Paolo and Francesca…

a novel about beautiful people in Italy.

Month: June, 2012


Tuesday morning she came into the studio and Timo was aflutter the minute she walked through the door.

“You got a mystery letter,” he said, waving a FedEx envelope in her face.  “I figured it was business so I opened it.  Two tickets to the Inter game tomorrow night!  You are a sly fox.”

“Wait, let me see,” she told him.

“Third row center field!”

“Let me see it.  I have no idea what you’re talking about.”  Reluctantly, TImo handed her the envelope.  She reached in and sure enough, there were two tickets, third row center field, to the Inter-Juventus game the next evening.  Nothing else.  The FedEx label said it had been sent from a shipping shop in Turin.

“Well?” Timo asked.

“Well what?  You’ve seen it–no note, no return address, no name.  Your guess is as good as mine.”

“Let’s see, I’m just curious.  We were in Turin last week ago shooting at the stadium where Juventus plays.  You yelled at a bunch of football players to get off the field during your shoot.  You showed up in Milan at noon the next day.  And now you get tickets to go see the best game of the season in the best seats in the arena.”

“How would you know they’re the best seats in the arena?”  TImo was notoriously ignorant of all sport except when the players undressed.

Ugh, I bought tickets for my brother for Christmas last year, they were like 500 Euros.  Each.”  He raised one eyebrow at her and paused for effect.  “But you’re stalling.  Trying to change the subject.”  He walked over to her computer.  “Let’s think of who could have wanted to send Francie tickets to the game,” he said, opening up her web browser.  “Oh look,” he said.  “The Juventus roster is in your history.  That makes it easy.”

“Timo!  Stop!”

“And you only looked at one player…Paolo Romaldo.  Nice choice.”

“Timo.”  She was furious.

“I’m hurt, you didn’t tell me anything.  I thought we were close,” he pouted.

“There’s nothing to tell,” she began.

“There’s always something to tell,” he wheedled.  “Anyway, I knew you liked him.”

“You did not,” she said indignantly.

“Did too,” he answered.  “You took a picture of him and it was on the card with the rest of the shoot.”  He flipped through some files and pulled it up on the screen.  “See?”

There it was, the shot she’d snapped while he was walking away across the field, shiny hair and tan legs and a hint of that magnificent ass under his shorts.

“Can you blame me?” she smiled.

Timo sat down on the couch and crossed his legs.  “So?  Dish.”

“I think I’d like a coffee first.”

“So go get one!” he said, gesticulating towards the espresso machine.  “I’ll have one, too.  No foam.  Although, maybe this is a story that needs foam…”


“Fine, no foam.  You don’t like foam anyway.”

She stood at the Jura waiting for their coffees.  “You could give me the preamble,” Timo said.

“It was like you said.  I yelled at them for being on the field and interrupting us, the one guy started talking to me–”

“–Paolo,” Timo interjected, purring the name.

“Yes, Paolo,” Francesca continued.  “He asked me to meet him for a drink after they were done and we went to a little cafe and had a drink–”

“What did you get?”

“A spritz.  We both had spritzes.”

“That’s so cute.  A spritz.  That’s what I used to get when I would go out on dates in high school.”

“Do you want to hear the rest of the story?”

“I can only imagine what’s going to happen next.  Maybe you’ll watch Titanic and share popcorn.”

“As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what we did.”

“I hope you two wait until you get married,” Timo squealed.

“You’ll notice I refrained from asking you about your dates in high school.”

“All older men.  They thought I was worldly beyond my years for Urbe.  Anyway.”


“So you had your spritz, and he had his spritz, and then you had his spritz, and then he had your spritz…”

“God, you are insufferable.”

“Oh, I”m sorry, did he spritz on you?  Could he not make you spritz?  Is that what happened?  Please, carry on.”

Francesca was laughing so hard she was shaking.  “I can’t decide if spritz is a good thing or a bad thing,” she said.

“I think it’s kind of a personal preference.”

“I’m trying to remember if we even finished our spritz,” she said vaguely.  “I think we may have sped off to his apartment and left the spritz on the table.”

“What kind of a place did he take you where they let you leave spritz on the table!”  They were both howling.

“The waiter knew him.  I think he’d spritzed there before,” Francesca said, deadpan.

“And then he took you to his apartment.”


“Did he drive?” Timo asked.


“What kind of car?”


“Oooh, what color?”

“Dark blue.”

“I bet he has a big penis,” Timo said.  “Two door or four?”


“None, just curious.”

“Two,” Francesca answered.

“Fine.  Good.  Where does he live?”

“Somewhere in Turin?” Francesca answered.  “I don’t know.  I don’t really know the city.”

“Apartment or house?”

“Apartment.  Loft.”

“Loft!  I love a loft.  So much light in a loft.  Did you tell him you work in a loft?”

