Paolo and Francesca…

a novel about beautiful people in Italy.

Month: July, 2012

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.

pillow talk.

photo via Sferra

“I like your bedroom,” he said afterwards, looking around approvingly.

“You haven’t explained why you couldn’t go out to a restaurant,” she said.

He smiled.  “Because we couldn’t do what we just did in a restaurant.  Certainly not now, with your broken arm.”

She smacked him with a pillow.  “Seriously.”

“Seriously?”  He turned and kissed her breast.  “I was meeting with Inter.”

“Inter?”

“It’s a football team here.”

“I know that,” she said.  “But I thought you were under contract to Juventus.”

“I am,” he answered.  “And the contract is shitty and I signed it when I was twenty so I really didn’t know any better, but Inter seem to think I can fight my way out of it if I’m willing to move.”

“You mean they’ll help you break the contract as long as you sign on with them.”

“You understand completely.”  He kissed her skin again.

“Do you want to play for Inter?” she asked.

“They’re making me an offer that’s hard to refuse.  And I wouldn’t mind living in Milano rather than Torino.”  Her heart soared.  “I could get used to your cooking.”

“How long has this been going on?” she asked him.

“Honestly?  Juve knows I’m underpaid–” she looked at him incredulously “–comparatively.  So they’ve been throwing me a bonus every year to keep me happy.  They got me cheap.  And they’ve got the upper hand because I signed the contract.  I know I could do better somewhere else–financially, at least.  And Inter’s a winning team.  The only time they ever lose is to us.”

She stroked his head.  “I need to be able to play Serie A and Champions League and national team games, so I need to sign to a team that will allow me all those things.  And I need to make my money now–I’m not going to be able to play like this forever.”

“So what are your options?”

“In Italy?  Really only a handful of teams–Juve, Inter, Milan, sometimes Fiorentina, sometimes Lazio–play at that level and have the kind of payroll to bring me on.  Outside of Italy, there are more options but it’s harder to begin the conversation.”  He sighed.

“Poor baby,” Francesca laughed.  “So many millions of Euros, so many decisions.”

“You don’t know what it’s like,” he said, propping himself up on his elbows.  “We had no money.  We lived in an apartment above the barbershop and I shared a bedroom with my sister.  I started playing football because I had no other choice–I would have been paving roads or mopping floors.”

“But you’re not,” she said.

“Not now, no.  You’ve got your safety net–you’ve got Mario and your brothers.  I am that safety net for my family.  My kid sister, she’s going to university now because of me.”

Francesca bent down to kiss him, long and full.  “You’re a good man, Paolo Romaldo.  Don’t let anyone say you aren’t.”

inspiration #11 : Layer Cake / Sienna Miller.

My love for Layer Cake  knows no bounds.  Obviously.  Daniel Craig is d-r-e-a-m-y, Sienna Miller is gorgeous, they both get undressed…I mean, what’s not to love?  Oh, a complicated plot involving drug trafficking?  Nice.

This scene is one of my favorites; Rolling Stones soundtrack, Agent Provocateur lingerie, hotel sex…so much here to set the mood.  If you haven’t already noticed, Francesca enjoys the hotel sex (with Paolo, and perhaps with others).  When I write those scenes, I always think about how hot this movie is.  Again, what’s not to love?

researching Paolo.

photo via kickette.com

Francesca moved to her desk, where she started up her Mac and began to look at a day of email she’d skimmed over on her phone.  Contractual stuff she’d forward to Timo, requests for permission to reprint, gossipy missives from her friends.  She stared at the screen for a moment before clicking on Google and typing in “Paolo Romaldo.”  Instinctively, habitually, she looked at the image results first: action shots of him on the field in his black and white uniform, a couple of what she’d categorize as “lifestyle” shots, pictures of him in regular clothes, posing, a few photos from the 2006 World Cup, wearing a medal.  Several photos in front of different step-and-repeat screens at events, a different woman on his arm at each one.  The girls were invariably tall, blonde, and beautiful.  If she had to guess, Francesca would say they were models.  Maybe former models.

