dinner party in Istanbul.
Our Lifestyle hosted a dinner on Thursday evening honoring its editor-in-chief, a man whom Francesca had expected not to like and, surprisingly, had. He was jovial, a veteran of several other publications, and he had been approached by the magazine’s owners to lead their new endeavor, by his own admission, because no woman would accept the post. It was a testament to his experience and reach that he had been able to assemble a staff with editorial credibility for a publication that had, seemingly, so many limitations.
At the dinner, she was astonished to see that no one was wearing a headscarf; all the women wore Versace minidresses or Dolce sheaths, the scene before her was nothing like the one she’d been shooting earlier in the day. She asked the editor, Osman, about the disconnect, and he laughed.
“You’re in Turkiye, Francesca,” he boomed. “We think Istanbul is on par with Paris and Milan.” And then he was gone, off shaking hands with advertisers.
It was a gorgeous night and they ate outside, at a banquet table stretched along the Bosporus. Half the guests had a view of the glimmering city lights and the illuminated minarets, and the other half looked out over the shimmering water, dotted with ships. She could hear Timo at the other end of the table, entertaining a number of elegant women and at least a couple handsome younger men. The seat beside Francesca was empty, but she began talking to the woman across the table, her mother’s age, perhaps, exotic-looking and dressed head to toe in designer clothes. She spoke passionately about Milan, how she traveled there every season for the shows, how fascinating Francesca’s job must be. Francesca was deep in conversation with her and barely noticed when someone sat down beside her, in the empty chair.
“May I sit here?” He spoke in English, and she noticed his accent was German.
“Yes, of course,” she answered in English. He held out his hand to introduce himself.
“Selim,” he said.
“Francesca,” she replied.
“You’re not English,” he stated, grinning.
“No,” she shook her head. “Italian.”
“I could tell. An Italian woman, she has a certain class that’s unmistakeable. You don’t forget her.”
“That’s kind of you to say,” she answered. “You’re making me blush.”
“You’re not blushing,” Selim said. “I wish I had worn a different color shirt, something dark green.”
“Why?” Francesca asked him, perplexed.
“So it would match the color of your eyes.” He paused. “Now you’re blushing.”
She laughed, he laughed with her, and even amidst the din of the party and the city, their laughter echoed through the night.
“You didn’t learn that at boarding school, did you?” she asked.
“How do you know about boarding school?” Now she had surprised him.
“Your accent. You speak English like a German. You must have learned it abroad.”
“Close,” he answered. “Austria.”
They hardly touched their dinner, they couldn’t stand to stop talking long enough to eat. Selim told her about the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, the clubs and shops in Nisantasi, everywhere she had to go and everything she had to do while she was in Istanbul.
“You’ll love it,” he said, taking her hand in his.
“I’m sure I will,” she replied.
They were still talking over coffee when one of the Versace women came over to Selim. She was tall and thin, big highlighted blonde hair and a big yellow diamond ring, perilously high Louboutin heels.
“Selim,” she purred, ignoring Francesca. And then she said something in Turkish. He answered, patiently, it seemed to Francesca, and then the woman said something else, winking and touching his arm. He replied, shaking his head, and she seemed rebuffed, and walked away.
“What just went on?” Francesca asked.
“More drama than you want to know,” he answered. “She seems to think that just because my wife is home with our sick daughter, we’re on the verge of divorce.”
Francesca smiled a half-smile, checking herself.
“How old is your daughter,” she asked without missing a beat.
“She’s two and a half,” he said. “And I have a son, with my first wife, who’s six.”
“That’s a lot of children and wives to keep track of,” Francesca said.
“You’re telling me,” he smiled. “Let’s leave here, let’s go have a drink somewhere we can talk,” he proposed.
Francesca watched the woman in the Versace dress walk away. “All right,” she said.