in case you wanted to explore Milan like Francesca…I’ve made a map of her hometown haunts and posted it here. I’ll update occasionally.
The concierge at his building knew her and let her in the front door; he smiled at her approvingly, looking at her hair piled high on her head, the cat-eye liner on her eyes, and the length of her legs stretched from the hem of her trench to her tall Givenchy shoes. She rode the elevator up to his flat with her heart racing. It had been almost three weeks.
The distance from the elevator to his front door felt like a hundred meters, and the sound of her heels on the wood floors echoed through the hallway. Surely he would know it was her. Finally, she reached his door and knocked, three efficient raps.
She heard him moving inside, turning down the volume on the television and walking towards the front door. Like a man, Paolo opened it without looking through the peephole.
Francesca stood before him, leaning against the door jamb. He was speechless.
“Open my coat,” she said, walking towards him into the apartment. She put her hands on his shoulders and pushed him back into the living room. She could tell he hadn’t been expecting her; he was wearing baggy Juventus sweatpants, black with a team crest and Nike swoosh embroidered just below the hip, a plain white v-neck tee that clung tantalizingly to his chest and biceps, and at least a day of stubble on his face. “Go ahead,” she said. “Open it.”
[after this: take out / eat in.]
[before this: sailing vacation.]
“I think I could sleep here all day,” she murmured.
“Is that because you didn’t sleep at all last night?”
Francesca sat up on her elbows. “Giulietta!”
“Sorry,” her sister-in-law said. “I was just curious, because I slept wonderfully last night. At least nine hours.”
“I’m sure you did,” Francesca giggled. Maybe this would be fun after all. Maybe they could start drinking now.
They spent the day sailing and sunning, drinking and eating, playing backgammon and smoking cigarettes. After three bottles of prosecco, a pack of Marlboros, and a seafood lunch they took a lazy, sloppy swim off the side of the yacht.
“We used to spend our summers doing this,” Ricci said to Selim, treading water beside him. Selim kept his head above water, a lighted cigarette in his mouth.
“Ummm hmmm,” he answered.
“Francie’s a great swimmer,” Ricci continued. “She used to swim laps forever–hours, it seemed–when she was a kid, all by herself.”
Selim removed his cigarette with a damp hand. “That doesn’t surprise me at all,” he replied.
Francesca overheard them and swam over. “He thinks I’m the most fabulous, glamorous woman born,” she told her brother. “Don’t ruin it by telling him the truth.”
Selim used his free hand to splash her.
[after this : above decks.]
I took my red pen yesterday and made some serious revisions to Rule of Thirds, a book that I thought was done (hah). I had a number of inspirations for making these changes: Mia Marlowe’s “Red Line Thursdays”, focusing on the first 500 words of a book, Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s emphasis on showing backstory sparingly through the first chapter, and Michael Hauge’s “From Identity to Essence” story arc workshop.
instead of starting the book with Francesca Garancini’s heels sinking into the turf at the soccer stadium (an opening scene I’ve played with since, oh, 1997), the new opening is when she wakes up in bed at Paolo’s apartment the morning after. already it feels like the right revision–I don’t know that there’s anything lost with the change. but let me know your thoughts: do you miss the first scene at the stadium? the scene in the cafe? the first sex scene?
I’m at RWA (the annual conference of the Romance Writers of America) this week and I’ve been amazed by how inspirational the sessions have been. I’ve thought of myself as a writer since, oh, probably seventh grade, but working a day job and facing the harsh realities of life often make it challenging to envision oneself living the dream. today I had the truly wonderful opportunity to hear Cathy Maxwell give the keynote address at the conference. she spoke candidly about attending her first conference, and the moment when she acknowledged that she had “this thing inside” her that needed to be manifest–the desire to tell a story, and to write. for me, and I imagine for many of the thousands of other attendees, it was a validation of the late nights, furtive scribbled notes, and impractical trips using valuable vacation days through which we try to realize this thing inside. dear reader, I cried. and my heart soared to be in the company of so many women from so many different walks of life who are pursuing this calling.
“I’m not sure this is working,” she began, but she wasn’t confident and her words trailed off.
“What do you mean, not sure?”
“I don’t think it’s fun any more.” Inane, she thought to herself. What an inane thing to say.
