The Visiting Professor

Perugia is a city apart, an old Etruscan fortress town perched high on a hilltop in the centre of Italy. It never joined in the hurly burly of Italian politics as did Milan, Florence, Sienna and Rome; but remained aloof, introspectively apart, locked away with its own mixture of piety and violence. Taciturn, introspective, and xenophobic, the Perugians were also known and feared as the most warlike people of ancient Italy.

To practice and prepare themselves for combat in the Middle Ages, the Perugini played a ferocious game in which the male inhabitants divided themselves into rival teams. Having padded themselves with clothing stuffed with deer hair and assuming beaked helmets like the heads of eagles or hawks, they stoned each other savagely until the streets were strewn with casualties. It was not unusual for a dozen or so men to die or at least to be seriously wounded in these encounters, but their relatives accepted their deaths calmly as the price of heroism.

In the twentieth century the Perugini became better known for their chocolates and their craftsmanship than for their heroism and their combatitiveness, but despite the fact that tourism became a mainstay of their economy, they never lost their distrust of foreigners. This was ironic because Perugia also became famous for its international university for foreigners.

It was into this tight-knit clanish provincial university town that there came as a Visiting Professor an American specialist in Shakespeare and Elizabethan literature, Professor John Santé. He was invited to Perugia to teach a seminar on Hamlet, about which he had written a distinguished monograph. 

At first he was lonely in Perugia, however, after a short time he found some friends among whom he counted a young psychiatrist, Dottore Francesco Cherubini who regaled him with tales of his patients in the local insane asylum. He also enjoyed the company of a noted art critic and connoisseur, Prof. Bruno L. deVita who taught aesthetics and critical theory at the  Perugia Academy of the Fine Arts. They shared a common interest in Freud’s interpretation of art and artists such as Leonardo da Vinci.

Our professor was married, but had been separated from his wife in the United States for several months before leaving for Italy. He was not really looking for an adventure, but at a party in Perugia one evening he met a young woman with long dark hair who fascinated him. Her name was Anna Maria. She came from a wealthy family in  Cortona, a small town near Perugia. She had married young, but her husband, who was a rich playboy, and a bit of a drunk, had died in an automobile accident a year after they were married. She now lived alone on a small vineyard in the country and  had a caretaker and a few employees who managed the vineyard for her. 

As soon as he saw Anna, the professor knew there was something indefinable about her that fascinated him. He could not figure out what it was, and this made her even more fascinating. She, too, felt attracted to him, and agreed to see him again despite her resolve not to become involved with a man ever again. When he went home after the party that night, he was surprised to note that his only thought was of seeing her again. In fact ,he tried to call her the next day to arrange a date, but failed to reach her. 

Several days later they did go out to dinner at the Hosteria del Olmo, a lovely restaurant in a small village near Perugia. After dinner  he took her home  and she invited him in for a drink. The house was a large stone country house, a casalle, with large light brown wooden  shutters flanking  the windows. In the living room was a large fireplace big enough for several adults to enter. There were stone benches along the sides, indicating that this was a comfortable place to sit during the cold winter months. The stone walls were covered with original paintings, mostly done by Anna herself.

They sat on a couch in front of the fireplace and drank grappa and gazed into each others eyes. He asked her about her paintings and she told him about each one. He thought they were very close when  suddenly she surprised him by saying that it would be better that they not meet again. He was puzzled by this remark. It was obvious that they both had a strong attraction for each other. When he asked her, she told him that although she did feel attracted to him, having a relationship with a man did not fit  her picture of how she wanted her life to be.

“It’s been as wonderful evening, John. I like you very much,” she said,  “but I think you had  better go now. It is best we not  see each other again. Otherwise we are likely to get  involved with each other, and I don’t want that.”

“We are already involved,” I said. “And it’s good for both of us. I don’t understand why you want to destroy this. What are you afraid of?”

“I just don’t want an intimate relationship with you, that’s all. It is too painful, and too dangerous.”

“Dangerous? To fall in love? How is it dangerous?”

“What do you want from me?” she asked. 

“Answer my question first. “How is it dangerous to open yourself to me?” he countered.

“You’d  better not ask. I don’t want to think about it. I’d rather stay alone and safe in my own world, ” she said.

“Tell me,” he insisted.”

“It has nothing to do with you, really. As far as men go, I find you very attractive. I just do  not want a serious relationship with anyone. It means too much responsibility. Eventually  someone is bound to  get hurt or to be disappointed. I don’t want to hurt you. That’s why we must break off this relationship now before it is too late.”

“I think that you want a relationship very much, but are afraid of getting hurt yourself. That’s why you don’t want to get involved. Not because you want to protect me.”

