Paolo and Francesca…

a novel about beautiful people in Italy.

Tag: dinner

a restaurant in Venice, seeing an old friend.

“And you?” Sara asked.  “No babies, no weddings?”

Francesca shook her head.  In Italian she said, “You must not read the tabloids.  A wedding is the furthest thing in my life.”  Then in English: “I’m married to my work, for now.”

Selim kissed the top of her head.  “For now,” he echoed, smiling.

If Sara felt awkward she hid it well, and stood.  “I will bring you some food, yes?  Tonight we have a simple menu, a soup with zucca–pumpkin–a risotto with shrimps, and a roast pork.  It’s ok?”

“It’s perfect,” Francesca replied, squeezing Selim’s hand under the table.  “Can you sit and eat with us?”

“If we’re not busy, yes,” Sara said.  “I can join you.”  She turned and went back to the kitchen.  When she had passed through the swinging doors, Selim turned and whispered to Francesca.

“What did you say to her in Italian?”

“I said I’ve changed a lot since school,” Francesca lied.  “When we were younger, we all had a different idea of how our lives were going to turn out.”

He poured them more wine and clinked his tumbler against hers.  “I know the feeling,” he said, “but I can’t say I’m disappointed.”

“I can’t imagine you expected to leave a trail of women in your wake,” she replied.

“I never expected a woman like you,” he murmured, kissing her hair again.  The waitress returned with two bowls of a deep orange soup, topped with an apostrophe of rich green oil and a dollop of mascarpone; Sara followed with a basket of bread and a third bowl of soup.

“I can sit with you now, to start,” she said.  “Soup is pumpkin with an oil of salvia–sage,” she translated herself.  It was hot, slightly sweet, at once buttery and fresh and creamy; Francesca loved it.

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.

an intimate dinner at home.

She was finishing dressing when she heard the low growl of his Maserati pulling into the courtyard announce his arrival.  A moment later he was knocking on her door, and she gave herself one more quick glance in the hall mirror before she opened it to greet him.  She was wearing a simple Chloe dress, navy blue, with grey suede Bottega pumps and her coral pendant.  It had been too difficult to fasten jeans with only one hand.  She answered the door.

Paolo wasn’t wearing jeans either, which struck her as unusual, although she conceded she had only seen him a couple of times.  Instead he wore dark grey pants, a tailored white shirt, and a skinny black tie.

“You didn’t have to get all dressed up for me,” she smiled, kissing his cheeks.

“I was expecting to see you wearing an apron,” he grinned.  “But not a cast. What happened to your wrist?” he asked, frowning.

“Oh,” she said.  “We were coming home from a party on a scooter and had a little accident.”

“What do you mean, we?  Since when do you ride scooters?”

“Timo and I were riding.  That’s how you get around in Capri.”  It came out so easily, so glibly, the lie.  She paused, trying to gauge his anger.  “I’m going to be fine,” she said.

“I’ve been to Capri,” Paolo said, and she couldn’t tell whether he was indignant or joking.  “I know you have to ride scooters.  I just couldn’t see you on a scooter.”

“I know you’ve been to Capri,” she answered, and she didn’t say it was because she’d seen the photos on the internet, him leaving a club as the sun was rising with a gorgeous blonde.  “I used to go there every summer when I was younger.”

She quickly changed the subject.  “I’ve been slaving over a hot stove all day.  Let’s go eat.”

As she led him into the dining room, she watched him looking around her flat, registering the pictures on the walls, the books on the shelves, the same way she had analyzed his flat.

“I like your place,” he said.  “It’s not what I expected.”

“I know what you mean,” she said.  Federica had offered to set the dining room (Francesca had told her Cristina was coming for dinner; another easy lie to add to the list) but Francesca demurred, preferring the cozy intimacy of the kitchen.  She had laid out linen napkins, her old silverware she had inherited from her grandmother, clean white china plates.  A cluster of short candles in the center of the table.  Federica had left her instructions to keep the lamb on the stove at a simmer and the risotto covered in the oven, warming.  She had made Francesca a French salad, though Francesca had insisted she could do the simple task of tearing lettuce.  She gave Paolo a corkscrew and directed him to open a bottle of wine.

“It’s not very fancy,” she said apologetically, as she pulled the risotto out of the oven.  “Just the kind of thing I used to eat growing up.”

She ladled the lamb into bowls, drizzled the salad with oil and vinegar, and they sat to eat.

“You could have told me you’d broken your arm,” Paolo said.  “I would have brought a pizza.”

“A pizza?  Rather than this masterful display of culinary prowess?  Never.  I wanted you to experience the fullness of my skills.”

“I still could have gotten that later,” he grinned.  “So what’s in this magnificent lamb?”

She wrinkled her nose.  “It’s a family secret,” she stalled.

“Really.  So how much garlic do you use?”

“I can’t tell you that,” she answered.

“There’s no garlic in here,” he said.  “Who cooked?”

“Come on!  That’s not fair.  You’re jumping to conclusions.”

“Cesca, you’re a beautiful woman.  You’re very smart, you’re very talented.  If you had actually cooked this meal I would have thought you weren’t human.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re enjoying it,” she said, refusing to admit to anything.  She lifted her wine glass to him and smiled.

He winked.  “I can’t wait for dessert.”