She clicked over to the “everything” results.  First up, his official biography on the Juventus roster.  She read it line by line.  Born in the south of Italy, in the football system since grade school and officially recruited out of secondary school to under-17 and then under-19  teams.  Played his first professional ball at Napoli and then traded to Juventus in a multi-million Euro deal that, if she was understanding it properly, secured his place on the team for seven years.  The curious part of his biography was the section titled “Hobbies”: opera, languages, and motorsports.  Opera?  His taste in music was awful.  She wondered, briefly, if there were just a bunch of nouns thrown in a hat and each player had to choose three.  No mention of his family, no mention of his status, no mention of any extracurricular activities beyond opera, languages, and motorsports.  But that was just the official biography.

Unofficially, she found a lot more details.  From the websites of magazines she regularly tried to avoid, she found conclusive evidence that he had been linked to a top runway model, a girl she knew from the shows.  She also found that he recently negotiated a contract extension that would, when finalized, net him over $30 million Euro for the next five years.  She found a lot of youtube videos of a goal from Euro 2010 that had seemed impossible and sent Italy into the semi-finals.  She found even more videos of Champions League footage, mostly dramatic goals but occasionally just brilliant passing plays.  She watched them with the sound muted.  He moved sinuously, confidently, the same way he’d moved the night before.  Like he knew exactly what he was doing.  Paparazzi reports of sightings in Anacapri, San Remo, and Cinque Terre, each time with some different, brand-name girl.  Francesca grew bored and googled herself.  The results looked like her portfolio: a listing of all her shoots, campaigns, and spreads, biggest names first: Vogue Paris SS 2011 runway recap, Marni FW 2011 campaign, Fendi Jewelry, and on and on.  She skimmed the first five pages and found nothing remotely personal.  Good.  The last thing she wanted on the internet was a running commentary on her social life.

She paged back to the image results for Romaldo.  A few dozen photos in, she found the D&G underwear shot.  She downloaded it to her computer and popped it into Photoshop, then zoomed in on the handsome man at the back of the photo.  Even though it was five years old, he still looked exactly the same.  Chiseled pects and abs, tan, muscled legs and arms, and that unmistakable bulge.  Feeling her pulse quicken, Francesca looked around guiltily for Timo, who was at his desk, wearing his headset and having an intense conversation on Skype.  Safe.  She turned her attention back to her massive monitor and the image of Romaldo.  If she closed her eyes, she could feel her fingers on his skin, tracing its contours and hardness, and she remembered the weight of his body on hers, the warmth and the pressing and the sweat and then fullness.  It seemed like it hadn’t been real.

party on Capri.

image via The Sartorialist

Timo flirted with the DJ, the waiters flirted with the models, everyone drank more limoncello ices, and Francesca started to feel like a chaperone at a school dance.  She had work to do tomorrow–not much, but enough to keep her occupied until her afternoon flight back to Milan.  She still felt ambivalent being in Capri.  She was looking for something that just wasn’t here, it seemed.  And then Bruno was beside her.  As a party guest, he seemed entirely at ease mingling and laughing; she had watched him entertaining a gaggle of girls, discussing Clyfford Still with the art director, and even John Waters films with Timo.  She was fairly certain he was having a better time than she was.  He handed her a beverage with lime.

“Sparkling water,” he said.

“Thank you–I don’t think I could drink anything else.”

“Neither could I.  You looked like maybe you were getting dehydrated,” he smiled.  “Thanks for bringing me here.  It’s been great.”

“I’m glad you’re enjoying it.  Sometimes these things can be a bit much.”

“But this is Capri,” Bruno said.  “Everything’s always just right here.”  He paused.  “Are you ready to go?”

Francesca nodded.  “I’ll just tell Timo,” she said.  But when she found Timo, on the aft deck, he was having an animated phone conversation.  It was probably with Davio, she guessed, and rather than interrupt him she just waved at him, and he waved back, and she decided that was as good as telling him she was leaving.

It was a starry, moonless night in Capri.  The stillness of the off-season island echoed in the darkness, the cool breeze the only indicator of the coming winter.  Francesca stumbled off the yacht’s gangway onto the dock, and Bruno caught her arm.

“Easy, sailor,” he said.  Her crystalline laugh cut the quiet night as she steadied herself.

“Easy yourself,” she answered.  They walked a few steps, Bruno still holding her arm, lightly, but present.

“Does anyone still call you Francie?” Bruno asked.

“How can you possibly remember that?” Francesca was surprised.

“I remember a lot about you, Francie.  I had never met a girl like you.  You were so serious, and smart–one time you spent the afternoon in my parents’ garden reading a book and when I asked you what you were reading you told me it a biography of Leni Riefenstahl.  And you were twelve, probably.”

