petu kp
Petu and Baby Parla, Al Vino Al Vino. We cannot pose properly due to the arrival of caponata.

I have been rounding up for a few months now, telling everyone it’s been ten years, just so I could get used to the idea. But as of today, it’s official. I have lived in Rome for a full decade. When I landed at Fiumicino on January 14, 2003, I was a 22-year-old, unemployed, recent university graduate. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew that I was horrible at math, detested authority, and didn’t understand how computers worked. I would be ill-suited for the jobs in banking, the CIA, and the tech world that most of my classmates had snagged.

But I wasn’t worried. And it wasn’t ignorance or naivete that stoked my confidence. I had spent the previous 7 years of my life planning for that moment and when I touched down in Rome, I had enough cash put away from random jobs (college football manager, club promoter, and bouncer among them) to get me through six months of unemployment.

I figured I’d figure it out, give Rome a shot, and see what happened. After all, I had a college degree, was a hard worker, and came from America. So what if I had no visa. The city would welcome me with its warm, guanciale scented embrace. Not.

Ok fine, I guess I was a bit naive. I had lived in Rome for short periods during college, including a three month stint researching my snoozefest thesis, “The Amazonomachy: Myth and Meaning in Antonine Era Funerary Art”. But short stays are a vacation, not real life. Those first six months were a piece of cake compared to the second six. Though by July 2003, I had learned to speak Italian the vulgar Roman dialect, my funds had dwindled, and I was doing my least favorite thing on earth: providing private English lessons to profoundly vapid Pariolini. In spite of these overprivileged Romans being the most repellent form of life, I have them to thank for my rock bottom.

I recall conversing with a male student during our private lesson. He was, objectively, very hot. But I was so annoyed by the truly inane nonsense he spewed in broken English I couldn’t even distract myself with his good looks. If he wasn’t bragging about his debauched trip to Porto Cervo, he was proclaiming how much better his face looked since getting rhinoplasty. I thought if I had to sit through one more session I just might die–or at least ruin a perfectly good nose job. I took my last $300 and placed an ad in the Yale Alumni Magazine. I knew I loved teaching and had been working occasionally as a guide. Maybe this was a way out. The ad read, “Art History grad provides tours of Rome.” It was the cheapest ad I could get away with. The month it ran, a certain Dorothy Smith changed my life.

She was a retired librarian and hired me to guide her through Rome for 2 solid weeks. I still have the notes I made in preparation for her visit. Many of the itineraries I customized for her are the basis of my offerings today. From then on, things were different. I had found direction. Ten years later, I still love telling people about art, history and food. And I still suck at math, detest authority, and don’t know how computers work. Perhaps these are projects for my next ten years.