“Who told you it was going to be fun? I’m sorry, Francesca, if you’re used to someone who kicks a ball and plays games all the time but life isn’t always fun. I don’t know what perpetual fun you expect but grow up.”
She kept quiet for several seconds. Selim seemed content to let the conversation drop.
“I’ll talk to you soon, I suppose,” she said weakly.
“No,” he said. “We’re adults. We’ll talk regularly, because we have a relationship. And I’ll see you in a few weeks. I’m working on a trip to Monte Carlo with some clients, and I expect that you’ll come.”
So this was how it was going to be. At least she had some direction, she thought. With Timo gone, it was a relief having someone tell her what to do again. And it could be worse than Monte Carlo.
She wasn’t happy about what he’d said to her, and she had no idea at all why she’d said what she’d said. Not sure it’s working. Selim was right, she thought. He was right to dress her down about relationships being hard work. After all the time she invested into Selim, all of the miles she’d traveled with him, everything they’d been through together. The entirety of their relationship, documented in magazines and trashy rag papers all across Europe, was she just to throw that all away? Because she wasn’t having fun?
Selim had made reference to Paolo, off-handedly, in an attempt to remind her of her failed relationship with him. But his comment had had the opposite effect. It had been fun being with Paolo, fun all the time, fun in St Kitts and fun in Torino and fun in bed. At the time, she thought he was simple, she would have agreed with Selim that he was a boy who played games rather than a man with a job. Maybe he had been better than a man with a job and a wife.
She picked up her phone again. If she called Paolo right now, after what, almost eight months, maybe he would speak to her again. Maybe he wouldn’t ignore her call. Maybe he was training and she could meet him in Coverciano and disappear with him into the hills of Fiesole, right outside Florence.
And Selim would call her a coward. He’d say she was just running away again, the same thing she did whenever anything seemed to get just the slightest bit difficult. How quickly he seemed to forget that she had already done the must difficult part. Moscow. The abortion. The thing she could never tell Paolo, even if he did answer her call.
Her glass was empty. Not half-empty, completely empty. When she got up from the couch to refill it she played a game with herself: if it was an even number of footsteps to the kitchen she would call Paolo. If it was an odd number, she wouldn’t.
One, two, three, four. It would be a shame to go backwards, she thought, to go back to Paolo. Eight, nine, ten. But he had really loved her. Entirely. She had met his father and his sister. Eleven. And she was over the threshold, in her kitchen. She wouldn’t call him, she decided firmly. It had been a silly thought. They had nothing else to say to each other.
[to remind you of Paolo: showering alone.]
In the end, she was glad she had flown with Selim. Their seats were massive, full-reclining, and almost entirely private. She ate, she slept, she watched two films and she even pulled out a notebook and started making a list on the gridded paper of places she wanted to go. She showed it to Selim, asking if he’d ever done any of them. The Whitney, yes. The New Museum, no. The High Line, no. Daniel, yes. Ippudo, no. Did she want to go to any Broadway shows, he asked. Not particularly, she answered. Would she be able to amuse herself during the day, while he was working? Oh, certainly.
Before landing she went into the bathroom to brush her teeth and attempt to look presentable. She assessed her appearance in the mirror, dismayed in the fluorescent lights. A little more Touche Eclat under her eyes, a little more bronzer on her cheeks, and she looked more alive. A quiet knock startled her.
“Just a minute,” she said.
“It’s me.” Selim.
She unlatched the lock and he opened the door, squeezing into the small lavatory with her.
“You’re kidding, right?” She still had her makeup bag unzipped on the baby changing table.
He held his finger to her lips. “Come on,” he whispered. They stood face to face, already touching in the tiny space of the bathroom. He moved his hips against hers, pressing her into the door, and he nuzzled in to kiss her neck.
“I still can’t believe you,” she said, but she pushed back against him anyway, wending her fingers into his hair, pulling him closer to her. “I just did my makeup.” He unzipped her jeans and pushed them down her thighs.
“Sit there,” he gestured to the basin. She balanced herself on the edge of the sink while he sat on the closed toilet lid. “Now put your legs over my head,” he said, and ducked in between them.
She leaned back against the mirror and held on to the edge of the basin with one hand, the faucet with another, bracing her feet against the wall behind Selim.
