The desk clerk and my first taxi driver said it would be doubtful I found a taxi after the concert until well after 2am. With nothing to eat since 8am but yogurt, finding food and my standing “seat” were my top priorities.

Restaurants and cafes were jammed and long wait lines danced in the streets. With a bottle of water and a prosciutto and mozzarella sandwich from a street vendor, I found my Preferred “Seating” gate on the other side of the city.

Three security checkpoints and two wristbands later, I pushed my way through the crowd to about “fourth row center.” Thousands of people unfolded behind me as far as I could see.

With five hours until showtime, I claimed a cramped spot where my feet were and sat down. For the next 90 minutes, my view was nothing but legs.

As though an inaudible “On your marks. Get set. Go!” had sounded, the crowd surged in mass toward the front barricades. I scrambled to my feet. We were the proverbial sardines in a can. My fourth row center spot now consisted of 100 people ahead of me, and we stayed, welded together like that for the next three hours.

At last the stage lights flashed red as rock ‘n’ roll fire and brimstone erupted. Drums and piano and “Woo Woo” announced “Sympathy for the Devil,” and the Stones took the stage. With a kaleidoscope of big “Keiths” on the screens, the audience went wild, and the crowd surged again.

I couldn’t see Keith, Ronnie or Charlie but got one glimpse of Mick as he strutted down the ramp in front of me. I was trapped in a haze of cigarette smoke and marijuana from the tall guys in front of me, and the guy behind me was doing pelvic thrusts into my… back.

Thirty minutes in, I couldn’t see the stage except on ginormous screens. I felt lightheaded like I might pass out. No… I wasn’t stoned, but I figured I was dehydrated and low on potassium. Thanks to chemotherapy–13 years ago for breast cancer–this has happened before when I’m low on fluids. I remembered if I exited security, I couldn’t return, but I knew I had to leave before I passed out. I said a quick prayer and asked God to help me, then fought my way through the crowd.

Out on the street four EMT techs passed me, each holding the corner of a blanket, bearing what looked like a dead woman. They carried her past a parked ambulance and put her in the trunk of a car.

I stopped at the ambulance and told the nurse I was lightheaded–maybe dehydrated–and my blood sugar was somewhere down around my knees. Did she have some apple juice or water? She handed me a bottle of water and ushered me into the ambulance to take my blood pressure.

Two guzzled bottles of water and a packet of sugar later, I asked where I could get a taxi. Since I couldn’t see the stage or reenter the venue, I might as well get a jump on finding a taxi and some real food. It wasn’t an easy decision, because more than anything, I wanted to see Keith and the guys I’d grown up loving.

The best place to find a taxi was the train station on the other side of town. I was still wobbly, and it was further than I was up to walking. While the EMTs couldn’t drive me there, they could drive me to the ER… After much discussion in pidgin English/Italian, we settled on what the nurse referred to as “the chair.”

I was strapped—across my chest and lap—into a flimsy wheelchair that looked like it came from the Dollar Store.

One EMT tilted me back on two, tiny, rear wheels and pushed me down a dark and bumpy Etruscan street, while the other EMT used the flashlight on his phone to look for debris. I gathered the chair’s tiny wheels couldn’t handle anything bigger than a piece of salami. As we rolled further away from the concert, the sound of the Rolling Stones grew fainter and fainter, overridden by the rhythmic noise of the chair.

Neither EMT spoke English, but they seemed to be arguing about which one was going to push me through the line of armed soldiers ahead. With permission from the men with the automatic weapons, the EMTs pushed me across the plaza to the train station… the same spot where I’d waited an hour for a taxi earlier that day.

As if on cue, a taxi rounded the corner, and the three of us—me still strapped into the chair—waved our arms like crazy people.

The driver pulled along side of us and said, “Hello, Madam. It is me! Are you all right?” It was the same driver who’d taken me to my hotel.

“I will be,” I said. “I’m so glad you’re here. You’re my hero!”

Without missing a beat and in all seriousness he replied, “No Madam. I am an angel.”

His speech was proper and well-modulated with not a trace of an Italian accent. He reminded me of the actor, Ben Kingsley: bald, a bit shy and short in stature.

I climbed into the front seat and told him I needed food and water. He took me to the first pizzeria and went inside with me. When I’d last seen him, he hadn’t eaten either, so I bought both of us pizza. Gobbling my pizza on the way to the hotel, I kept coming back to, “What are the odds you were the one who pulled up to help me?”

“I am an angel, Madam,” he repeated.

I asked his name. It was Brunello.

The fair to my hotel was €24. He opened my door, and I handed him two €20 bills and told him I didn’t need change.

“But Madam,” he said. “You’ve already bought me pizza.”

I smiled and said, “It’s what you do when you meet an angel.”

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  1. Oh Brenda what a story! I thought you were quite brave to travel to a foreign country to attend a concert and was looking forward to reading all about it since The Stones are one of my favorite groups. As I was reading this post, I became anxious and found myself worried for your safety. What a blessing that the ” Angel” passed your path again. It’s unfortunate that the concert experience that you were so looking forward to, didn’t turn out like you thought it would. I’m just glad you’re safe and hopefully back in the States. Take care. . .

    • Thank you, Rose! It wasn’t what I’d hoped for, but I would crawl across broken glass to see the Stones, just not pass out in a jam packed sardine can! I will never forget the angel. I do believe that’s what he was. Brenda

    • As I stood there, initially I couldn’t believe I was considering leaving, but I also knew I needed to act in my own best interest and that wasn’t passing out in that crowd. No one would have helped me. Something about my taxi driver made me honestly believe he was an angel. xoxox, Brenda

    • Several times I’ve been aware of God’s presence, but this was the first time an angel appeared. It was a profound moment when he pulled up and the way he spoke… He wasn’t just a cabdriver, that’s for sure. xoxox, Brenda

  2. Wow! Sometimes you find… you get what you need. But, hand delivered by an angel?!?!
    What a wonderful adventure, Brenda!