“Weren’t you a little old to be so curious about a girl my age?”

“I was.  But I was only curious then,” he answered.  He was right.  Whatever Bruno had thought of her, Francesca had never known.  “I may be more than just curious now.”

Even in her wedges, Francesca was still shorter than Bruno, and in the dock’s half-light she could only make out the angles and the contours of his face, just the shadows of his expression.  She couldn’t tell if he was still joking, like he had been all night, or if he had become serious.  He held her shoulders gently, stroking her cool skin with his warm thumbs.

“Are you still so serious and smart?” he asked quietly, and leaned in to kiss her.

It happened so fast, it seemed–he was kissing her, and she was kissing him back, long and sweet.  He surprised her with his tenderness; she was so accustomed to a kiss being just a prelude to something else, something more, but with Bruno the kiss was the whole point.  They were on an island, this man who was so different now, but the same, kind Bruno.  She wanted to see him at work, to see how he traded his kindness for shares and equity.  He stroked her ear gently and kissed her deeply, completely.  And then she pulled away, shocked.

“I’m sorry–” she stammered, disoriented.  For a moment he was gawky, geeky Bruno again, compass hanging from his belt, socks too high.

“I’m sorry, Francie.  I didn’t mean–”

“No,” she said, “no, it’s okay.  I’m just confused.  We haven’t seen each other in so many years.  I think I’ve had too much to drink.”  She looked past him, back to the yacht, and saw Timo on deck, leaning over the rail watching them.  “I think I’ll just go home now,” she said, walking back towards the harbor.

“Please, Francie, I’m sorry, I won’t do it again.  Please, I’ll drive you home.  I don’t know what came over me.  I’m just going to drive you home.”

She stopped walking away from him.  It was late, she could call a car or try to hail a taxi but it would take time, and she was exhausted.  She just wanted to go to sleep.

“Francie, please,” Bruno pleaded.

She nodded and walked silently towards his Vespa.

It was cooler away from the shore and Francesca sat close to Bruno, trying to keep from shivering but trying not to hold him too tightly.  They flew around the dark curves at acute angles, and for a minute she was scared and she buried her head in the warm, strong space between his shoulders.  Their headlight cut a narrow beam through the blackness, glancing off lemon trees and stone columns as they ascended the curvy road.  She heard it first, the sound of the skidding and the gravel and the tires, she heard it because it was too dark to see anything and then she felt a sharp crack and then nothing.

inspiration #10 : Venice.

image courtesy of Musei Civici Veneziani

In the excerpt where Francesca and the Turk (Selim) are in the bar in Istanbul, they start talking about Venice, and particularly about an art museum there, Ca’Pesaro.  Ca’Pesaro is a 17-century palazzo on the Grand Canal dedicated primarily to 19th and 20th-century Italian art.  It does have a copy of Rodin’s “The Thinker”, as Selim remembers.

As home of the Biennale, Venice is one of the best places in the world to see contemporary art, and since it is a city unlike any other (canals, gondolas, etc.), the format of the museums and galleries in Venice makes it an exciting place to see art.  Ca’Pesaro is a perfect example–when Selim says he wandered into the museum by accident, it’s because the back of the museum, where the entrance is, opens up to a small alley near San Stae (and a great pizza place called Muro).  Most of the city’s museums are in fascinating buildings: Punta della Dogana, Palazzo Grassi, and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection are among my favorites.

Francesca may be a commercial photographer, but hearing Selim speak about a modern art museum piques her artistic sensibility and her curiosity.  He is somewhat clever, as well, to have figured out that speaking about art will appeal to her.  It may be more than just a one-night stand…

ring ring.

image courtesy Apple

Francesca changed out of her skirt and sweater and into a cashmere robe and was pouring herself a glass of wine when her phone rang.  She looked at the screen and saw it was Paolo; in the photo she had on his caller ID he was wearing sunglasses and looking perpetually cool.  It made her smile every time he called.

“Paolo!” she answered.

“Cesca, bella, how are you?”

“Where are you?” she asked.

“I told you, I’m in Munich.  This week is Champions League.  Where are you?”

“Back in Milan.  Working.  It’s been busy–we’re trying to get our schedules set for the shows next month and Timo goes home for Christmas next week and there’s a lot to get settled.  And my mother is driving me crazy about making plans for Christmas with my brothers.  Are you going back to Torino before you go home to Napoli for the holidays?”  She paused, waiting for his reply, and heard only silence on the other end.