“I’m not much at pastries,” she replied playfully.  “I hope chocolate will be enough.”

an evening cruise on the Bosporus.

When she returned to her hotel room that afternoon, all signs of the Turk were gone; the room was as immaculate as when she’d checked in.  But when she opened her suitcase to change into a t-shirt, she found a note on top of her carefully-folded clothes.

Francesca, It was a pleasure.  Will you join me for dinner tonight?  Together we can enjoy Istanbul.  I’ll send a car for you at 8pm.  Selim

Francesca collapsed onto the giant bed and kicked off her heels.  Tonight?  She had planned to order room service with Timo and watch Real Housewives on the satellite TV, but with any luck, Timo would be passed out already, after the night he’d had.  She looked at her watch.  Four o’clock.  She had time either to buy a new dress or take a nap.  Both seemed equally essential if she was going to survive another evening in Istanbul.  She mentally flipped through the outfits she’d brought with her: jeans and tops for working, the L’Wren Scott dress she’d worn last night, a Givenchy blouse and the Prada pleated skirt.  Of all options, the Givenchy-Prada combination was the only possibility, but it seemed too prim for this city.  She reflected on the women at the dinner last night.  These people dressed for the evening.

She lifted the phone next to the bed and pressed zero.

“At your service, Ms Ghiberti,” the concierge answered.

“Ciao, I mean, good afternoon.  Is there an Yves Saint Laurent boutique in town?”

“Of course, Ms Ghiberti.  May I connect you?”

“Please, will you.”  There was a pause on the line.

“YSL Nisantasi,” a sales associate answered.

“Hello, do you speak English?” Francesca asked.

“Yes, of course,” the associate replied.

“Good, thank you.  I need a dress.  Do you have the black knit that was the runway look?  Size 38, please.”

“I have to check.  One moment, please.”  She heard the sound of footsteps, and the faint pulsing of the music that YSL played in all their boutiques.  It struck her as funny that even in someplace as foreign as Istanbul, Yves Saint Laurent was always the same.  “I’m sorry,” the associate said, “we don’t have the black.”

“Do you have anything comparable?” Francesca asked, slightly despairingly.

“How do you feel about red?” the associate asked.

Francesca laughed to herself.  “The same dress?  That will be fine.”  She gave her credit card over the phone, along with instructions for the store to deliver the dress to the hotel concierge no later than six-thirty.  Satisfied, she burrowed into the pillows and fell asleep.

At six-thirty the phone rang.

“Ms Ghiberti, your package is here.  Would you like us to deliver it to your room now?”

Francesca glanced at her watch.  She wanted to sleep more but should probably start getting ready.  “Please,” she answered.

“Very well,” the concierge replied.  “I’ll be up in a moment.”

The dress was exactly as Francesca had expected, but red.  She hung it on the back of the bathroom door to steam and drew a bath in the huge tub.

At 8:05 she walked into the hotel lobby, and a doorman rushed to greet her.

“Your car, Ms Ghiberti,” he said, escorting her outside.  He opened the door to the same (or was it a different one?  how could one ever tell?) black S-500 from the night before.  Selim was already sitting in the back.  He looked her up and down approvingly.

“You are stunning in red,” he said, kissing her deeply.

At least her dress had had the desired effect.  “Thank you,” she answered.

“I have a surprise for you,” he said, clasping her hands in his.

“I can’t imagine,” she murmured.

The driver took them to a yacht club on the Bosporus, and the Turk led her down the dock to a gorgeous vintage Chris-Craft, all lacquered teak and polished brass trim.

“Selim!” she exclaimed.

“The best way to see Istanbul is from the Bosporus,” he said, leading her to the gangway.  A captain stood aboard, helping them on.  She noticed champagne chilling in a bucket in the cabin.  When they were underway, Selim went inside and returned with two flutes and the bottle; he passed her the glasses and popped the cork over the side of the boat, in a display she found both ostentatious and endearing.

“How often do you get to enjoy this?” she asked him.

“The boat?” he replied.  “Honestly, almost never.  My wife is afraid, with the children, and I hardly have any free time I’m not spending with them.  It’s a shame,” he said wistfully.

“It’s perfect for tonight,” she said, raising her glass to him.

“To us,” he said, “and no one else.”

“To us,” she toasted.

As they cruised the Bosporus he pointed out the city’s landmarks–Topkapi, Hagia Sophia, all the mansions and the skyscrapers visible from the water.  As she had been the night before, Francesca was transfixed by the lights of the city.

“It’s magical, isn’t it?” Selim remarked.

She turned to him and embraced him.  “It’s incredible,” she said.

The captain docked the Chris-Craft at a small, private quay in a different part of the city than where they’d been before.  The Turk helped Francesca off the boat and along the quay to an alleyway, only wide enough for two people to walk abreast.  They were in the old part of the city, a maze of tiny paths amidst crumbling buildings, the beautiful decrepitude for which Istanbul is known.  They walked in silence, Francesca looking around with wide eyes, wishing she had her camera.  After a few minutes walking he led her through a heavy carved wood door and they were inside a courtyard.  Francesca caught her breath–it was all stained glass and hanging gardens and candlelight, an intimate, kaleidoscopic version of the city.  And it smelled divine.

“Dinner,” Selim said with a smile.