Paolo and Francesca…

a novel about beautiful people in Italy.

Category: excerpt

let’s talk about sex.

“You never talk about what you want. You never talk about what turns you on, your fantasies.”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“But maybe I want to hear you say it.”
“And you think this is the right time?”
“There shouldn’t be a wrong time. I’m not saying you have to act it out. I just want to hear you talk about it.”
She wanted to know what he would say. And, after today, if violence was a part of it. She imagined it must be. A person couldn’t just dole out that kind of beating if he didn’t somehow like the feeling of flesh under his fists.
“For a long time, everything sexual was in a way idealized for me. I imagine you know that. I didn’t have any experience.” He paused to swallow and she studied his face, its striking clarity. He was unashamed. She couldn’t imagine telling him the same story about what had happened to her, in New Jersey, in a bathroom with an American boy named Todd.
“I’d read too many books, maybe. I thought sex was always going to be on a four-posted bed with a woman in a white nightdress who protested then succumbed. I didn’t want to believe it was as simple and carnal as it is.”
“Simple and carnal,” she repeated.
“Wouldn’t you agree? That’s what it is when you’re in a shared dorm room and you’re rushing to finish before your roommate comes back and everything you obsessed about for such a long time is, in the end, so instinctual. There’s never really any question where you put what. A degree of finesse, perhaps, but it’s not at all as confusing as you imagined.”
“That’s not a fantasy,” she said quietly. “It’s just history.”

courting investors.

Il Deserto Rosso, dir. Michelangelo Antonioni

“Do you have samples of your work?”

She pulled another folder out.  “These are just a couple things I’ve done recently.  My CV lists all of the stuff from before—the magazine covers and global ad campaigns and that kind of thing.  But I’ve been working with a new perspective now, so these shots are examples of what to expect going forward.”

He studied each in turn.  “This is Giulietta,” he said when he’d come to the one where she stood by the frozen canal, Leo at the edge of the frame.

“She was gracious enough to model for me.”

“It’s beautiful.  She’s so—I don’t know, you’ve captured something in her.”

“There’s an old Antonioni film—Il Deserto Rosso—with Monica Vitti, and it’s about the environment, and there’s a still from that that I had in mind, let me see if I can find it—“

“Don’t bother.  I know what you’re talking about.  She’s with her child, walking on the road.”

“Yes, that’s the one.  Something like that.  But instead of the focus being on the environment, I wanted it to be on her internal conflict.  Which is a lot to expect from a picture, particularly when it’s primarily for commercial purposes, but I think it’s important for you to know the thought process I had.”

“You speak very well about your work.”

“Thank you.”  She paused and sipped her wine.  “It’s important to me.”

“But this one—“ he held up her Christmas Day self-portrait, the nude in the mirror.

She blushed.  “I wasn’t going to include that.  I don’t want you to get the wrong idea.  But I think it’s important—that was when I decided to do this whole thing, and that one is representative of my new perspective.”  She squinted at the picture.  “You can’t really see anything, anyway.  And it’s nothing you haven’t seen before.”

“I think you’re exploiting my weaknesses to get me to invest.”

“I would do nothing of the sort.  Give it back to me, you don’t have to see it any more if you don’t want to.”

“That’s not what I said.”  He took off his glasses and cleaned them with a handkerchief.  “But take it anyway, that way it won’t distract me from our serious business conversation.”

interviewing Paolo.

doing some character work, which includes the fun task of interviewing Paolo Romaldo.  imagine my glee when I discovered this gem of a video on youtube:

ha ha, Dani Osvaldo talking about his tattoos and his favorite music.  apparently he is planning to have all the characters from Pink Floyd’s The Wall tattooed on his left arm.

so here is an excerpt from my interview with Paolo, a work in progress.  PR = Paolo Romaldo, I = Interviewer.

I: You’re quite involved with youth football charities, both here in Torino and in your home city of Napoli.  Can you tell us why that’s so important to you?

PR: I started playing football when I was quite young—three years old, I think.  I had a modest upbringing, and only because of the funding of the youth leagues was I able to get the start that I needed.  I’ve never forgotten that.  Particularly now, with the economy the way it is in Italy, giving children the opportunity to learn to play at a young age in a safe environment is one way I can give back.