“It is  more complicated than that. You just don’t understand. How could you?  I didn’t want to tell you but I guess I’ll have to tell you my story. Then you’ll see why another relationship is impossible for me. 

“I was  married when I was very young, as people usually are here in Italy. I was only seventeen. My husband was quite a bit older than me. There were thirteen years between us. The first year of our marriage went pretty well. He seemed very devoted. I thought that he loved me. Then I found out that he was being unfaithful to me. With other men. Yes, he was a homosexual. Well, at least it wasn’t another woman. I was hurt and disgusted and I told him that we must separate. He became very angry. He hit me and threatened to kill me if I tried to leave him. Soon after that he was killed in an automobile accident.  Then I discovered that he had been  involved in taking drugs and  had thrown away most of my inheritance buying drugs and paying off his endless gambling debts. All I had left to me was this vineyard and a bit of money. I resolved then and there never to become seriously involved with another man. So you see it’s not you. It’s me that’s the problem.”

“I feel very moved by your story. You have suffered a lot. But that is no reason to cut yourself off from having a relationship that could bring you much happiness.”

She was crying now. He tried to put his arm around her, but she pushed him away abruptly. Wiping her eyes with her handkerchief she snapped: “Happiness? I’m better off alone. I don’t want another relationship. What can you offer me, anyway? You’re only here for a short time, you told me that after the end of the year  you’ll be going back to America.”

He was silent after this outburst. Looking at her sadly he nodded. 

“Perhaps you’re right. I suppose it is better this way, at least for you.” he said with a tone of reluctance in his voice. He began moving towards the door.

“No, wait,” she said. “Don’t go yet.” 

She moved towards him and reached out to him. 

“Put your arms around me and hold me tight,” she said.  “I don’t know what’s the matter with me but I can’t stay away from you. There is a force between us that is so strong. I can’t let you go.” 

He kissed her deeply and she melted in his arms. He pulled her down to the couch. She resisted weakly, then said. “Not here. Upstairs.” And she led him to her bedroom. He undressed her slowly. He kissed her tenderly and gently caressed her body, gradually moving his head down to her crotch where he licked her till she began to breathe more intensely and her body began to girate to the pulse of  his darting tongue. She grabbed his head and pulled  him up to her waiting lips. As they kissed she felt  his fingers penetrating her rectum and her vagina and she soon  was taken over by the delicious rhythms pulsing through her body. When he licked her nipples, she flinched. “Piano, piano,”  she said. “Be more gentle, please. That hurts.” 

He nibbled on her ear. Finally he plunged into her  thrusting  wildly, joyously, abandoning himself to his ecstasy. He held himself back waiting for her orgasm. She screamed and moaned deliriously as she peaked. Then he thrust himself into her vigorously,  giving her all he had till he was empty and slumped exhausted with his head on her heaving breast. 

“Do you have a cigarette?” she asked.

“I’m sorry, I don’t smoke, so I don’t have one.”

“It’s better for me not to smoke, but I would have liked a cigarette at this moment.”

“I’ll be your cigarette. Here, hold me instead.”

“It’s so beautiful and so strange-this feeling I have inside me now” she said, stroking his head tenderly. “It is  as if you were my child, my lover,  and my father at the same time.” 

“I feel good, too. It’s so wonderful being in your arms. I love you.”

“Don’t say that. You don’t realize what you’re saying. It’s not true.”

“It is true.”

“Well, don’t say it. It makes me feel uncomfortable.”

“Why?”

“Don’t ask me.”

“No. Tell me. Why?  What’s wrong with being loved?”

“I told you. It’s not possible for me. You’d better go now.”

“Hey, wait. Two minutes ago we were very close. You were happy. I could see it in your face, in your smile. What happened to that smile? Now you’ve got your hands on your head and you look so troubled. It’s your thoughts that are doing it. That’s all. Don’t let them ruin this experience. Don’t push me away. This is your chance for happiness. Now. Here.  With me. Don’t throw it all away. It’s not easy to find the closeness we have. This thing between us is very special. Do you realize how rare it is. Just feel the energy between us. Can’t you feel it?’

“Of course I can feel it. That’s what frightens me. It’s so strong. If we go one this way what will happen to us?”

“Let’s find out.”

“I can’t.”

“O.K. You win.” He started to get up and to pull on his undershorts.

“Where are you going? No, wait. Don’t go  yet. Hold me.”

He came back to the bed and held her, stroking her head. She purred like a cat in his arms. Their eyes met and they gazed into each others eyes for a long time saying nothing. 

Finally she spoke. “I feel at home in your arms, in your heart. I feel like I have come home at last, when I look in your eyes. I need you. I really do. I don’t  want to let you go. But I know that I must. This can’t be.”

