Paolo and Francesca…

a novel about beautiful people in Italy.

Month: July, 2012

another morning after.

She woke the next morning to an empty bed and the scent of coffee.  She struggled into her kimono robe, finally managing to tie the sash with one hand, and walked barefoot from the bedroom to the kitchen.  There was Paolo, in boxer briefs and nothing else, manning her espresso machine.

“Why, hello,” he smiled broadly.  “I was going to bring you breakfast in bed.”

“You are not,” she said.  “Really?  What are you going to make for breakfast?”

“You’ll just have to be surprised,” he answered.  Francesca’s mind raced to remember what else Federica had left for her in the refrigerator.  She knew all of Francesca’s favorite foods.  “Go back to bed,” Paolo insisted, pushing her playfully back towards the bedroom.

She sat obediently in bed, propped up against the headboard, flipping casually through a magazine she’d left on the side table.  When Paolo returned, carrying a tray piled with food, she moved over to make room for him.

He brought her steaming hot cappuccino, toast, prosciutto, soft ricotta, some fruit.  The perfect breakfast.

“Look at all this,” she said, picking up an orange segment with her fingers.

“At least we know one of us can cook,” he teased.

“I think it’s more preparing than actual cooking,” she countered.

“It’s more actual cooking than you’ve ever done.”

“Fair enough,” she said, feeding him a strip of prosciutto.  He nibbled at her fingers.

“What are you doing for the rest of the day?” he asked.

“Hm, I have to take it easy with this broken arm, the doctor told me.”  She climbed onto his lap, nestling herself into his crossed legs.  “I’m not supposed to go out.  I’ll probably just watch American movies on TV.”  She turned and kissed his bare chest.  “What about you?”

“I have to go back to Torino at some point,” he murmured into her hair.  She shook her head.  “I do,” he said.  “We have a team dinner on Sunday nights, and early practice on Mondays.”

“Where do you play this week?”

“Napoli,” he said, “so I’ll get to see my dad and my sister.  They’re coming to the game.”

“What about your mama?” Francesca asked, tracing the heart around Lucia’s name on his biceps.

He was quiet for a moment before answering.

“She’s dead,” he said, stroking her hair.  “She died eight years ago.”

“My father’s dead,” Francesca said.  They sat in silence for a minute; Francesca was reluctant to say anything else, she could sense Paolo was, too.  She shifted to face him and brushed his hair away from his face.  “It’s ok,” she said.  “It’s ok.”  She kissed him gently, first his forehead, then the tip of his nose, then his chin, each of his cheeks, finally his lips, just brushing against them at first, then wrapping her arms around him and pulling him deeply into her.

He pushed her robe off her shoulders to reveal the tops of her breasts and he reached for them, holding and caressing them.  He laid her back on the bed, untying her robe and opening it to reveal her naked body, then he silently slipped off his shorts.  He kissed her and entered her slowly, gently, and she kept him inside her and felt him growing and hardening there.  She touched her lips to his shoulder and he began to move just a little at first, tenderly but deliberately.  They didn’t speak, but he held her eyes with his and continued to make love to her.  It didn’t make up for her father, or, she imagined, for his mother; it didn’t mean that they could in some way fulfill the gaping hole of need each of them felt, it just meant, for this moment, they weren’t alone.  They had this modicum of intimacy that existed beyond the rest of the world, in her bed, in her room, in her apartment.

He came with a sudden thrust against her, and he stayed inside her and reached down to touch her until she came, too.  She curled up in his arms and pulled the sheets over them.

“You ok, baby?” he asked her.

“Yeah,” she said, burrowing further under the covers.  “I’m ok.”

“This thing with Inter,” he said, encircling her with his legs.  “It’s important that it stays quiet.”

“I know that,” she said.  “You still don’t trust me.”