“No.  It’s not really a loft.”

“I tell people we work in a loft,” Timo said.  “Look around.  It’s a loft.  Light, airy, exposed columns.  Loft.”

“His apartment was a real loft.”

“What was it like?”

“Light, airy, exposed columns,” Francesca answered.  “No, really.  White.  Contemporary art.  Extremely tidy.”

“Could you imagine yourself living there?”

“Stop it,” she said.  “You’re getting way ahead of yourself.”

“I’m just trying to piece together the series of events that culminated in these ridiculous tickets being delivered to our office today.”

There was a quiet moment.  “It was amazing,” Francesca said wistfully.  “He knew just what I wanted.  Or he wanted what I wanted.  We both wanted the same thing.  We just fit together, like–”

“Like a plug and an electric socket,” Timo finished.

Francesca groaned audibly.

“I’m happy for you,” Timo said.

“I didn’t think I’d hear from him again,” Francesca said.

“Well, you didn’t, not exactly.  The tickets could be from his secret deranged stalker wife.  She could be sitting one seat over waiting to stab you.”

“True.  I suppose there’s several possibilities.”

“And we haven’t even touched on the most important question,” Timo added.

“Which is?”

“Who’s going to go with you to the game.”

“I suppose I should ask Cristiana,” Francesca said.  “She loves football.  And Giovanni hates it so they never go.”

“Sure, she loves football.  But then you’d have to explain the whole story of how you came into possession of two amazing seats at a football game and it would be awkward for you to have to tell her a week later that you never heard from him again.”

“Hey!”  Francesca glared at him.

“However, I already know the whole story so you wouldn’t have to explain anything.  I would just sit next to you and wave a little flag and go home when the game was over.”

“I should probably ask my brother,” Francesca mused.  “I bet he would love to go to an Inter match.”

“Your brother?  He’ll never get out of the house.  You know what his wife is like, if he goes anywhere she has to go with him and if she can’t go with him she has to get a babysitter so she can go out, too, so he’s not having more fun without her, and it’s too late to get a babysitter for tomorrow night.  It’s too late for anything for tomorrow night,”  TImo sighed.  “And you’re forgetting that he might tell your mother.”

“Good point.  You’re probably busy tomorrow anyway, though.”

“Nothing I couldn’t cancel,” Timo replied.  “Come on, we can get Tonio to come here and do our hair together.  I promise I won’t say a word.”

At least she could be sure of that.  When they were together in the studio, Timo was out of control, but with anyone else, outside the studio, he was a vault.

“Be happy, Francie!  This is exciting!  It’s not every day the best fuck of your life turns out to be a millionaire celebrity.  This is like better than Jude Law!”

Francesca raised an eyebrow.  Jude Law was Timo’s ideal.  “Better than Jude Law?”

“Better for you,” Timo edited.

shopping with Anna.

That was Friday.  Saturday she saw her mother, who had wanted to go shopping and then to have dinner.  She picked Anna up at home, the home she’d known as a child, where here mother lived alone now, wandering through the endless rooms with swatches of new fabric for curtains or paint cards or little squares of wallpaper, preening in the gilt-framed mirrors and terrorizing Federica, the housekeeper.  Anna was dressed for shopping, something women “of a certain age”, it seemed to Francesca, had been doing since Catherine Deneuve wore YSL and Roger Vivier in Belle du Jour.

“How was your week,” she asked with the same bored tone she usually employed to tell Francesca to buy a bigger car, find a husband, or become an interior decorator.  Obligatory.

“Fine, really,” Francesca answered.  “I went to Turin to shoot a spread for Vogue.”

“Which Vogue?”  Her mother’s ears perked up at the mention of a magazine her friends actually read.

“Italia.”  She could tell Anna was disappointed.  In the pantheon of Vogue, Paris and America outranked Italy every time, and even though Francesca had shot covers–covers!  celebrities, even–for both of those magazines, her mother’s recall was as good as her most recent piece.

“I can’t possibly understand why you had to go to Turin,” Anna continued, as if her daughter had said she’d spent the week in Novosibirsk.

“The direction was to shoot at a football arena, and dell Alpi was the only one available.”  This shopping expedition was becoming exhausting and they’d not even made it to the stores yet.

“It never ceases to amaze me what passes for art these days,” Anna decried, “in my day–”

Anna had briefly been a hand model, before marrying, and referenced her modeling career, which occurred during the golden age of gloves, as frequently as possible.  It was one of the reasons Francesca had seriously considered not becoming a photographer and instead, joining the circus.  Or any pursuing other career of which her mother could claim no intimate knowledge.

“Mama!” she interjected.  “In your day pregnant women smoked and people wore polyester.”

“Some people.  Not all,” her mother rejoined.

