Paolo and Francesca…

a novel about beautiful people in Italy.

Tag: football

Juventus Stadium.

Juventus - Udinese

Juventus – Udinese

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).

Curva Sud superfans

Curva Sud superfans

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…

visiting Napoli.

“How long has your family lived here?” she asked as they walked down the hall.

He furrowed his brow.  “Five years?  I think it’s been five years.  Maybe a little longer.  My father didn’t want to move for a long time.  Now he has to drive to work, which annoys him, I think.  But it’s much easier for Chiara to get to school, and it’s a nicer neighborhood.”  They passed a small dining room, a bath, and then came to three doors at the end of the hall.  “Chiara’s room, Papa’s room, our room,” he said, pointing at each in a counter-clockwise arc.  He opened the door to the room that was theirs.  Inside, she saw a double bed, a chest of drawers, and a bookcase of trophies.  Medals hung from ribbons nailed to the wall.  Silver bowls, framed photos, his entire career of accolades crammed into this dark little bedroom.

She began studying them, exhibits in the museum of Paolo.

“These are recent,” she remarked.

“Some,” he said.  “There’s some old ones, too.”  He pulled some pieces off a shelf and took out a small plaque, the size of a paperback book.  It was wood laminate and brass-faced, engraved with his name, a club name, and the year 1994.  “This was my first golden boot award.”  He grinned and handed it to her.

She traced the letters on the brass with her fingertips.  “You were eight?”

“Eight or nine, something like that.”

“Did you know, then?”

“I think this was the moment I realized it was possible.  This was the last time I played just for fun.”  He took the plaque from her and placed it back on the shelf.  “The bathroom is just right here,” he said, changing his wistful tone and walking out of the room, pointing at a narrow door in the hallway.

She turned back and looked around the room.  Of course she had never noticed a single award in his flat, no sign of the fifteen years he had dedicated to the sport.  She wondered, briefly, if the picture she’d given him for Christmas would end up here as well.  On the edge of the dresser was a framed snapshot of a young Paolo in jeans and a replica Napoli jersey, Lucia holding a chubby, toddler Chiara, and Amedeo looking dapper and proud, his hand on Paolo’s head, smiling into the sun; Francesca picked it up.  They looked to be on holiday, Lucia and Chiara were wearing pretty dresses, Amedeo reminded her of an actor in his sunglasses, and Paolo’s jersey looked new, it looked like he refused to take it off.  He seemed, if she had to guess, to be the same age as she was when her father died.  She replaced the photo on the dresser.

“the maestro of the midfield”

When she went upstairs, the first thing she did was turn on the television to see if Paolo’s game was still on.  It was over, so she watched RAI Sports to get the recap.  It was a channel she’d never even known existed, but as she watched, she started to hear names and phrases familiar to her from listening to Paolo.  There had been several games that evening, and she had to watch reports from Rome and Naples before getting to the Juventus match.  They had played Udinese and the sportscasters insisted on making their report as suspenseful as possible when recounting the highlights.  Juventus had scored first but Udinese was quick to return attack, and the game was tied at the half.  At the start of the second half Juventus subbed in Arancetti, their powerful young striker, and waited anxiously to see if the 20-year old could score a goal and justify his incredible salary.  Arancetti did score, and his goal came off a set piece from none other than (and here the sportscaster paused for effect) Paolo Romaldo, the maestro of the midfield, sailing a gorgeous free kick into the box for Arancetti to head past the goalkeeper.  Francesca cheered as she watched it on the television.  She reached for her phone and sent him a message.

Congratulations, baby!  Looks like you saved the day!  xxxxxx.

Two minutes later, her phone rang.

“Is this the maestro of the midfield?” she answered.

He laughed.  She could hear all sorts of background noise–music, talking.  “I’ll be the maestro of your midfield,” he replied.

She groaned.  “Where are you?”

“Some bar in Udine.  We’re staying here tonight and flying back tomorrow morning.  What were you doing tonight?”

“I had dinner with my brother and his wife.”  She conveniently neglected to mention Bruno.  “They started talking about football and I was so tempted to tell them about you.”

“Why wouldn’t you?” he asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Why wouldn’t you tell them about me?”

“It didn’t seem appropriate.  What could I have said?  ‘Oh, football.  I have sex occasionally with a football player.'”

“That’s not how you would really describe it, is it?” he asked.

“Why, what would you say?”  She realized she wanted very badly to know his answer.

“I’d say I’m dating a beautiful woman named Francesca.”

“Say it,” she said.  “Say it to your teammates and everyone in the bar.”

“I’M DATING A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN NAMED FRANCESCA,” she heard him yell over the noise of the bar.  “Did you hear that?” he asked her.

“Yes,” she laughed.  “Yes.  All right, the next time it comes up, I’m going to tell my brother I’m dating a brilliant football player named Paolo Romaldo.”

“Just your brother?”

“Anyone who asks.  Anyone at all,” she answered.

“Good,” he said.  “I’ve got to go.  I’ll be thinking about you, Cesca.”

“Ciao, Paolo.  Sleep well.”

She ended the call and stared at her phone for a moment, trying to make sure she had understood what he’d said.  “I’m dating a beautiful woman named Francesca” rang in her ears.  He cared.  He really cared.  Right?  Now she really needed Timo.  She picked up her phone to dial him, then thought better of it.  Timo had made it abundantly clear he was tired of hearing about Paolo.  Maybe it was time to come clean to Cristina.

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.”


“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.”