“I trust you.  I just need to say it.”

inspiration #13 : Belle de Jour.

image via

I’ve felt like I’ve been hitting a wall this week…I’ve written very little (damn social life) and all my goals for this book seem suddenly and incredibly daunting.  But I did spend a bit of time this week at the movies, and just going out to the theatre reminded me how much I love film.  On top of that, Barnes & Noble had a 50% off sale on all Criterion Collection titles, so it was the perfect opportunity to add to my collection.

Belle de Jour arrived just in time for me to spend this rainy Saturday with Catherine Deneuve.  To say this movie is an inspiration is probably an understatement–after all, I straight-up reference it when Francesca and Anna go shopping.  I bought my first pair of Viviers after watching this film, too.

But I think what has most impacted me, watching it this time around, with Francesca and Paolo in mind, is Deneuve’s character Severine’s  sense of fantasy and curiosity.  How being inhibited is exactly what causes her to be uninhibited.  I’m not sure why Francesca should be drawn to Selim when she already has a good relationship with Paolo–by all standards, a fine catch.  In the same way Severine, with her perfect, handsome, doctor husband goes to work afternoons in the brothel.  It isn’t boredom.  It’s something deeper–a sense of restlessness and danger, maybe, transgressiveness–living a life she had previously only imagined.

And it’s a beautiful movie with beautiful people.  In Paris!





perfect Sunday morning.


at Tarallucci e Vino.

what’s eating Timo?


image via The Sartorialist.


On Monday, Timo came into work at 10am and left by 6pm.  He worked straight through the whole day, eating a chocolate bar for lunch and not leaving his desk except to get another coffee from the machine.  Francesca tried engaging him in conversation and failed; if Timo wasn’t making arrangements on his headset or furiously typing emails, he was messaging on his phone (she could only assume to Dario).  She spent the day editing her photos from Capri and speaking with stylists.  Tuesday morning she had a doctor’s appointment, at which she learned her arm was healing well but she would still have to wear the air-cast for another four weeks.  It was putting a cramp in her style, for sure.  When she arrived back at the studio Timo was still hard at work, but she caught a moment when he had gotten off the phone and sprung.

“Paolo was here this weekend,” she blurted out.  Timo stopped typing and turned to look at her.

“Paolo Romaldo?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.  “Obviously.”

“Ok,” he said.  “Why was Paolo here this weekend?”

“He came to see me.  He came over to my place for dinner on Saturday night.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Timo said.  “You don’t cook.  You live in a city full of good restaurants.  Why on earth would you have dinner at your place?”

“He didn’t want to go out,” Francesca answered.

“Please, elaborate.  Because right now this sounds like Harry Potter it’s so ridiculous.  What kind of food do you even keep at your house?  Because the last time I was there all you had was prosecco and potato chips.”

“Federica came to cook for me after I broke my arm,” she explained sheepishly, “so I had a proper dinner to serve.”

“I’m sure your mother loved that, lending out her housekeeper to feed you and your football fuckbuddy.”

“She didn’t know.  And no one knows Paolo was here so don’t tell anyone.”

Timo looked at her wearily.  “Francie, you know I love you.  I think you’re brilliant.  But you are out of your fucking mind if you think I’m sitting around talking about your and your boyfriend.”

“I just thought you might mention something to Davio–”

“Dario.  His name is Dario.  And he doesn’t care about you and Paolo Romaldo.  He’s studying string theory.”

“Ok, I just thought–”

“I’m happy for you, Francie, ok?  I really am.  But not everyone cares about how great your sex life is or how many times you did it in the shower or what kind of watch he wears.  Maybe you can call Cristina and she’ll want to hear about it.”

It stung her.  Timo always wanted to hear everything.  She was confused, after the weekend–Paolo came to see her, but he still didn’t trust her.  He opened up to her, but he was still distant.  He made the effort to be with her, but that wasn’t his primary reason for coming to Milan.  They sent text messages, but he wasn’t her boyfriend.  And the one thing she could always count on, Timo’s presence as a sounding-board, seemed to be gone.  What happened to him?

