If the streets of Mantova had been strewn with a million rose petals or lined with a thousand floating lanterns, it wouldn't have made my afternoon with Samuele more magical. It was as if I'd wandered onto the set of a romance film only to discover that I was the female lead...with the leading man only an arm’s length away. My new role was completely different from the confused, naive girl leaving Boston only two months before. The mid-June humidity cloaked the city with an enchanting aura...the kind that produces flirtatious conversation and dewy blushes. The setting was primed; the day was waiting to ignite a spark between two people whose hearts were ready for an adventure in the land of Amore.
The Plans Had Changed
With the air conditioning blasting through the interior of Samuele's little black car, I sat in my seat, disheveled and sweaty, feigning calm and trying not to pinch myself as we drove through the busy streets. Samuele navigated the narrow one-way streets, effortlessly circulating the endless rotaries while fiddling with the buttons on the radio. I was in awe and a little nervous as the typical Italian traffic whizzed past us in every direction. Samuele's casual manner and dress—white t-shirt and old khaki shorts with Birkenstock sandals—settled me somehow. Even though you could cut the attraction between us with a knife, my mind was clear and I remember there was a relaxed vibe. We arrived at Lisa's house where she welcomed us, then promptly announced that she needed to go shopping for the entire afternoon. And apparently, Rea wasn't feeling that great so the three of them had decided that I'd spend the afternoon with Samuele. We were to visit the city center where he had something planned for us to do together. I gathered up the skittering butterflies in my stomach and told my two new friends—as calmly as I could—that it was fine with me. After I freshened up, Samuele and I set out again in his car. I remember the feeling in my stomach, in my legs, and in my lips where a smile had lingered since I got off the train. I kept wondering, what is going on here?
Exploring the City
Some of the first things that come to mind when dreaming of Italy are museums and churches and historical places—amiright? So when Samuele told me he'd be taking me to a large castello right in the center of Mantova, I was pretty jazzed. Friends, believe me; I truly did my best to restrain myself. I thought it was best to conceal how my proximity to him was what truly excited me. The curly-haired guy with the nicest smile who had turned up out of nowhere into my life. And there was something in the way he talked and in his eyes whenever he looked at me. I didn't want to analyze it, but butterflies don't lie. If someone is into you, the electricity in the air is usually tangible. Remember, I was a naive twenty-year-old experiencing all of this for the first time in my life. Prior to zipping around Italy in my little Smart car or in trains and getting into sporty black cars with Italian guys, I was a simple New England girl with considerable emotional damage. It seemed that all of that disappeared when I was with Samuele and I was able to take in every moment with a fresh mindset.
Another Castle, Another Tourist
We left the car, walking across cobblestones and passing shops and bars along the piazza. When he pointed out the castle taking up one whole side of the square and started walking towards it, I followed, curious. He paid for our tickets (generous on his part) and we went inside. Though we didn’t know each other one bit, it felt like we did. It felt like I’d known him forever. We walked and talked but never touched that day. Only our glances held any weight for the words we shared were light.
Upon arriving in Italy, I realized quickly that there are more scandals lacing the lesser-known legends of Italian history than is popularly known. There is enough familial greed and illicit romance to spearhead an entire lineup of shows at a brand-new TV network. Mantova and its Palazzo Ducale was no different which made for excellent entertainment; the man I was with and the stories alike held my interest for several hours. The ghosts of the House of Gonzaga came alive as Samuele whispered their names to me among the rooms of their ancestral home. The gardens contained the greenest hedges and the windows overlooked Mantova’s beautiful lake system, but we weren’t allowed to take photos. At one point, I snapped one of the outside and was yelled at by an annoyed museum guard. Samuele quickly defended me as the guard shook his head and moved us along. We laughed as we hurried off. Not even the cranky old guard could ruin the moment. Our topics of conversation ranged from the history of the museum’s art to tales of our own lives. We learned a lot even though the only language spoken fluently between us was the language of the heart. I remember feeling as though I was watching myself from outside my body. The romantic girl in me was living out the dreams of her youth in the flesh.
It Wasn’t Over Yet
The sun had begun to set, but the air was still warm around our shoulders, the humidity still enveloping us in its balmy arms as we exited the castello. The city center was starting to come alive with more people and there were more bars open with chairs and music. I was not surprised to learn that our time together was not over. Somehow I knew it would have been wrong for us to part so soon.
Samuele asked if I’d like to go to another event that was planned for the evening. Um, yes…no question! He explained that there was to be a local concert which featured some Christian music artists that he was friends with. Apparently the whole group from his church would be there. You see, in Italy the day doesn’t end until you’ve exhausted all possible forms of socialization. If you are tired, you rest between events with an aperitivo and a quiet chat with your friends or family. On hot days, you sip granitas and eat gelato to cool off. Then, in the fresh of the evening, you move again; you go to where the crowd is gathering. Samuele brought me back to Lisa’s house, promising to return later to pick us up for the concert. In true girlish fashion, I freshened and primped to the best of my little travel bag’s abilities. My pointy-toed faux-crocodile boots and bell-bottoms made their appearance along with humidity-induced beach curls and a fresh coat of mascara. My beauty routine was easier and took less effort in those days…sigh. But I digress.
Friends, I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t confess to you that ALL I could think of during the light dinner in Lisa’s cozy kitchen, was spending more time with Samuele. Earlier that morning the weekend had begun in the flush of excitement as I prepped for a girls’ weekend with new friends. To my amazement and absolute pleasure, it had quickly morphed into a different thing altogether; I was now walking the path of discovery, about to delve into the magic of love.
Thank you, thank you for your patience as I know this post was a long time coming. Life truly happened and caught me up in its whirlwind this year. I’d love to say that I was too busy, but it’s a different issue. My writing is sometimes all-encompassing and I find I don’t have the heart or brain energy needed if there are stress factors stripping me in other areas. Leave me a comment if you’re enjoying this story. That way, your expectation might motivate me to forget the present and journey back to the past more often.