“Sorry, what did you say?” he finally asked.

“You weren’t even listening to me,” she scolded playfully.

“This is a big game tomorrow, I’m sorry, I’m a little distracted.  God, I’ve been thinking about you for days.”

“Liar.”  She walked into her bedroom and stretched out on her bed, setting the wine on her nightstand.

“I have.  I’ve been trying so hard to concentrate on the plays we’re practicing and the tapes we’re watching and instead all I see is that perfect pair of tits, I just want to bury my face in them,” he said.

“And?”

“And…are we doing this, Cesca?”

She pressed the speaker button on her phone and set it on the bedside table.  “Yes, let’s.  If I can’t have you here–“

“So what are you wearing?” he chuckled.

“Mmmm, well, I just got home from work, and I had a big meeting today, so I had to get all dressed up.  I was just about to take off my clothes now.”  She laid back against the pillows in her bathrobe.  It wasn’t a total fabrication–she had had a big meeting earlier that day, and she had been all dressed up.

“Are you going to take off your shirt?” He asked.

“Oops, yes–I just dropped it on the floor.  And now I’m unzipping this pencil skirt–it was like having my ass in a straitjacket all day long.”

“I like that.  Your ass in a straitjacket.”

“I bet you do.  It feels so good to take it off.  I had to wear stockings today, too, because it was so chilly here.  And you know I only like to wear the ones with the garter belt.”

“What color?” he asked.

“Black, of course.  All black.  I’m standing in front of my mirror now, Paolo.  I think I’ll keep my shoes on.  It’s drafty in here, my nipples are hard, they’re sticking out.”

“I just walked in through your front door,” he said.  “I’m calling your name and walking through your apartment looking for you, but you’re not answering.”

“I left you a trail of clothes,” she said.  “You know to come find me in the bedroom.”

“And I do.  There you are, standing in front of your mirror, admiring yourself.  And you see me walk up behind you–“

“You must have just had a meeting with management,” she said, “because you’re wearing your suit.  And even in the reflection in the mirror, I can see you’re hard, you’re huge against the front of those trousers, and you’re standing close behind me and reaching around me and pressing your cock against me–”  She reached inside her bathrobe and began stroking herself.

“God, yes,” he said.  “I’m rubbing against you, and I’m about to get off just from that, because I’m grabbing your tits and you’re grinding your ass on me and we’re watching it in the mirror, and you’ve got those shoes on, the ones you wore to that first game–“

“Reach inside my panties,” she begged him, circling herself furiously.  “Reach inside me–“

“Not yet,” he said.  “I need to get out of my pants.  I’m going to come in my pants, I’m so close.  You can barely tear them off me fast enough.  You kneel down to get me out of my pants, and I throw off my jacket and shirt, and I push you down on the floor because I want to eat your pussy.  I’m going to grab your ass and dive straight into your pussy and I’m going to eat you until you’re throbbing.  Until you’re bucking against my face.  I’m going to make you beg me to stop.”

She was almost about to beg him to stop now.  “Paolo,” she whispered.

“Tell me what happens next,” he said, and she could hear rustling on the other end of the line.

“I have to push you away.  And then I get on my hands and knees in front of the mirror, and you’re behind me, we’re watching ourselves–“

There was a more regular rustling now, she could tell he was jerking off, breathing erratically, and she picked up the slack.  “You’re kneeling behind me, your cock is huge, and I reach back to put you in me.  And you’re fucking me, Paolo, I can barely keep from collapsing onto the floor.”

“Cesca–” he said raggedly.

“I know, baby.  You’re coming, I’m coming, we’re watching ourselves in the mirror and it’s like a movie.”  She paused.  “You’re slapping against my ass and you’re touching my clit and I’m so close.”  Her voice trailed off and she heard him yell out, distant from the phone, and she fell back quietly against the pillows.

“I fucking hate Germany,” he said.  “I would much rather be with you than in this cold hotel room with my dick in my hand.”

“I’d rather have your dick in my mouth,” she said, smirking.

“God, Cesca.  You’re killing me.”

inspiration #9 : Lana Del Rey.