“So where are we going today?” asked Francesca, who had just been driving toward the center of town with the hope, distant though it was, that her mother would say something like “the bar,” or “drop me off at Coin and I’ll meet you in two hours.”  Instead, Anna had a laundry list of boutiques where she expected to find a sturdy pair of walking shoes, designer brand, at low cost.  Somehow Anna had managed to emerge from the 1990s without ever purchasing anything and refused to believe that a pair of ladies’ shoes could cost more than 200 Euros.  She also, at certain moments which Francesca both relished and abhorred, considered hostess slippers still to be the height of fashion.

Her mother had, by many counts, had an easy life.  She’d grown up solidly middle class, if not wealthy, married Francesca’s father when she was young, and in doing so ascended to Milan’s privileged class.  Along the way she had borne three children, two sons and a daughter, her youngest. Her husband’s death, when Francesca was only eight and when Anna herself was still a young woman, barely thirty-five, had upended her entire world.  To a casual observer it would seem nothing had changed, except for the absence of a man who hadn’t been around much to begin with, and Anna was nothing if not plucky and resourceful.  But her husband’s death had left her beholden to his older brother, the family patriarch and sole executor of his brother’s estate.  He let Anna keep the house, provided a bi-weekly stipend equal to 75% of her late husband’s salary, but the blow dealt by Carlo’s absence was more than Anna ever could have imagined.  Marco, meanwhile, doted on her children, taking them on holidays with his family and showering them with expensive gifts, providing for their education, even when Francie had wanted to go to art school instead of university, but as much as he bestowed attention on her children he ignored Anna.  Marco’s wife, ten years older than Anna and Milanese aristocracy, never missed an opportunity to remind Anna of the “funny little modeling” she’d done before marriage, or to flaunt her latest treasures from Pomellato or Chopard.  Letizia was a cold woman.  Anna refused to bend to her sister-in-law’s tyranny.

Francesca loved her uncle Marco and even tolerated Letizia; and so constantly had to reassure Anna that a daughter’s allegiance could not be bought.  Despite her prodding, Anna was proud of her daughter’s career.  Francesca’s success had ensured she would never become like Anna, beholden to a man and then his family.  For better or for worse, Francesca was fiercely independent, in a way her mother had never known possible.  Secretly, she even believed Marco had ensured that Anna could never remarry.  Acutely aware of all these complications, Francesca squired her mother around on Saturday afternoon.

They settled at Tod’s, where Anna found a pair of loafers with a sensible heel and Francesca knew the store’s manager.  Years ago, she had shot a party for Diego Della Valle and he had never forgotten her work; when Tod’s shot a new campaign to lighten the brand’s stolid image, Francesca was the only photographer they’d called.  She was only too happy to reciprocate the loyalty.  While waiting for her mother to choose between tan and beige, Francesca absentmindedly fingered a pair of men’s driving moccasins, her thoughts wandering to Paolo’s Maserati, to a vision of him behind the wheel, all aviator sunglasses and sexy hair, windows down, doing 85 on the winding roads leading down to Rapallo.  Christ.  She barely knew the man and she was thinking about buying him car shoes.  Maybe football players only wear trainers? she wondered.  Uncharacteristically, she hadn’t noticed his shoes.  Hadn’t made it that far.

“I wouldn’t even know what size,” she murmured.

“Signorina?”  The salesgirl ran up to offer assistance.  Anna perked up and eyed her daughter like a hawk.

“Sorry, nothing.  I was just thinking out loud,” Francesca apologized.

“Who are you buying shoes for?”  Anna called across the store.

“I thought these looked like Ricci,” Francesca fumbled, using her oldest brother’s pet name.

“In bright blue?  Your brother?”

“Yeah, maybe not.”  Francesca ambled back towards handbags, where she could avoid further suspicion.

Although the sales weren’t starting for another few weeks, the manager gave Anna the reduced price on the loafers, winking at Francesca.  Anna vowed to tell all her friends what a wonderful experience she’d had at the store and Francesca wanted nothing more than to disappear into the floor.  She was more than pleasantly surprised when her mother suggested stopping at a cafe for a coffee.  It was a beautiful late-autumn afternoon in Milan, and it would have been a shame to waste it inside a department store.

They sat outside at a little table, both wearing sunglasses, Anna with a scarf at her throat and Francesca in a Rick Owens leather jacket.

“You’re not telling me something,” Anna said to her daughter, and Francesca smiled.  She took another sip of her espresso but said nothing.

