Paolo and Francesca…

a novel about beautiful people in Italy.

Tag: Istanbul

inspiration #12 : Paparazzi.

I’ve been enjoying playing with the idea that Francesca is a photographer, yet one of the primary concerns when she spends time with Paolo (and with the Turk, Selim) is avoiding photographers.  She’s obviously a private person, and her upbringing has instilled in her an innate disdain for publicity-seekers.  There’s also a strong separation between her kind of photography and how she perceives paparazzi.

Paparazzi is a concept Italian in origin (invented, or at least first documented, by Fellini in La Dolce Vita).  Paolo insists on meeting Francesca at the Armani Hotel in Milan because he’s convinced that the Torinese paparazzi have followed Juventus to the hotel where the team is staying.  In Istanbul, Selim directs his driver to drop them off at the back of a club to avoid the paparazzi crowded by the front door.  Though she lives in the highly-exposed world of fashion, Francesca has never had to work particularly hard to protect her privacy–yet, with these two men, she necessarily becomes more visible.

dinner party in Istanbul.

Our Lifestyle hosted a dinner on Thursday evening honoring its editor-in-chief, a man whom Francesca had expected not to like and, surprisingly, had.  He was jovial, a veteran of several other publications, and he had been approached by the magazine’s owners to lead their new endeavor, by his own admission, because no woman would accept the post.  It was a testament to his experience and reach that he had been able to assemble a staff with editorial credibility for a publication that had, seemingly, so many limitations.

At the dinner, she was astonished to see that no one was wearing a headscarf; all the women wore Versace minidresses or Dolce sheaths, the scene before her was nothing like the one she’d been shooting earlier in the day.  She asked the editor, Osman, about the disconnect, and he laughed.

“You’re in Turkiye, Francesca,” he boomed.  “We think Istanbul is on par with Paris and Milan.”  And then he was gone, off shaking hands with advertisers.

It was a gorgeous night and they ate outside, at a banquet table stretched along the Bosporus.  Half the guests had a view of the glimmering city lights and the illuminated minarets, and the other half looked out over the shimmering water, dotted with ships.  She could hear Timo at the other end of the table, entertaining a number of elegant women and at least a couple handsome younger men.  The seat beside Francesca was empty, but she began talking to the woman across the table, her mother’s age, perhaps, exotic-looking and dressed head to toe in designer clothes.  She spoke passionately about Milan, how she traveled there every season for the shows, how fascinating Francesca’s job must be.  Francesca was deep in conversation with her and barely noticed when someone sat down beside her, in the empty chair.

“May I sit here?” He spoke in English, and she noticed his accent was German.

“Yes, of course,” she answered in English.  He held out his hand to introduce himself.

“Selim,” he said.

“Francesca,” she replied.

“You’re not English,” he stated, grinning.

“No,” she shook her head. “Italian.”

“I could tell.  An Italian woman, she has a certain class that’s unmistakeable.  You don’t forget her.”

“That’s kind of you to say,” she answered.  “You’re making me blush.”

“You’re not blushing,” Selim said.  “I wish I had worn a different color shirt, something dark green.”

“Why?” Francesca asked him, perplexed.

“So it would match the color of your eyes.”  He paused.  “Now you’re blushing.”

She laughed, he laughed with her, and even amidst the din of the party and the city, their laughter echoed through the night.

“You didn’t learn that at boarding school, did you?” she asked.

“How do you know about boarding school?”  Now she had surprised him.

“Your accent.  You speak English like a German.  You must have learned it abroad.”

“Close,” he answered.  “Austria.”

They hardly touched their dinner, they couldn’t stand to stop talking long enough to eat.  Selim told her about the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, the clubs and shops in Nisantasi, everywhere she had to go and everything she had to do while she was in Istanbul.

“You’ll love it,” he said, taking her hand in his.

“I’m sure I will,” she replied.

They were still talking over coffee when one of the Versace women came over to Selim.  She was tall and thin, big highlighted blonde hair and a big yellow diamond ring, perilously high Louboutin heels.

“Selim,” she purred, ignoring Francesca.  And then she said something in Turkish.  He answered, patiently, it seemed to Francesca, and then the woman said something else, winking and touching his arm.  He replied, shaking his head, and she seemed rebuffed, and walked away.

“What just went on?” Francesca asked.

“More drama than you want to know,” he answered.  “She seems to think that just because my wife is home with our sick daughter, we’re on the verge of divorce.”

Francesca smiled a half-smile, checking herself.

“How old is your daughter,” she asked without missing a beat.

“She’s two and a half,” he said.  “And I have a son, with my first wife, who’s six.”

“That’s a lot of children and wives to keep track of,” Francesca said.