 

I’ve been listening to a lot of Lana Del Rey as I’ve been writing this summer (thanks, Michael & Jonathan).  It’s hard to say which song on  Born to Die  is my favorite; actually, after listening to the whole thing at least seven times, there aren’t that many songs I don’t like.  As far as my own experience is concerned, I have a strong affinity for “Blue Jeans” (“said you had to leave to start your life over”) and “National Anthem” (“before we go out, what’s your address?”).

But for inspiration?  “Video Games” is it.  I’ve always been curious about how two people fall in love / develop an almost-obsessive relationship that’s obviously on a fast track to disaster (not really a spoiler alert, just an observation).  I think “Video Games” is a good representation of that–it all starts out innocently enough but soon snowballs into “it’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you, everything I do…”

Also, this is just a fucking beautiful song and video.  Paz de la Huerta!  “I heard that you like the bad girls, honey, is that true?”

later, with the Turk.

He had a car waiting for them to leave the party, a big black Mercedes S-class, and a driver who took them to a bar in Nisantasi.  He pulled around the back, purposely avoiding the crowds at the front of the club, the photographers, the step-and-repeats, the men in tight shirts and girls in tiny dresses.  A hostess showed them to a table at the back, red and candle-lit.  Selim said something to her in Turkish and she walked away.

“Why do you advertise in this kind of magazine?”  A waiter came over to their table with a bucket and a bottle of champagne; Francesca recognized the label, and the waiter popped the cork as discreetly as he could, pouring two glasses of Cristal.

“What do you mean?” Selim asked, after they had raised their glasses..

“Look at you,” she said.  “You’re drinking, you’re smoking, you’re with strange women.  You’re obviously not an observant Muslim.”

He grinned, lightly stroking her forearm with his fingers.  “How I was raised, Islam is just something you are.  This is how I’ve always lived.  Turkey has always been secular.”

“So why do you support this kind of publication?”

“These readers are aspirational.  Maybe some middle-class women will choose to wear the headscarf but that’s as far as it will go–my wife wouldn’t, none of her friends would.  It’s a movement of the lower classes, as tactless as that sounds to say.  But when they want to buy a Tiffany open heart necklace, I want them to come to my stores.  It isn’t a political statement, it’s just commercial.”

“And that’s it?” she pressed.

“Why are you here, if you’re so troubled by it?” he countered.

“Same as you, purely commerce.”

“I’ll try to give you more reasons to enjoy Istanbul,” he smiled, and wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her close to kiss her.

Francesca knew she had been flirting with this man all night, she had left the party with him and accepted his expensive, ostentatious champagne and sat beside him in the dark, smoky bar, letting him touch her and hold her and speak to her softly, but she hadn’t thought about what happens next.  She had been with Paolo for so long that she had forgotten what it was like.  With Paolo, everything just happened.  This man, the Turk, was playing it out.  The wife, the ex-wife, the two children, everything that comprised his life that he was able to ignore or neglect or disavow tonight.  She drank the crisp, dry champagne, fingering the long, elegant stem of her glass and watching him watch her.

“I was walking in Venice one day,” he began, speaking low and deliberately.  “I was alone, just wandering, it was January and cold.  That damp cold of Venice, the cold from the water and the stone.  I went into a palazzo to get warm, someplace along the Grand Canal, and I came face to face with that sculpture, you know–” he posed like Rodin’s Thinker, his elbow on his knee and his chin on his hand.

“The Thinker,” Francesca said, “I know where that is.  Ca’Pesaro.  I did the same thing, once.  We were on a school trip and I thought I was going to be an artist, you know, everyone fancies themselves an artist in Venice, so I would wander off with my camera and take photos of pigeons or doorways or views down a narrow canal.  And then I stumbled into Ca’Pesaro and saw the Rodin and I spent the entire afternoon there.  I love Venice,” she said wistfully.

“It was the same for me.  I love Venice.  I go there twice a year, at least.”

“Venice?  Why?  I live only several hours away but I haven’t been there in five years.”

He fingered the gold pendant hanging from her neck.  “Can you guess?”

She closed her eyes and laughed at herself.  “Of course.  You must go to Vicenza for the jewelry shows.”

“I’m like you, I think.  My work brings me to the best places in the world.  Several times each year to Italy, several times to New York, to Paris, to Geneva.  I love the travel.”

They were having a conversation.  Sitting in a bar, flirting, sure, but having a conversation about their lives.  Like adults do.  She would sleep with the Turk, Selim, Francesca knew that, she could tell by the way her heart raced each time he touched her arm.  She would let him make love to her all night long and she wouldn’t care if she ever saw him again, but this moment, to him she was the most fascinating creature on earth.

