Paolo and Francesca…

a novel about beautiful people in Italy.

Month: September, 2012

cooking with Michele.

Her doorbell rang, three quick pulses, just after six in the evening.

“Does this mean I have to put pants on?” Paolo asked, lifting his head from her lap.

She nodded.  “You’d want your sister’s boyfriend to be wearing pants, wouldn’t you?” she replied, standing up from the couch.  She kicked some wrapping paper under the coffee table.

“Good point,” he said.

Three more rings on the bell.  “Coming,” she called down the hall.  She opened the door to her brother.  Michele was the middle child, a curious combination of Ricci’s business acumen and Francesca’s artistic side.  He worked as a consultant in Hong Kong, a transfer he had resisted five years ago.  As the managing partner at his firm, he now claimed he’d never move back to Italy, he’d fallen in love with Asia so much.  Or, Francesca gathered, with his girlfriend, a curator at Gagosian Hong Kong.

“Esselunga was open,” he said, holding up two grocery bags.  She hugged him around his neck and kissed both his cheeks.

“Come in, come in!  You’re so cold,” she said, pinching his red earlobes.

“You kept me waiting outside,” he countered.  “Is Paolo here?”

“He is,” she said, and as if on cue, her bedroom door opened and he walked out, wearing jeans and a Nike t-shirt.  He jogged down the hall to greet her brother.

“Good to see you, man.  Buon Natale,” he said, clapping an arm around Michele’s shoulders.

“I hope you like Vietnamese,” Michele said shyly.

“Love it,” Paolo answered.

“You’re kidding, right?” Francesca asked.  They both turned towards her.  “You really know how to cook Vietnamese?” she asked Michele.

“It’s just a fish stew,” he said.  “We went on holiday last year and spent a week at a resort with a cooking school.”

She raised an eyebrow.  “You guys are so cultured,” she said.

“Min had wanted to do it for a while.  She sends her love, by the way.  Asked if you were going to come out for work any time soon.”  He turned to Paolo.  “Min’s my girlfriend,” he explained.  “We should probably put this fish in the fridge,” he continued, carrying the groceries into her kitchen.  He shrugged off his Loro Piana jacket and hung it over the back of a chair.

Francesca helped him unpack the bags, while Paolo stood in the doorway watching them.  “You know her well,” he remarked as Michele unpacked a carton of vegetable stock and a bottle of fish sauce.

“What?  Oh, you mean that she doesn’t have anything in her kitchen,” Michele said, opening the refrigerator.  He shook a half-empty carton of milk.  “She’s always been like this.”

“I’m right here,” Francesca interjected.  Michele tossed a lime at her.

inspiration #25 : Alexander House Hotel.

I’ve written before (and before, and before) about how I started this book when I was in high school.  Part of the writing of it happened during my first trip to Europe, when my family traveled to Greece.  I was obviously enthralled by this beautiful new way of living–cheese for breakfast! miniature cars! bidets!–and the beautiful people who lived it.  Everyone I met seemed to bathe topless and smoke cigarettes all day long.  (I grew up in Connecticut.  Those things are simply not done.)

In Crete, we stayed at a great hotel on the beach, the Alexander House.  The owner (Mr Alexander) kept the suite next to ours, and wandered across the veranda one night to have a drink with the American guests.  I remember, as plain as day, this handsome, older Greek man sitting on a chaise and telling us how things are done in Europe.

“You have your wife, and your family, but you also have your mistress.  Everyone does,” he said, to our astonishment.

That easy, casual rationalization has stayed with me.  At the time, it defined what it meant to be European, for me.

“you know what happens next.”

[before this: a knock on the door.]

“Well, then,” Cristina said.  “Let’s go to the shoes.”  They took the elevator to the fifth floor with a gaggle of Asian tourists.  Once they had arrived, Giulietta and the tourists made a bee line for the Louboutins.  Francesca started to say something and Cristina grabbed her arm to stop her.