I: That’s a lovely sentiment.

PR: Well, we’re trying to make it more than just sentimental.  Ideally, it will change the lives of these children and also improve the caliber of football in Italy by growing talent at a young age.

I: Do you want to have children yourself?

PR: Of course I want children!  I’ve always imagined a big family, three or four kids at least, coming home for dinner every night and seeing them lined up down the dinner table.  I love kids.  But I can wait a little longer, I want the situation to be right, obviously.  I wouldn’t want to have four kids with four different women.

I: [coughs] It seems you and Francesca are on the right track, though.

PR: Of course, yes, I hope so.

I: What’s one thing our readers will be surprised to learn about you?

PR: Surprised to learn about me?  That I love the opera.  I have season tickets to La Scala.

I: I’d seen photos of you and Francesca at opening night, but I had assumed that was her doing and not yours.

PR: No, no, it was the other way around.  I’ve loved the opera since I was a kid.

I: That is very surprising.  If you weren’t a football player, what would you be?

PR: I don’t know.  I’d never considered anything else.  This is what I was meant to be.  If it all changes tomorrow, I don’t know, a racecar driver.

Christmas is coming.

and so, most likely, is Francesca.

the “Tree of Pleasure” in Milan.

next week you’ll get a taste of what Christmas looks like in Parallax, but in the meantime, enjoy these holiday flashbacks and last year’s Christmas morning.

KEEP and SELL.

Manolo

Francesca Garancini sat on the hardwood floor of her apartment surrounded by colorful designer shoeboxes.  Their names rang out like beautiful music—Giuseppe Zanotti, Manolo Blahnik, Roger Vivier, Jimmy Choo—but their love songs were no longer meant for her.  She opened each box and wistfully removed the shoes from their dust covers, stroking the python skin or the smooth kid leather, trying them on her feet and looking at them from several angles, even in her full length mirror.  And then she boxed them up again and sent them to one of two piles demarcated with sharpie-written notes: KEEP  and SELL.

The “sell” pile was disturbingly small, both in comparison to the “keep” pile and the stack of boxes she had yet to assess.  So far she’d managed to eliminate a pair of MiuMiu red and black checkerboard watersnake heels and a pair of Alexander McQueen black velvet smoking slippers with gold skulls embroidered over the toes.  She was ready to get rid of those; the shoes she’d worn to Moscow with Selim.  The shoes she’d worn to her abortion.

She paused after saving, for now, her favorite pair of neon yellow Jimmy Choos (would it ever be possible to find that color again?  It was so bright it was practically a neutral!) and lit a cigarette from the half-empty pack of Marlboros on the floor next to her.  As she inhaled she kept from pursing her lips too tightly; she could barely afford wrinkles now.  No money for Botox, plus she had to keep her skin looking youthful if she was going to find another rich man.  Twenty-nine was the upper limit, even for someone in her circles.

Her former circles.  Since summer she’d been slowly jettisoned from the social life she once knew.  Opening night at La Scala last night and she had to read about it in the newspaper: her Uncle Marco, a grand patron, squiring her sister-in-law Giulietta to box seats; her ex-boyfriend Paolo Romaldo with a leggy blonde (another leggy blonde) on his arm where just a short year ago Francesca had been.  Giulietta’s gown was overwrought with ruffles; the blonde looked like a hooker in a Topshop mini-dress; Francesca closed the Corriere della Sera in disgust.

She finished her cigarette, stubbing it out in a white china saucer overflowing with the detritus of the only vice she could afford to maintain.  Selim had said she was a beautiful smoker.  He’d probably told his wife the same thing.

PARALLAX.

I just spent the month of November (National Novel-Writing Month) working on the third and final book in the Francesca Trilogy, Parallax.

Fifty thousand words later, here’s a taste of what’s to come…

“So we’re both artists, then.”  He had finished his drink, and signalled to the bartender for another.  “Will you have one?”

“What is it?”

“Pastis.”

“Please,” she replied.  “And thank you.”  She touched his arm, lingering.  It was a tricky balance, this: she didn’t want too much conversation, she didn’t want to know his life story or his favorite television show or what he eats for breakfast.  She wanted to go to his hotel room, fuck for a few hours, and go home.  But getting from here to there took finesse.