He squeezed her tenderly and continued to stroke her head. “I love you Anna. I love you. I wish you could clear your head of this fixed idea that you must not have a relationship. Let me tell you what I’d like. It’s just a fantasy, but I want to share it with you. We are living together. Right here in this house. I go to work at the university a couple of times a week. The rest of the time I’d stay home and cook for you and take care of you and help you with the farm. On weekends we might make little excursions, to the Lake of Trasimeno or to Florence or Rome or to the beach. Wouldn’ t that be nice?”

Her eyes were glowing as she replied, “It’s a nice fantasy. But of course it is impossible.”

“Of course it is possible. Anything is possible, if you want it enough.”

“How American you are.”

“Well, it’s true.”

“That you’re American?”

“No, that you can have what you want if you really want it.”

“Well, I don’t want it.”

“What do you want, anyway? To live alone forever on this little farm, hiding away from the world? Forever protecting yourself from life? Doing nothing with your life”

“That’s unkind.”

“But it’s true. And I’m saying it because I love you. You are still young enough to marry again and to have children, if you want. You have every possibility in front of you, and you are just throwing your life away on this damn farm.” He shook his fist and then heaved a sigh of resignation.

“What can I do? This is my destiny. You speak of all kinds of possibilities but I see no other possibility for me but this. I have no skills. What else could I do?”

“Anything you want.”

“But I don’t want anything. 

“You don’t you have any wishes, any dreams? I don’t believe you.”

“Well, I sometimes think I’d like something, but then after thinking about it  awhile I sink back into my old self realizing that it is impossible.”

“The problem is one of motivation, Anna. I wish I could build a fire under you, but I can’t. It has to come from inside you. All I can do is to give you a few suggestions and cheer you on. The rest is up to you. You can have anything you want. Just like other people.”

“Perhaps you’re right. In a way I’d like to be like other people, to be able  to have a relationship. But don’t you see, John, I can’t. I really can’t. Something inside me prevents it. That’s the way I am and there is nothing else for me to do but accept it. I feel afraid to even think about having a relationship. I’m sure I’ll get hurt.”

“So your barrier to having a relationship is fear of being hurt. And you protect yourself from experiencing this fear by holding on to the idea that having a relationship is impossible for you. Now, tell me honestly, are you willing to try to change this?”

“I don’t know. I know I can’t have a relationship.”

“Are you willing to try to change this?”

“Don’t play therapist with me.”

“Are you willing to try to change this belief system of yours, or do you want to remain imprisoned in it?”

“Leave me alone. It’s hopeless.”

“This is the last time I’ll ask you this: are you willing to try to change…?”

“No. I’m not. I’d like to, but I can’t. I’m sorry to disappoint you, John, but I can’t change and that’s why we must end this relationship and not see each other any more.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t want it. It is too risky for me and for you. Somebody is bound to get hurt.”

“Somebody? You mean you. So what, if you get hurt? That is a risk you must take if you want to change your life and to grow. You’ve been hurt a lot in the past, I can see that. But you’ve survived. And if you should get hurt again, you’ll survive again. But if you want to, you can change your life.”

“You said that fear is my barrier. What can I do about that? Whenever I think of change I feel afraid.”

“Look at your fear; then put the fear aside. Take the risk and go for what you want.”

“But the fear is still there.”

“Yes, fear may come up. But its just an emotion. You don’t have to let yourself be ruled by your emotions. As I said before, be clear about what you want,  acknowledge your fear when it comes up,  then  put the fear aside, take the risk, and go for what you want courageously. You  know, Anna,  living courageously is not living without fear, but going for what you want despite  your fears.

“Well, I’ll think about it. It sounds too easy to me.”

“Translation. I’m afraid that I might get what I want and then I might not be happy with it or it might not work out or… That reminds me of the story of the young student who was walking down the street in Perugia and asked a rather well dressed older man the time of day. The older man looked at his watch, then looked at the student, who was rather shabbily dressed, and refused his request. The student was perplexed and asked the man why he would not tell him the time. Well, the man said, if I were to tell you the time, then we might strike up a conversation and pretty soon I might invite you to come home with me for lunch. At lunch you’d meet my daughter. You might fall in love with her and want to marry her and I don’t want my daughter marrying a poor student shabbily dressed like you. So that’s why I won’t tell you the time.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“And so is this conversation. It’s getting late and I think we’d better call it a night. I didn’t mean to play therapist with you. It just came up. But I see that I can’t change you. It was foolish of me to try. I hope what I told you may be of some use to you. I will call you tomorrow, if I may.”

“I’d like that.”

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