“You have to try to be nice and try not to be drunk,” she whispered.

Francesca rolled her eyes.  “Arriviste,” she muttered under her breath.

Giulietta fingered a pair of 105mm lace and nude peep-toe pumps.  “These remind me a little of those Valentino shoes you have,” she said to Francesca.

Maybe Cristina was right; maybe Giulietta just needed a friend, a confidante, a shopping buddy, a drinking buddy.  “Absolutely,” she replied.  “I think they’re actually a bit higher, don’t you think?”

“Do you think Ricci would like them?”

“Oh, God, I don’t know.  I’ve never thought about anything like that.  Is he into shoes?”  Francesca was a little disturbed.

“Is Romaldo into shoes?” Giulietta asked her.

“He seems to enjoy them,” she grinned, turning her back on the Louboutins and heading towards Giuseppe Zanotti.  “I think he’d be pretty into these,” she said, picking up a pair of tall, strappy gladiators.

“Really?  Into them like how?  Like, you wear them and he says, ‘oh, those shoes are so hot’?”  Giulietta looked at her expectantly.

Francesca was mildly aware that she was treading on unstable ground, uncharted territory, something like that.  But she was also mildly inebriated, and more loquacious than she would have been otherwise.  “You know what I like to do?” she began, leaning in closer to Giulietta.  Out of the corner of her eye she saw Cristina looking at flat velvet slippers.  “I like to get a really ridiculous pair of shoes–really high, really sexy–and some nice black stockings, the ones with a back seam, and a pretty set of lingerie, a garter belt and all that, definitely lace.  And on a weekend when I’m seeing Paolo, I’ll wear that for him, under a trench coat or something, when I get to his place.”

Her sister-in-law’s mouth hung open.  “And then?”

“God, Giulietta, don’t be dense,” Francesca snapped.  Giulietta’s eyes narrowed and Francesca softened.  “Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.  But you know what happens next.”

happy weekend party time!

 

getting ready for a beautiful evening dinner party.  isn’t Italy grand?

don’t worry, I’ll have a Campari soda for all of you.

inspiration #24 : kickette.com

 

image via kickette.com

 

I would know nothing about WAGs (that’s “wives-and-girlfriends” for the uninitiated) were it not for a brilliant site called Kickette.  The lovely editors of Kickette sift through the mounds of football news like a DVF sample sale and come up with the most important bits for our daily delectation.  As the New York Post is to Law & Order, so Kickette is to my novel–scenes are literally ripped from the headlines.

Recent examples of some inspirational posts:

On the Market: Alexandre Pato

Napoli Players Advised to Avoid Injury by Practicing Abstinence

Players Who Puff

Plus, major points for posting Olivier Giroud naked.   Now, if I could only get them to love Claudio Marchisio as much as I do…

vacation, part four : night.

[before this: vacation, part one]

“Look at the stars,” Francesca said, stopping to look up at the sky.

“Let’s really look at them,” Paolo said, lying down on the sand.  “Come here.”  She laid down next to him, the sand was warm and his body was warm but the breeze off the ocean was cool and she fit perfect beside him.  The milky way stretched out above them, and organza ribbon of white against the black velvet sky.  Paolo turned and kissed the top of her head.  “I love you,” he said.  “I love you so much.”

“I love you, too,” she replied.  “I’ve been waiting so long to say that, I don’t know why.”

“It’s easy to say things here,” he said.  “It feels right, you know?”

“I’ve known for a long time,” she whispered.

“Oh yeah?  Since when?” he asked.

“I’m not going to say since I first saw you, because that wouldn’t be true.  I was skeptical then.  But I knew I wanted you.  I was attracted to you immediately–you were so bold, almost careless.  It didn’t take me long to love you.  The morning when my arm was broken, when you told me about your mama and I told you about my father and you held me, I felt safe with you.  That was when I knew.”