    • Donna!! You couldn’t have picked a better line!!! “You don’t always get what you want… ” Leaving the concert was the last thing on Earth I wanted, but I got what I needed, and I’ll never forget it. Literally, will never forget it. xoxox, Brenda

  3. Isn’t God good?! And full of grace?! Amazing story, and I’m so thankful He intervened and Brunello was faithful and obedient – being right where he needed to be when he needed to be there. I’m sorry you didn’t see the concert you’d worked and planned to see, but so glad you got to see Immanuel – God with us! So thankful for your safety! I still think you are amazing for doing that alone. What guts! 🙂

    • LOL! You’re kind, Beckye, but perhaps I’m stupid instead of brave. Yes, God is great, and I have no doubt He sent Brunello to help me, but for Brunello to know with such calm and certainty that he was an angel, makes me think he really was. He didn’t say “I am an angel,” in a flip manner at all, and he wasn’t an Italian cabdriver… There’s no way I can convey his presence… It was almost stately, although humble… I simply don’t know how to explain him other than I believe he was sent to help me. Now I’m the humble and grateful one. xoxox, Brenda

      • I totally believe we encounter angels as Scripture tells us this! So thankful He sent His messenger to rescue you! XXOO

        • Beckye, I can’t stop thinking about him… I believe he was who he said he was. It was like no encounter I’ve ever had… I know you understand. xoxox, Btenda

  4. OMG , where in the world do you live? I must meet you !! I’m laughing out loud at this post and I think you’ve described the situation perfectly. My grandfather was from Lucca, so there is some part of me that loves Italians and Italy, I guess because I am one of them. I feel like I’m one of them when I’m there. Brilliant writing, witty and loads of fun to read. I know for certain I’ve been to my last concert, however, during the day I wouldn’t have missed ONE !!

    • Hi Marsha, I’m a Texas girl who loves the Rolling Stones enough to make this crazy trek to Lucca to see them for the umpteenth time. I can’t tell you how disappointing it was not to be able to see them from such close proximity. It wasn’t like the “front row, center seat” tickets I’ve bought to see them before where even though I never sat down, I had my space; my neighbors had their space, and I didn’t have to worry about visibility or getting trampled to death. The people of Italy are charming, and I had a great experience… just not the one I’d hoped for. Thanks so much for your sweet compliments, Brenda

  5. My husband and I returned from Florence /Lucca in mid -June. When I read your post about your plans to see the Stones in the city I had a pause—- going to that walled city with all those people in such a small area? I thought wow…
    She is my hero. We got so lost ( with I- maps)… all those round abouts! Ha! Glad to hear you are ok– Angel on your wings… and writing about your experience. I enjoy the blog…. and am a canine parent to 3, ( 2 litter mates 5 years ago)…. take care…. turn up the Stones on your I-pod and smile.

    • Hi C, Before I went to Lucca I had a hunch the concert venue would not be ideal. Even so, my love for the Stones won out. As an explorer, digging for Mayan artifacts in Mexico for 10 years put me in many tight spots. I’ve survived things you can’t image and have a tendency to believe I’m still “Ramborella!” That said, I think you’re right: I need to turn up the volume on my playlist. You’re sweet to write and tell me that! Thank you for reading my blog. I loved hearing from you! You understand my littermates problem, too, and you’re still standing! I take comfort from that. xox, Brenda

    • Hi Laura Lee, I’ve enjoyed your blog so much. It makes me think of what might have been because James and I had looked at lots of places right where you are! I know that beautiful country! Thank you for the invitation! That would be awesome! Brenda

    • Essie… I know! I hesitated for about five minutes before I left because I’d gone to a lot of trouble and expense just to be there! I also knew if I passed out, no one in the crowd would have helped me, and I might have been trampled to death… literally! It was an experience though, and I got to meet an angel. xoxox, Brenda

    • It was a hoot, wasn’t it? I’m glad I went though. Yes, I slept well… Couldn’t stop thinking about the angel, but with 55-75,000 people leaving Lucca the next morning–and I was meeting someone at the Florence train station at noon–I was up at 6am and out on the first train! The Italians were freaked out about so many people in such a tiny city, so I took that to heart. I’ve explored Lucca before, during their monthly antique flea market! LOVED THAT!!! Want to go again! I left my number for you! Call me! Would love to talk with you! xoxox, Brenda

  6. La Contessa is staying at my house for a few adventures. Nothing like yours I hope. She mentioned that you never saw the Stones. I was so shocked I had to come here and check out what happened. I’ve been busy with house guests so I missed this post. I did not realize you would be in Lucca with thousands of people. How naive of me. Nor did it really dawn on me you would travel the world to see them in this kind of venue. You got guts lady. I’m glad there was an angel looking out for you. I also think you had the good sense to realize you needed to get out of there. So bravo to your instincts and if I were your mother I would never have let you go. Glad you survived! A story for the ages. Gutsy Gal!

    • Hi Sandra! Since my 20’s, my nick name has been “Ramborella!” Part Rambo, part Barbarella! I used to dig for Mayan artifacts in three-canopy jungles of the Yucatan, dive for buried treasure in the Caribbean and as a journalist, was the first to drive and fire the Army’s M-1 tank,….. blah, blah, blah, raced cars for nine years… THIS WASN’T THE FIRST TIME I’D SEEN THE ROLLING STONES! They’ve been part of my life since I was 12! Some people say I’m gutsy, while others probably think I’m crazy! So happy to see you here! xoxo, Brenda /Users/brenda/Desktop/Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 8.25.56 PM.png

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