The door buzzed and Timo spoke into the intercom, then buzzed open the lock.  Several minutes later a delivery man knocked on the glass doors to the studio and walked in carrying a giant bouquet of flowers.  Francesca jumped up from her desk and ran over to take them from him, searching amidst the lilies for a card.  She opened it and read it, puzzled.

“Another surprise from Romaldo?” Timo asked.

“No,” Francesca replied, walking over to Timo’s desk.  She held out the card for him to read.  “They’re from Bruno.”

“Bruno,” Timo repeated.  “Interesting.”

“I don’t understand.”

Timo stood and held her by the shoulders.  “Francie,” he began slowly.  “I’m going to let you in on a secret.  Sometimes there is nothing to understand.  It just is.”  With that, he sat down at his desk and resumed working.

She spent a good part of her day staring at her phone trying to decide whether to text Romaldo.  She looked at the team’s schedule and saw his game this week was at home, in Turin.  He would be around.  She hadn’t heard from him.  There was, however, the issue of Bruno’s flowers.  She should thank him for them.  It was a nice thing to do–he was wishing her a quick recovery, and apologizing again for the accident.  But she didn’t want to start something that could be perceived as something else.  She didn’t want to lead him on.  Paolo would distract her from having to do something about Bruno, but without anything from Paolo, she didn’t trust herself not to get bored.

She waited until Wednesday morning and sent him a message then.

Good luck tonight! xxFrancesca

She didn’t expect to hear back from him soon.  She was getting accustomed to his reticence.  It was just the way he was.  But she didn’t know what to do about anything–about Timo and his strange new attitude, about Bruno and his disconcerting attentiveness, about Paolo.  Always about Paolo.  Her phone buzzed.

Thanks.  Will talk after.  X PR.

He was great when he was with her.  He was in the moment, entirely.  But when she wasn’t with him, she might as well be any other woman in the world.  He was cold, almost.  Not cold, that wasn’t entirely correct.  But definitely not her boyfriend.

It was barely noon.  The game wasn’t until much later.  She couldn’t expect to hear from him until late that night, if at all.  However. she had made dinner plans for that evening with her brother Ricci and his wife.  She wasn’t sure why she had agreed to go, except it had been a long time since she’d seen her brother and given what had happened with Bruno, her curiosity was piqued.  But it was all starting to seem like a bad idea; her wrist was throbbing a little and she wanted nothing more than to stay home and watch a movie.  And lie in the bed where Paolo had laid with her.

aperol spritz spotted!


look what I found at a bus stop on Amsterdam Ave last night…looks like Paolo and Francesca’s favorite aperitif has made it to New York.

an evening cruise on the Bosporus.

When she returned to her hotel room that afternoon, all signs of the Turk were gone; the room was as immaculate as when she’d checked in.  But when she opened her suitcase to change into a t-shirt, she found a note on top of her carefully-folded clothes.

Francesca, It was a pleasure.  Will you join me for dinner tonight?  Together we can enjoy Istanbul.  I’ll send a car for you at 8pm.  Selim

Francesca collapsed onto the giant bed and kicked off her heels.  Tonight?  She had planned to order room service with Timo and watch Real Housewives on the satellite TV, but with any luck, Timo would be passed out already, after the night he’d had.  She looked at her watch.  Four o’clock.  She had time either to buy a new dress or take a nap.  Both seemed equally essential if she was going to survive another evening in Istanbul.  She mentally flipped through the outfits she’d brought with her: jeans and tops for working, the L’Wren Scott dress she’d worn last night, a Givenchy blouse and the Prada pleated skirt.  Of all options, the Givenchy-Prada combination was the only possibility, but it seemed too prim for this city.  She reflected on the women at the dinner last night.  These people dressed for the evening.

She lifted the phone next to the bed and pressed zero.

“At your service, Ms Ghiberti,” the concierge answered.

“Ciao, I mean, good afternoon.  Is there an Yves Saint Laurent boutique in town?”

“Of course, Ms Ghiberti.  May I connect you?”

“Please, will you.”  There was a pause on the line.

“YSL Nisantasi,” a sales associate answered.