He turned onto his side and propped himself up, his elbow in the sand.  “You had cooked dinner for me,” he said.  “I was confused about everything and angry that I couldn’t have protected you from that scooter accident, and I’d just shown up on your doorstep and expected you to be there.  And you were.”  He leaned down to kiss her.  “This vacation is good for us,” he said.

She sat up on her elbows.  “I’m sorry I’m distant sometimes,” she said.  “I’m sorry I was mean to you this morning, and grumpy on the plane.  You don’t deserve that.”

“You’re not, baby.”

“Let’s go to bed,” she said, standing and brushing the sand from her jeans.  “I’ll race you.”

They ran towards the hut, tripping and stumbling, and he caught her by the waist and lifted her up, and she laughed and kicked and he laughed and carried her into the hut.  The screen door slammed behind them and the breeze rustled the gauzy curtains and the mosquito net canopy and he laid her down on the big four-poster bed and undressed her, removing her t-shirt and her jeans, her beige lace bra and panties, and he looked at her naked on the bed, his eyes fixed on her as he undressed himself, and when he was naked too he laid there with her, chest to chest, thigh to thigh, feet and arms entwined.

[after this: vacation, part two : a day at the beach and vacation, part three : peeping]

lunch with Cristina at Obika.

 

 

image via Passport Delicious

[before this: an evening cruise on the Bosporus; lady in red]

“Oh!  So this is the best part.  Well, sort of.  It’s also the worst part.  So he’s some sort of tabloid celebrity in Turkey.”

Cristina raised an eyebrow.  “What is that supposed to mean?”

“Like, the paparazzi follow him around.  He comes from a wealthy family and that’s like society over there, they take it all very seriously, so every time he gets married or divorced–”

“EVERY TIME HE GETS MARRIED OR DIVORCED?”  Cristina almost spit her Valpolicella across the table.

“That’s the other part.  He’s been married or divorced a couple of times.”

“Which one is he currently?” Cristina asked.

“Which what?”

“Married or divorced?”

“Married,” Francesca replied sheepishly.  “But getting divorced soon.”

“Oh, that’s a relief,” Cristina said, drinking more wine.  “Because I’m beginning to see where this is going.”

Francesca stayed quiet for a minute.

“Well?” Cristina asked, selecting a slice of bread from the basket.

“You’re going to be too hard on me,” Francesca said quietly.

Cristina ground some salt and pepper, then dragged her bread through a pool of grassy green olive oil on her side plate, mopping it back and forth several times.  She paused with the bread midway to her mouth as if she’d just thought of what to say.  “It sounds like you deserve it,” she replied.

Francesca drank more wine.  “After the club we went back to the hotel,” she began.

“And?”

“And, well, you know,”

“That’s the way to make a story really compelling,” Cristina said.  “Right when you get to the good part, start glossing over the details with, ‘well, you know…'”

“God, Cristina, he was so, I don’t know–so present, so into everything, so powerful.  He just conquered me, in every possible way.  I was possessed.”

“Possessed.”

“Something like that, yeah.  And I loved it.”

“So, not to put this too bluntly, but since you seem to be having trouble elucidating this event fully, you did sleep with him, correct?”

“I did.”

“Ok,” Cristina replied.  “And it was good.”

“It was fantastic.”

“And let me remind you that on a regular basis, you sleep with a top football player, so when you’re making the comparison–” Cristina whispered.

“I wasn’t comparing.”

“If you were,” Cristina continued.

“It’s completely different.  I felt completely different with him than I feel with Paolo.  I’m used to Paolo, I know what he likes to do, I know how he likes to do it, and yes, you’ve got a point–” she lowered her voice, glancing around the restaurant.  “Paolo is extremely athletic, and the Turk wasn’t like that, no, but there were other things.”

“Other things like anal?”

Francesca furrowed her brow and shook her head.  “No, not other things like anal.  Other things like a different emotional connection.”

“I see,” Cristina said, pursing her lips.

fight.

[before this: showering alone.]

They stayed in bed for a long time on New Year’s Day, not wanting to leave the warm cocoon they had created for themselves.  Francesca had slept in Paolo’s old jersey and wore it still, curled up amidst the pillows.

