In Which I Gently Try to Hold The Hand of My Art History Professor

I didn’t expect to find love on this trip. With a whirlwind schedule of class, art studio, day trips, and a boyfriend spending his summer in Spain, romance was the last thing on my mind. But that was all before I met Emilio. 

Emilio, our graying Art History professor, is a native Italian with a penchant for two hour lunches. He leads our caravan of 14 grumbling girls on trips into the city, walking leisurely at the front of the group while I break into a light jog just to keep up with him. He is funny, kind, and incredibly smart: three of my favorite characteristics are all rolled up into an adorable accent and wrapped in proscuitto. I can tell he’s high up around here, too, because he gets us past the crowds and into gated sections of the biggest cathedrals with a single nod at the security guards while other tourists crowd around the locked doors. 

This morning, we headed to Ostia Antica for our first day trip. Before we left, we asked Wendy what we’d be doing there all day and she told us to Google it, which none of us did. If we had, we would have realized that there’s only one thing to do and that’s stare at important mounds of rocks. Emilio lead the expedition with a fedora and a walking stick. He would pause at every pile of rubble, dirt path, and mark on the wall to tell us about the rich history of the former port city. He punctuated his expert storytelling with episodes of comic proportions. He has latched on to several American idioms and sprinkles them generously (and often incorrectly) into conversation. In his lilting Italian accent, he would turn nod and say, “Okie dokie, aritchokey” as our cue to follow him to the next location. When we arrived at the ruins today, he picked up a branch which he carried along for the rest of the day. “Look at my stick,” he cried excitedly. “I’m like Gandalf!” When we saw tiny salamanders skittering across the roads, he hollered, “It’s the Lizard of Oz!” And when we all fell madly in love with him and began to shower him with compliments, he got the attention of our other professor: “I’m da man, Wendy! I’m da man!”

Here I am stalking Emilio through tall grass like a predator.

Last night, my boyfriend was collapsed in his bedroom after two days of traveling across the Atlantic to San Sebastian, Spain. He was delirious from being awake for 36 hours when we talked at nine that night, and I have to give the jet lag credit for making him loopy enough to impulsively buy a plane ticket to visit me in Rome. I pictured him and I basking in the cliched romance together: exploring the cobbled alleyways of Rome, tossing coins in the Trevi, craning our necks to see paintings on the tops of cathedral domes, sharing a pasta dish and nudging a meatball towards him with my nose. Then I thought of Emilio.

The phrase Emilio uses most frequently is, “…but that’s another story!” He’ll relay some horrific, detailed fact about the renaissance and then end the tangent abruptly with the phrase. “And that’s where we get necrophilia…but that’s another story” or “He was then stuffed into a barrel that was hammered through with nails and then rolled down the steepest hill…but that’s another story!” It’s always that story, and not the one he’s actually trying to tell, that we want to hear. His preciousness has an edge that keeps us surreptitiously snapping photos of him on our cell phones. 

When dear boyfriend visits, he’ll be tagging along on our trips through the city with Emilio. I don’t know how I will reconcile my feelings for him with my debilitating crush on my art history professor or how I will hide my not-so-subtle attempts to gently hold Emilio’s hand while we walk. …but that’s another story!

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