“You’re telling me,” he smiled.  “Let’s leave here, let’s go have a drink somewhere we can talk,” he proposed.

Francesca watched the woman in the Versace dress walk away.  “All right,” she said.

inspiration #10 : Venice.

image courtesy of Musei Civici Veneziani

In the excerpt where Francesca and the Turk (Selim) are in the bar in Istanbul, they start talking about Venice, and particularly about an art museum there, Ca’Pesaro.  Ca’Pesaro is a 17-century palazzo on the Grand Canal dedicated primarily to 19th and 20th-century Italian art.  It does have a copy of Rodin’s “The Thinker”, as Selim remembers.

As home of the Biennale, Venice is one of the best places in the world to see contemporary art, and since it is a city unlike any other (canals, gondolas, etc.), the format of the museums and galleries in Venice makes it an exciting place to see art.  Ca’Pesaro is a perfect example–when Selim says he wandered into the museum by accident, it’s because the back of the museum, where the entrance is, opens up to a small alley near San Stae (and a great pizza place called Muro).  Most of the city’s museums are in fascinating buildings: Punta della Dogana, Palazzo Grassi, and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection are among my favorites.

Francesca may be a commercial photographer, but hearing Selim speak about a modern art museum piques her artistic sensibility and her curiosity.  He is somewhat clever, as well, to have figured out that speaking about art will appeal to her.  It may be more than just a one-night stand…

later, with the Turk.

He had a car waiting for them to leave the party, a big black Mercedes S-class, and a driver who took them to a bar in Nisantasi.  He pulled around the back, purposely avoiding the crowds at the front of the club, the photographers, the step-and-repeats, the men in tight shirts and girls in tiny dresses.  A hostess showed them to a table at the back, red and candle-lit.  Selim said something to her in Turkish and she walked away.

“Why do you advertise in this kind of magazine?”  A waiter came over to their table with a bucket and a bottle of champagne; Francesca recognized the label, and the waiter popped the cork as discreetly as he could, pouring two glasses of Cristal.

“What do you mean?” Selim asked, after they had raised their glasses..

“Look at you,” she said.  “You’re drinking, you’re smoking, you’re with strange women.  You’re obviously not an observant Muslim.”

He grinned, lightly stroking her forearm with his fingers.  “How I was raised, Islam is just something you are.  This is how I’ve always lived.  Turkey has always been secular.”

“So why do you support this kind of publication?”

“These readers are aspirational.  Maybe some middle-class women will choose to wear the headscarf but that’s as far as it will go–my wife wouldn’t, none of her friends would.  It’s a movement of the lower classes, as tactless as that sounds to say.  But when they want to buy a Tiffany open heart necklace, I want them to come to my stores.  It isn’t a political statement, it’s just commercial.”

“And that’s it?” she pressed.

“Why are you here, if you’re so troubled by it?” he countered.

“Same as you, purely commerce.”

“I’ll try to give you more reasons to enjoy Istanbul,” he smiled, and wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her close to kiss her.

Francesca knew she had been flirting with this man all night, she had left the party with him and accepted his expensive, ostentatious champagne and sat beside him in the dark, smoky bar, letting him touch her and hold her and speak to her softly, but she hadn’t thought about what happens next.  She had been with Paolo for so long that she had forgotten what it was like.  With Paolo, everything just happened.  This man, the Turk, was playing it out.  The wife, the ex-wife, the two children, everything that comprised his life that he was able to ignore or neglect or disavow tonight.  She drank the crisp, dry champagne, fingering the long, elegant stem of her glass and watching him watch her.

“I was walking in Venice one day,” he began, speaking low and deliberately.  “I was alone, just wandering, it was January and cold.  That damp cold of Venice, the cold from the water and the stone.  I went into a palazzo to get warm, someplace along the Grand Canal, and I came face to face with that sculpture, you know–” he posed like Rodin’s Thinker, his elbow on his knee and his chin on his hand.

“The Thinker,” Francesca said, “I know where that is.  Ca’Pesaro.  I did the same thing, once.  We were on a school trip and I thought I was going to be an artist, you know, everyone fancies themselves an artist in Venice, so I would wander off with my camera and take photos of pigeons or doorways or views down a narrow canal.  And then I stumbled into Ca’Pesaro and saw the Rodin and I spent the entire afternoon there.  I love Venice,” she said wistfully.

“It was the same for me.  I love Venice.  I go there twice a year, at least.”

“Venice?  Why?  I live only several hours away but I haven’t been there in five years.”

He fingered the gold pendant hanging from her neck.  “Can you guess?”

She closed her eyes and laughed at herself.  “Of course.  You must go to Vicenza for the jewelry shows.”