“Hello, do you speak English?” Francesca asked.

“Yes, of course,” the associate replied.

“Good, thank you.  I need a dress.  Do you have the black knit that was the runway look?  Size 38, please.”

“I have to check.  One moment, please.”  She heard the sound of footsteps, and the faint pulsing of the music that YSL played in all their boutiques.  It struck her as funny that even in someplace as foreign as Istanbul, Yves Saint Laurent was always the same.  “I’m sorry,” the associate said, “we don’t have the black.”

“Do you have anything comparable?” Francesca asked, slightly despairingly.

“How do you feel about red?” the associate asked.

Francesca laughed to herself.  “The same dress?  That will be fine.”  She gave her credit card over the phone, along with instructions for the store to deliver the dress to the hotel concierge no later than six-thirty.  Satisfied, she burrowed into the pillows and fell asleep.

At six-thirty the phone rang.

“Ms Ghiberti, your package is here.  Would you like us to deliver it to your room now?”

Francesca glanced at her watch.  She wanted to sleep more but should probably start getting ready.  “Please,” she answered.

“Very well,” the concierge replied.  “I’ll be up in a moment.”

The dress was exactly as Francesca had expected, but red.  She hung it on the back of the bathroom door to steam and drew a bath in the huge tub.

At 8:05 she walked into the hotel lobby, and a doorman rushed to greet her.

“Your car, Ms Ghiberti,” he said, escorting her outside.  He opened the door to the same (or was it a different one?  how could one ever tell?) black S-500 from the night before.  Selim was already sitting in the back.  He looked her up and down approvingly.

“You are stunning in red,” he said, kissing her deeply.

At least her dress had had the desired effect.  “Thank you,” she answered.

“I have a surprise for you,” he said, clasping her hands in his.

“I can’t imagine,” she murmured.

The driver took them to a yacht club on the Bosporus, and the Turk led her down the dock to a gorgeous vintage Chris-Craft, all lacquered teak and polished brass trim.

“Selim!” she exclaimed.

“The best way to see Istanbul is from the Bosporus,” he said, leading her to the gangway.  A captain stood aboard, helping them on.  She noticed champagne chilling in a bucket in the cabin.  When they were underway, Selim went inside and returned with two flutes and the bottle; he passed her the glasses and popped the cork over the side of the boat, in a display she found both ostentatious and endearing.

“How often do you get to enjoy this?” she asked him.

“The boat?” he replied.  “Honestly, almost never.  My wife is afraid, with the children, and I hardly have any free time I’m not spending with them.  It’s a shame,” he said wistfully.

“It’s perfect for tonight,” she said, raising her glass to him.

“To us,” he said, “and no one else.”

“To us,” she toasted.

As they cruised the Bosporus he pointed out the city’s landmarks–Topkapi, Hagia Sophia, all the mansions and the skyscrapers visible from the water.  As she had been the night before, Francesca was transfixed by the lights of the city.

“It’s magical, isn’t it?” Selim remarked.

She turned to him and embraced him.  “It’s incredible,” she said.

The captain docked the Chris-Craft at a small, private quay in a different part of the city than where they’d been before.  The Turk helped Francesca off the boat and along the quay to an alleyway, only wide enough for two people to walk abreast.  They were in the old part of the city, a maze of tiny paths amidst crumbling buildings, the beautiful decrepitude for which Istanbul is known.  They walked in silence, Francesca looking around with wide eyes, wishing she had her camera.  After a few minutes walking he led her through a heavy carved wood door and they were inside a courtyard.  Francesca caught her breath–it was all stained glass and hanging gardens and candlelight, an intimate, kaleidoscopic version of the city.  And it smelled divine.

“Dinner,” Selim said with a smile.

inspiration #12 : Paparazzi.

I’ve been enjoying playing with the idea that Francesca is a photographer, yet one of the primary concerns when she spends time with Paolo (and with the Turk, Selim) is avoiding photographers.  She’s obviously a private person, and her upbringing has instilled in her an innate disdain for publicity-seekers.  There’s also a strong separation between her kind of photography and how she perceives paparazzi.