She stroked his forearm with her fingers, scratching it gently with her nails.  “I like that you’re not embarrassed to have me here,” she said finally, breaking the morning quiet.

“What do you mean?  Why should I be embarrassed?”  He jerked up defensively pulling his arm away.

“That’s not what I meant,” she stammered.

“Oh, really.  So say what you meant, then.”

“That you’re not ashamed of where you came from.”  She became acutely aware that she wasn’t making matters any better.

“But why would I be ashamed?  I don’t understand.  Because my father doesn’t wear Berluti shoes or a Rolex watch?  Because he works every day?  Because my sister doesn’t carry a Gucci handbag?  What the fuck are you trying to say?”  He had moved away from her, almost as far as he could be without falling off the edge of the bed; he had narrowed his eyes and looked at her incredulously.

“That didn’t come out right at all.”

“You’re damn right it didn’t,” he continued, angrily.  “If I were you, I’d be a little more careful deciding who should or shouldn’t be embarrassed about their family.  As far as I know, only one of us has a relative to be ashamed of, and it sure as hell isn’t me.”

It was her turn to sit up and be indignant.  “How dare you drag Ricci into this,” she hissed.

“You started it,” he sneered.  “You’re the one passing judgment on everyone.  I’m just suggesting that you not throw stones, when it’s your brother all over the Corriere.”

“I was trying to say something nice,” she argued.

“Well, it was a damn backhanded way of saying it,” he replied.  There it was again: money, class, society, in the bed with them, building a wall between them.

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly.  “What I should have said is that I like your family, I’ve enjoyed spending time with them, and I’m glad that you’re comfortable enough with me to have you in your home.”

“Then that’s what you should have said,” he answered, getting up out of bed.  He pulled his shorts on and opened the bedroom door.

“You aren’t going to apologize?” she asked from the bed.

“Apologize for what?” he said, turning back.  “Not having Frette sheets?  Making you ride in a Fiat?  No,”  he shook his head, “I have nothing to apologize for.”

Sunday Funday.

mile-high club.

this, ladies and gentlemen, is air travel.  aw hell.

Santa Claus is coming.

[before this: Buon Natale]

She straddled his waist and leaned in to kiss him, letting her hair fall over him, enveloping them both.  He squirmed a little, accustomed to being able to move freely.  “Stop being so restless,” she said.  “We’re going to do this slowly, and you’re going to love it.  I promise.”

He sighed.  She tossed her hair back and sat up on her knees, flicking his nipples with her fingernails.  “Cesca,” he said through gritted teeth.

“Oh,” she replied, looking over her shoulder.  “I forgot you were still wearing pants.”

Through his dress pants his erection was huge, and she rested a hand on it casually.  He grimaced.

“I said we were going to go slowly.”  She smiled.  She stood up and got down from the bed, walking towards the door.  “I really do want that champagne after all,” she said, glancing back at him.  “Do you want yours?  I’ll bring it anyway.”

“Cesca!”  She could hear him calling after her as her heels tapped down the hallway.  “It’s Christmas, dammit!”

Champagne flutes in one hand and Moet in the other, she reentered the bedroom.  She set the bottle and glasses on the nightstand.  “I’ll pour,” she said.

“I don’t know what kind of present you think this is,” he said edgily, shifting his shoulders and tugging against the bedposts.  She stood next to the bed, her left hand on her hip, legs slightly spread, and downed a glass of champagne.

“You don’t like it?  You should have some champagne, it’ll make you feel amazing.”

She sat on the edge of the bed and brought a glass over to his lips.  He tried to drink from it and she poured the champagne heavy-handedly; it streamed down his cheeks.

“You’re humiliating me,” he said.

“I am not.”  She leaned in to whisper in his ear as he twisted uncomfortably.  “You are going to come so hard the neighbors are going to think Santa Claus is coming down the fucking chimney.”