“You never do tell me anything, though,” her mother mused, “not like Ricci and Michele.  I always have to pry it out of you.”  She was right.  When Francesca had gotten her first spread in Vogue (Italia, not Paris or America), she’d said nothing and her mother had had to hear from a friend who had read Francesca’s name in the by-line.  She wasn’t sure why she did that.  Growing up seeing Ricci and Michele go running to their mother with every school paper and football award they’d received had kept her from doing the same.  When she was very young, she had confided her little victories in her father–pictures she’d drawn that got hung up on the classroom wall, a cookie she’d made especially for him with Federica.  After he was gone, she didn’t see the point in competing with her brothers for their mother’s affection.  Her father had loved them all equally, she was sure of that, even though he’d had fewer years to know Francesca, but it was their quiet, private relationship she knew neither of her brothers had had.

“And you certainly know how to pry,” Francesca answered.  “What is Federica making for dinner tonight?”

novel inspiration #1.

thank you, Dolce & Gabbana.

the ad that launched a thousand words.

a quick visit home.

photo via The Selby

It was imperative that she go home and change. Timo would never let her hear the end of showing up at the studio in yesterday’s clothes. She pulled into the courtyard of her building and parked the car at an angle. During the day, no one else in her building needed the space. She skipped the creaky iron elevator and ascended the curving central staircase. Francesca lived on the second floor, in an old, large, shabby apartment that at first seemed at odds with her modern and streamlined personal aesthetic. She loved its high ceilings with their faded and crumbling frescoes, the wainscoting with its deep oil stain, the slight divots in the marble of the stairs and hallways from years of people walking. The apartment was drafty, with large windows that made it too warm in the summer and too cold in the winter, but she adored the light. She had grown up in a house like this one, a decaying monument to Milan’s past, and it made her comfortable living here. Her neighbors were all older, kind people who kept to themselves, people who had lived in the building for years.

She opened her wardrobe and pulled out a fresh pair of Stella McCartney jeans and a striped sweater by Sacai. It was a chilly day in Milan, the first hint of winter in the air. She swapped her booties for red lizard flats, swiped on some mascara and lipstick, and bounded back to her car. On her way to the studio she called TImo again.
“Have you picked up lunch yet?” she asked.
“Ten minutes,” he answered.
“Good. When you go out, see if you can find a copy of that Turkish magazine. I’d like to take a look at it.”
“Already on it. They’re holding it for me at the newsstand.”
She loved him. She really, honestly loved him. Most days she was sure she would fall to pieces without the zany constancy Timo brought to her life.
But she wasn’t going to tell him about Paolo. There was nothing to tell. Her relationship with Timo had long since transgressed any professional bounds; they often confided in each other, traded tales of their exploits, or just rated men walking past while sitting in a cafe. As private as she was, Francesca trusted TImo with almost all of the intimate details of her life. But to tell him about Paolo would be like going back to secondary school, to make a big deal out of the most popular boy in school giving her a ride home on his motorcycle only to have him pretend like it had never happened. She was old enough to know not to embarrass herself.

Aperol Spritz.

They sat in a corner table at a small cafe. Though a northerner by birth, she hated Turin and its industrial anonymity, its faceless, sterile restaurants and cold, imposing warehouse clubs. But Paolo had found a cozy spot in the midst of the city’s perpetual winter. The waiter greeted him with a “Signor Paolo” and an Aperol spritz.
“He knows you,” Francesca remarked.
“They all do–this is the only place I like to come in town,” he said. “Spritz?”
“Another,” he told the waiter, passing Francesca his glass.
“Do you always drink during the season?”
“If I feel like it.”
“Aren’t you not supposed to?”
“Does it matter? Are they going to break my contract because I like to have an Aperol with a pretty girl? They can’t. They need me.”
“So, you do it anyway, you’re saying. To the detriment of the rest of your team.”
“No, I do what I want. It’s never bothered anyone before.”
“I’m not just anyone, Paolo.” She used his first name, and the effect was as if she had leaned in and touched his arm, even though she stayed in her chair, posture perfect and erect.
“You aren’t, are you? Signor Marco Ghiberti’s niece, Miss Photographer-for-Vogue…if I was a different man, I’d say you were out of my league.”
“Stop teasing.” She caught his eyes for a moment, then longer, falling into their inky depth. Unconsciously, she brought her finger to her lip and stroked it with her nail.
“I’m going to sleep with you,” he whispered across the table.
“Pardone?” she asked quietly.
“You heard me, signorina. Don’t pretend to be so innocent.”
“I’m surprised. You’ve surprised me.” He hadn’t, but experience had taught her the value in letting him think so. Later, she would surprise him.
“A pleasant surprise, I hope.”
She paused. “A surprise.”
“I have a flat near by.”
“A flat?”
“I live here during the season. The rest of the year, at Rapallo.”
“On the riviera.” She knew it well. “I have cousins near there.”
“Unbutton your shirt one more button,” he murmured, and she couldn’t mistake the huskiness in his voice. She knew that well, too.
She moved her hands to the crisp white fabric, then paused. “How far is your place?”
“The way I drive, five minutes.” He set a ten-Euro note on the table and waved good-bye to the waiter.