Paparazzi is a concept Italian in origin (invented, or at least first documented, by Fellini in La Dolce Vita).  Paolo insists on meeting Francesca at the Armani Hotel in Milan because he’s convinced that the Torinese paparazzi have followed Juventus to the hotel where the team is staying.  In Istanbul, Selim directs his driver to drop them off at the back of a club to avoid the paparazzi crowded by the front door.  Though she lives in the highly-exposed world of fashion, Francesca has never had to work particularly hard to protect her privacy–yet, with these two men, she necessarily becomes more visible.

lunch with Cristina.

She scheduled lunch with her best friend for Friday afternoon.  Cristina was customarily late, so Francesca sat alone at a small table at Pane e Acqua, drinking sparkling water and wishing she had a glass of wine.  It would make the conversation easier, she thought.  Then again, it was barely noon, and Cristina was already going to be inclined to look at her judgmentally.  Better not to start drinking before her friend arrived.

Cristina burst into the restaurant and waved excitedly at Francesca, bustling over to their little table and nearly upsetting two vases and a bottle of wine on her way.  She wore a quilted Burberry jacket and carried a giant nylon Prada tote, which Francesca had once joked resembled a baby bag, a comment she had to retract when she learned Cristina and Giovanni had unsuccessfully been trying to get pregnant for months.  Francesca smiled and waved back at her friend, standing as she approached the table to hug and kiss her.

“Ciao Cristina!  You look great,” Francesca said.

“Shut up,” Cristina answered.  “You’re ridiculous, I look like a mess and I know you hate this jacket.  But it’s cold out and I can’t find anything in my closet.”

“You know I don’t think that.  It just reminds me of the countryside.”

“False.  Stop now before you say something else asinine.”

Francesca sighed.  “That’s not going to happen.  I have a story for you.”

“Hah!  I knew it!  I knew something was up when you called to have lunch after not doing anything for months.  What happened with Bruno?”  Cristina had a preternatural ability to remember names and other details of Francesca’s personal life.

“Let’s order first.  It’s not Bruno.  And I’m starving.”

After they placed their orders (Cristina for a salad, dressing on the side, Francesca for pasta), Francesca launched into the full narrative of Paolo Romaldo, beginning with the afternoon at Stadio dell’Alpi and ending with “I’m dating a beautiful woman named Francesca”.  Cristina ate while Francesca spoke, first her entire salad, then, as Francesca kept talking, her untouched linguine, reaching across the table to twirl the pasta on her fork.

Cristina paused for a moment to swipe her iphone.

“This man?  This is the man you’re dating?”  Cristina had pulled up a photo of Paolo Romaldo from the game earlier that week.  He was sweaty in his uniform, captured mid-run, the ball at his feet.

“That’s the one,” Francesca replied.

“You have got to be shitting me.  Do you know what a big deal this is?  You go from having all those boring boyfriends and non-boyfriends and now, all of a sudden, you get the most perfect man in the world?  No way.  No fucking way.”

Francesca laughed.  “He’s hardly the most perfect man in the world,” she began.

“You’re just saying that.  Give me an example of how he’s not perfect.  He doesn’t have a job?  Nope, that’s not it.  He’s ugly?  Uh, right.  He can’t keep an erection?  Highly doubtful, I’ve seen those photos on the blogs.”

“What photos on the blogs?”

“The ones of him popping a boner on the beach.  Please.”

“Oh my God, Cristina.  I can’t believe you.”  Francesca was shaking with laughter.

“I’m telling you, I’ve seen it.  It’s impressive.  And it sounds like you’re pretty satisfied…”  She waved at the waiter to come over.  “We’d like some espresso, please, and a couple of those chocolate biscotti.”

“It’s pretty great, yeah,” Francesca answered.  “I just wonder how long it can last.  I’m always traveling, he’s always traveling, even when we’re not we don’t live in the same place.  It’s not really a plan for stability.”