“I’m like you, I think.  My work brings me to the best places in the world.  Several times each year to Italy, several times to New York, to Paris, to Geneva.  I love the travel.”

They were having a conversation.  Sitting in a bar, flirting, sure, but having a conversation about their lives.  Like adults do.  She would sleep with the Turk, Selim, Francesca knew that, she could tell by the way her heart raced each time he touched her arm.  She would let him make love to her all night long and she wouldn’t care if she ever saw him again, but this moment, to him she was the most fascinating creature on earth.

“I think we are getting divorced,” he said, quietly.

“I’m sorry to hear,” she replied.

“Why do you say that?”

“I’m sorry to hear when anyone gets divorced.  It’s sad for a dream to end like that.”

“Have you ever been married?” he asked her.

She shook her head.  “I can’t imagine it,” she said.

“Why do you say that?  You must have a boyfriend.  You don’t ever think of marrying him?”

He had caught her off guard.  “I don’t think he’s the marrying type.  I don’t think I’m the marrying type.”

The Turk laughed.  “My problem is that I am the marrying type.”

“You won’t have to worry about that with me,” Francesca replied, twirling a strand of hair in her fingers.

an opportunity.

She would have preferred to drive the two hours to Milan alone with her thoughts, but she owed a call to Timo and the work day had begun.

“You sound funny, Francie,” Timo told her, and his words echoed through the car’s bluetooth.

“I’m tired, Timo.  Yesterday was a long day.”

“Ugh, that’s Torino for you.  Industrial wasteland.  Square-headed people.  Except for those soccer players.”  She could practically hear him smirking over the phone.

“So the Turks,” Francesca resumed.

“The Turks,” Timo said, “It’s one of those nouveau riche fashion magazines, all Tiffany this and Cartier that, entirely branded and western.”

“Okay…and it’s called?”

New Direction or BeautyVision or something ridiculous like that.  All the chic names must have been used up already.  Anyway, so they want to fly you out to Istanbul–”

“And you–”

“And me, of course, because I’ve already explained to them that it’s a package deal, I have to travel with you, but that wasn’t an issue for them.  It’s a shoot on a boat, or a yacht, rather, one of those mega-catamarans or something on the Bosporus, you know, the kind that all these new oligarchs have, and it’s primarily shoes and accessories, so easy, and they’ve already secured some mid-range models, I think we’ve worked with about three of them already–”

“Okay…”

“And they’re offering to pay a ridiculous sum of money and comp the hotels and all that, so it’s basically the easiest trip ever, two days, three nights, in and out, they’ll book us on a direct flight out of MXP.”

“But?”

“But what?”

“But it sounds like there’s something you’re not telling me.  It sounds like you’re trying to sell this one too hard.”

“It’s a good opportunity, Francie.  It’s an easy shoot for a lot of money and they’ll work around your schedule.”

“But–”

“But it’s one of those conservative magazines.  With an Islamic bent, you know, they make their models wear headscarves and be fully clothed.  No swimsuits.  No hint of leg.  No cleavage.”

“I thought Turkey was secular.”

“Backlash.”

“Do you think we should do it?”

“It’s a challenge.  If you can pull this one off and make it look amazing even with headscarves, you’ll be more than just a fashion photographer.  You’ll be an auteur.”

“Shut up, Timo.  If I don’t pull it off, I’ll be shooting grocery circulars until I’m 65.”

“And if you do pull it off, just think of all the doors it will open!  Riyadh!  Dubai!  Half the world wears headscarves now.  And they all buy luxury goods.  We’ll be in a tree hut resort in Bali for Christmas!”

Francesca had to laugh.  Timo was right, she conceded, it was a good opportunity.  But she had traveled in Islamic countries before–Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco–and had always felt a deep discomfort seeing the men running around, smoking in cafes and ogling foreign women and whistling at anyone who passed, while the women bustled around working or buying groceries or tending children, covered from head to toe in the hijab or burka.  These girls, you could see them on their way to class at universities, you could see their bright eyes and imagine them studying medicine or law or, less probably, photography, only to be able to practice if they kept their heads covered.  Without the scarves, they were as good as common prostitutes, these girls who studied so hard and dreamed of the west, who read fashion magazines without ever being able to wear the clothes, who know Chloe and Celine and Yves Saint Laurent but could never wear them outside of the house.  She didn’t believe it was freedom.  And she felt a deep-seated ambivalence about doing anything to encourage it, however benign it may seem.

“Timo, I forgot something at home.  I have to stop back there, and I’ll be in by noon.”

“Can I order you lunch?”

“God, yes.  The biggest panino you can find.  With prosciutto.”

“You got it, boss.  See you soon.”

“Ciao, Timo.”