“I think we are getting divorced,” he said, quietly.

“I’m sorry to hear,” she replied.

“Why do you say that?”

“I’m sorry to hear when anyone gets divorced.  It’s sad for a dream to end like that.”

“Have you ever been married?” he asked her.

She shook her head.  “I can’t imagine it,” she said.

“Why do you say that?  You must have a boyfriend.  You don’t ever think of marrying him?”

He had caught her off guard.  “I don’t think he’s the marrying type.  I don’t think I’m the marrying type.”

The Turk laughed.  “My problem is that I am the marrying type.”

“You won’t have to worry about that with me,” Francesca replied, twirling a strand of hair in her fingers.

an opportunity.

She would have preferred to drive the two hours to Milan alone with her thoughts, but she owed a call to Timo and the work day had begun.

“You sound funny, Francie,” Timo told her, and his words echoed through the car’s bluetooth.

“I’m tired, Timo.  Yesterday was a long day.”

“Ugh, that’s Torino for you.  Industrial wasteland.  Square-headed people.  Except for those soccer players.”  She could practically hear him smirking over the phone.

“So the Turks,” Francesca resumed.

“The Turks,” Timo said, “It’s one of those nouveau riche fashion magazines, all Tiffany this and Cartier that, entirely branded and western.”

“Okay…and it’s called?”

New Direction or BeautyVision or something ridiculous like that.  All the chic names must have been used up already.  Anyway, so they want to fly you out to Istanbul–”

“And you–”

“And me, of course, because I’ve already explained to them that it’s a package deal, I have to travel with you, but that wasn’t an issue for them.  It’s a shoot on a boat, or a yacht, rather, one of those mega-catamarans or something on the Bosporus, you know, the kind that all these new oligarchs have, and it’s primarily shoes and accessories, so easy, and they’ve already secured some mid-range models, I think we’ve worked with about three of them already–”

“Okay…”

“And they’re offering to pay a ridiculous sum of money and comp the hotels and all that, so it’s basically the easiest trip ever, two days, three nights, in and out, they’ll book us on a direct flight out of MXP.”

“But?”

“But what?”

“But it sounds like there’s something you’re not telling me.  It sounds like you’re trying to sell this one too hard.”

“It’s a good opportunity, Francie.  It’s an easy shoot for a lot of money and they’ll work around your schedule.”

“But–”

“But it’s one of those conservative magazines.  With an Islamic bent, you know, they make their models wear headscarves and be fully clothed.  No swimsuits.  No hint of leg.  No cleavage.”

“I thought Turkey was secular.”

“Backlash.”

“Do you think we should do it?”

“It’s a challenge.  If you can pull this one off and make it look amazing even with headscarves, you’ll be more than just a fashion photographer.  You’ll be an auteur.”

“Shut up, Timo.  If I don’t pull it off, I’ll be shooting grocery circulars until I’m 65.”

“And if you do pull it off, just think of all the doors it will open!  Riyadh!  Dubai!  Half the world wears headscarves now.  And they all buy luxury goods.  We’ll be in a tree hut resort in Bali for Christmas!”

Francesca had to laugh.  Timo was right, she conceded, it was a good opportunity.  But she had traveled in Islamic countries before–Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco–and had always felt a deep discomfort seeing the men running around, smoking in cafes and ogling foreign women and whistling at anyone who passed, while the women bustled around working or buying groceries or tending children, covered from head to toe in the hijab or burka.  These girls, you could see them on their way to class at universities, you could see their bright eyes and imagine them studying medicine or law or, less probably, photography, only to be able to practice if they kept their heads covered.  Without the scarves, they were as good as common prostitutes, these girls who studied so hard and dreamed of the west, who read fashion magazines without ever being able to wear the clothes, who know Chloe and Celine and Yves Saint Laurent but could never wear them outside of the house.  She didn’t believe it was freedom.  And she felt a deep-seated ambivalence about doing anything to encourage it, however benign it may seem.

“Timo, I forgot something at home.  I have to stop back there, and I’ll be in by noon.”

“Can I order you lunch?”

“God, yes.  The biggest panino you can find.  With prosciutto.”

“You got it, boss.  See you soon.”

“Ciao, Timo.”