“It’s the best thing in the world,” Cristina said.  “Every time you see him it’s exciting.  You never have to do his laundry.  How is this bad?”

“I suppose,” Francesca conceded.

“Do you like him?  I can tell you like him.  You’re blushing, now.  You like him.  Do you love him?”

Francesca paused.  “I do like him.  I don’t know if I love him.  I don’t know how I would know.”

“I think you just decide,” Cristina said, reaching for a biscotti.  “As a friend, I’m telling you I think it would be a wise decision.”

“You’re getting ahead of things,” Francesca replied.

pin it.

follow Francesca on Pinterest to see more about her world.

a couple of her latest…

Parma & Co, Milano

Alaia laser-cut clutch

Mario Gomez on holiday (and in revealing swim trunks)

shower scene.

Francesca buried her head in pillows as the sun rose above the skylights.  They smelled like him, his subtle cologne, his sweat, his musk.  She burrowed under the covers and felt him surround her, his legs wrapping around hers, his arms enveloping her torso.  Somewhere downstairs, a phone rang a classical tune.

“What time is it?” she asked his forearm.

“Morning,” he answered.

She kissed the tattoo on his arm gently.  “Who’s Lucia?” she said softly, tracing the heart around the letters with her lips.

He reached down to tousle her hair and kissed the top of her head.  “My mama,” he answered.

“That’s sweet,” Francesca replied, twining her fingers in his.

“What happened to my tiger from last night?” he asked.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she answered.  She stood, wrapping herself in the bedsheet.  “May I use your shower?”

He gestured down the stairs.

Romaldo had a rain shower head, and as she stood under it, hot water streaming in rivulets down her body, Francesca reflected on how good it felt.  The warm water pounding against her electric skin, the sweet soreness when she bent to pick up the soap.  It had been a long time since she’d felt this good, thoroughly and deeply satisfied by a man intent on pleasing her.  And what a man.  Almost as soon as she had thought it, he appeared through the glass door and opened it, joining her in the shower.  She looked at him coolly, feeling suddenly exposed and interrupted in her thoughts.

“I thought I’d join you,” he explained.

“I usually shower alone,” she said.

“I have to leave soon,” he murmured into her neck, reaching around her for the soap.  She turned to face him, burying her hands in his wet hair, kissing him fully as the shower rained down on them.  Barefoot and standing she was still nearly his height, and she pressed the fullness of her breasts against his strong chest, staying like that for a minute, maybe two, to feel his heart beating against her body.  He reached around and grabbed her ass, pulling her closer to him still, as if to imprint the heft of his growing cock against her belly.

“How soon do you have to leave?” she asked.

“I have time to finish my shower,” he said, turning her and pressing her, face first, against the marble wall.  He stood behind her and entered her slowly, but still she gasped, taking his thickness.  Then he reached around to stroke her clit with his right hand, his fingers taking up the rhythm of his thrusts.  He moved his fingers up from her pussy to the manicured hair leading from it.

“I like your racing stripe,” he said, his voice labored.

“Stop teasing–” she implored, grabbing his hand and pushing it back down.  She was pressed flat against the wall now, bracing with her arms, grinding her pelvis down on his hand and dick, her head turned to the side, eyes closed and breath heavy.  The shower kept raining, and Romaldo slammed into her rapidly, desperately, relentlessly, until he came and pulled back from her, kissing the back of her neck and reaching to cup her breasts in his hands.

She crumpled to the shower floor; she sat with her legs akimbo and he sat behind her, wrapping his legs around hers, reaching around her again and stroking her giant swollen clit.  He moved his fingers in circles, first wide then spiraling in on the bullseye at the top of her slit.   She took his left hand and inserted his fingers, he curled them to hit her g-spot, and she lay back against him, letting his hands work.  In minutes she had come again, moaning and pushing her silky liquid over his hands.

“Now I can go,” he said.  “I didn’t want to leave until you had come one more time.”

“Oh,” she said.  “All right.”