“I want to make you happy,” he whispered into the inside of her thigh, kissing a trail to her labia. She gripped the faucet more tightly as he increased his intensity, targeting her with his tongue, slipping one finger, then another, quickly into her. The bell rang to call them back to their seats for landing. She squirmed against him.
“Not yet,” he said, moving his thumb to flick her clitoris. The bell rang more insistently. And then she was floating for a minute, heat emanating from the core of her body, dizzy and disoriented, and he was slipping out from between her legs, standing her up and pulling up her jeans, splashing his face with water and toweling it off.
“I’ll go out first,” he said, leaving her in the lavatory. She glanced in the mirror again and was pleased to see the color had returned to her face. As she left the bathroom she met a flight attendant eyeing her suspiciously. Francesca stared down the uniformed woman, defying her to say something. The flight attendant remained silent. Francesca noticed a cheap, glossy tabloid rolled in her quilted nylon tote bag.
[after this: New York State of Mind]
I made a deliberate decision to include abortion in Dodge and Burn (as arguably the central event of the book) because I feel that it’s something our society doesn’t talk about enough. sure, we talk about “pro-choice” and “pro-life” but we don’t discuss the actual event. statistically, you know someone who has had an abortion. statistically, she probably hasn’t told you about it.
so along came Wendy Davis, a committed state legislator from Texas, who finally gave voice to hundreds of narratives from women who had experiences to share. her filibuster started a dialogue, and honestly, that’s a true inspiration for me. what I hope to do with Francesca’s abortion is start a conversation, because talking about books is fine and good but in a perfect world, we would also talk about our lives.
CNN would rather broadcast a segment on blueberry muffins than cover the testimony of hundreds of women speaking frankly about abortion. for that reason alone, I feel a responsibility to make this issue an integral part of my work.
on my last trip to Turin, I went to Juventus Stadium to see Paolo’s team take on Udinese. our seats at the edge of the field provided a Francesca-like view of the action (and the players–yum).
it’s during a Juventus – Udinese match in Rule of Thirds when a sports commentator calls Paolo Romaldo “the maestro of the midfield.” Francesca already knows he’s the maestro of her midfield…
photo credit Brian Solis
“I bet you never had a round bed at the Four Seasons, either,” she replied, looking around the room. In addition to the central, circular bed, they had incredible views of downtown Manhattan and the Hudson River and a bathtub in the middle of the bedroom.
“I am eager to try out the bed,” he replied, grabbing her and twirling her around the room. She demurred, and instead showed him the lights across the Hudson.
“That’s New Jersey,” she said. “That’s where my mama’s from.”
“You’re joking.” She shook her head. “Your mother is from New Jersey?”
“She is. She went to Italy to do a semester in university and she never came back.” Francesca smiled with nostalgia. It had been her favorite family story when she was young–her mother, the American art history student, running off with her father, the Italian student activist. She had imagined their romance when she was a teenager, after her father had died, a memory based more on creativity than fact. Her mother now seemed a stranger compared to that young woman of her imagination, carefree and easy once. Her father’s death and the overwhelming influence of his family had changed all that.
She snapped back to attention. They could see the new Freedom Tower, too, from the downtown-facing windows, all illuminated though it was still incomplete. She reached for Selim’s hand.
“Let’s go out,” she said. “Before I fall asleep.”
They walked through the streets of the West Village, smoking cigarettes, peering into the windows of the townhouses, and peeking at the corner cafes. The Spotted Pig was bustling with crowds outside and Francesca and Selim ducked in to try to get a table. They stood at the bar to wait; Selim drank a draft beer and Francesca had a cocktail called Corpse Reviver #2.
“That’s rather grim,” Selim said, to no one in particular.
“It’s a classic,” the bartender explained. “Back in the day, it was a hangover cure.”
“There you go,” Francesca said.
“People here are so friendly,” Selim whispered to her. “I don’t know why they say New Yorkers aren’t nice.” She could detect a hint of sarcasm even in his whisper.
“It’s delicious,” she replied, passing him the pretty gimlet glass to taste her drink.
Selim looked anxiously over at the hostess station. “I wonder why it’s taking us so long to get our table.”
“Relax,” she said. “This is fun. We’re at a bar in New York City.”
He drank his beer. “You’re right,” he said. “I’m almost always here for work, I forget what it’s like to have fun.”
“I’ll remind you,” she promised. “We’re going to have a great time.”