She’d always liked pastis, its bewildering transition from clear to milky as she stirred in one, then two ice cubes, its heady licorice flavor tasting like disobedience and danger.  The first sip was arresting, she almost coughed, but the next went down smoothly.

“Where are you staying?”  She leaned in and whispered into his ear, her green fairy breath sweet and delirious.

“Finish your drink and I’ll show you.”

That was the thing about the French, she thought.  They knew how to play.  She felt the pastis numbing her tongue, the back of her throat.  She gave him half a smile.

She swirled the ice cubes in her glass, listening to the pretty sound they made.

“What note is that?” she asked.

“What?”

“The sound of the ice against the glass.  What’s the note?  That’s your thing, isn’t it?”

“Do it again.”

She rattled her ice again.

“Now drink some of it,” he directed.  She complied.

“Does that change the tone?” she asked.

“No.  But it gets you closer to finishing.”  He had his hand on her knee, teasing under the hem of her skirt.

“Guillaume,” she said.

“Quoi?”

“Rien.  I just like the way it feels on my tongue.  Guillaume.”

red pencil Thursday!

the first 500 words of Dodge and Burn get the red pencil treatment today at romance writer Mia Marlowe’s blog.  Mia and I met at RWA in Atlanta and I am thrilled that she gave such thoughtful attention to my work.  read the original below and then check out Mia’s critique!

Francesca Garancini blinked twice, then clawed frantically through her Bottega Veneta hobo trying to find her sunglasses. The late winter sun was bright in Istanbul, but she had the added complication of having to contend with a growing swarm of photographers advancing towards her. She donned her big black Tom Ford sunglasses just as she saw, out of the corner of her eye, a red Porsche parked in the lot. With the paparazzi hot on her heels, she started running towards the car.

“Francesca! Francesca!” Some of the photographers were Italian, it seemed, camped outside the hospital waiting for news of Paolo Romaldo. Francesca was terrified that they recognized her so easily. Romaldo, meanwhile, was still inside the hospital, in traction, his left leg broken in two places during the previous day’s match with Galatasaray. He was most recently a Juventus midfielder, and, as Francesca dolefully acknowledged, her now-ex boyfriend.

She was running at a steady clip towards the Porsche but even so, the photographers were able to keep pace with her. Thankfully, she saw the man behind the wheel start the car and peel out of his parking spot, hanging a tight u-turn in her direction. She gripped the handle of the passenger door and propelled herself inside.

“I can’t believe you waited for me,” she said breathlessly to the man beside her.

He gripped her shoulder encouragingly. “I’d wait as long as I had to,” he replied. He took his hand from her shoulder and shifted gears, speeding out of the hospital parking lot, leaving a trail of photographers in his exhaust.

“I imagine they were here for Paolo,” she said, turning back to look out the rear windshield at the receding pool of paparazzi.

“But they got something even better,” the man commented grimly.

“What do you mean?”

“They got you getting into my car. They may be bottom-feeders, but don’t think for a moment they aren’t clever enough to put two-and-two together. The Italians know who you are. The Turks know who I am. Between both sides they’ll have a hell of a story tomorrow.”

She stared out the window. The view was bleak: bare branches like dark fingers in stark relief against a cold white sky, dingy grey buildings with dirty windows. She felt slightly sick, and pressed her cold fingers against her temples. “I don’t know what to do, Selim,” she said to him, never turning from the window.

He laughed, and it shocked her; his laugh was hearty and genuine, and her entire body tensed against it. She turned to him sharply.

“Why are you laughing?”

“Because you’re so serious,” he said, still chuckling, though more softly. “Don’t you understand? There’s nothing you can do. This is the way life is.”

“It’s over with Paolo.”

“And I’m sorry for him,” Selim said, “but I’m happy for myself.” He reached across for her hand. “And you’ll be happy, too. I promise you that.”

“You think it’s that easy? I can just walk away from Paolo Romaldo and take up with you like nothing happened?”

trench coat.

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.]

yacht holiday.

yacht holiday

photo via LA Cool et Chic

[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.]

to call or not to call.

“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.]