Paolo and Francesca…

a novel about beautiful people in Italy.

Tag: Prada

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.

Game Time.

Despite her protests that her hair was fine, Timo had scheduled Tonio for 4pm on Wednesday.  The hairdresser set up in the alcove of the studio they reserved for models, with its makeup chair and mirror, and he set Francesca’s hair in juice can rollers and then dismissed her for the next hour, during which he trimmed, styled, and restyled Timo’s cropped cut.  Francesca sat at her computer and laughed.  When Timo was reasonably satisfied he popped a bottle of prosecco and the three of them drank while Tonio unrolled Francesca’s long dark tresses.  Tonio sprayed and teased, and when Francesca caught a glimpse in the mirror, she looked like an Italian film actress: volume at the crown, thick barrel waves over her shoulders, big sexy hair.

“Perfect!” Timo effused.

Francesca wasn’t convinced.  “I’m not going to Cannes,” she said.

“You might as well be.  Consider this your big break, missy.  You can’t show up looking like an indigent.”

“You sound like my mother.  And I’m hardly an indigent, I don’t think.”

Tonio chimed in.  “You two are like an old married couple.”

“Chop chop,” Timo hovered.  “Time to change.”

“I’m not changing,” Francesca retorted.  She was wearing long skinny jeans and a black cashmere sweater.  Her leather jacket hung over the back of her desk chair.

“That’s what you think,” Timo said.  “Tonio, she obviously needs to change.”

“Obviously,” Tonio replied.

“What?”

“There’s nothing sexy about that sweater, and those jeans say I don’t care enough to do anything I wouldn’t normally do.”

“It’s a football game.  It’s outside.  It is a casual sporting event.”

“It is the most important night of your life,” Timo said, walking towards her with a garment bag.  “I took the liberty of styling an outfit for you.”

Francesca groaned audibly.

Timo unzipped the garment bag with a grand flourish and set a shopping bag with a shoebox on her desk.

“Oh no,” Francesca protested.  “No way.  I am not wearing a pleated skirt to a football game.  Absolutely not.”

“I wouldn’t have picked it as my first choice either,” Timo explained, “but then I thought of your legs, and I thought about the efficiency of a skirt versus a pair of pants or jeans, and the pleats are so chic, and you’ll look amazing.  Just try it on.”

“It’s going to be cold tonight.”

“Try it.”

“I do kind of like the blouse.”  The skirt was from Prada and the blouse was Moschino and while the whole look was a little cute compared to how Francesca normally dressed, Timo had balanced the sweetness with a brutal pair of Giuseppe Zanotti heels and overall, though she would look a little overdressed for a football game, she wouldn’t look entirely ridiculous.

She emerged from the studio’s dressing room and surveyed herself in the full-length mirror.

“Gorgeous!” Timo cried.  “You are so getting laid tonight.  Time to go before you change your mind.”

“I’ll drive,” Francesca offered, but Timo had a plan for that, too.

“We both drive.  I need to be able to get myself home.  Obviously.”

When they arrived at the stadium and presented their tickets at the gate, they were ushered up to a private reception area with food and drinks.  Francesca looked around at the businessmen in their suits and their wives in stylish dresses and felt less self-conscious, while Timo scurried around surveying the scene.  Ten minutes before kickoff, an usher came to each of the guests to escort them to their seats.

“Signorina Ghiberti?” The usher asked.

“Yes,” Francesca smiled.

“For you,” he said, and handed her an envelope.  She slipped it into her bag and corralled TImo, then followed the usher.

“Aren’t you going to open that envelope?” Timo hissed.

“Not now,” she whispered.

As they had thought, their seats were at midfield, three rows up.  Francesca glanced quickly at the fans to her left and right and determined there were probably no deranged stalkers, just football fans.  On the field, kids wearing uniforms were unfurling a banner and kicking a ball around in some sort of exhibition.  She reached in her bag and pulled out the envelope the usher had given her.

A page of notepaper.

Scribbly handwriting that started out trying to be neat and lapsed quickly into near-illegibility.

Meet me in the lounge at the Armani Hotel.  I’ll be there by 2230h.  Look straight ahead.

She looked up from the note and straight onto the field.  Standing on the midfield line, looking directly and exclusively at her, Paolo Romaldo, #4, smiled and waved.

She smiled back and lifted her hand.

“Madonna,” Timo said.

Several rows behind them, a bunch of girls waved and screamed in the general direction of center field and through their squealing, Francesca heard the bits of their conversation that included Romaldo’s name.

“Do you think he was really waving at us?” Timo asked her.

Francesca handed him the note.  “Guess so,” he said, scanning it.

The game itself was a blur, partly because Francesca had a limited understanding of the rules of the game, despite having grown up with two brothers playing, partly because Timo didn’t stop talking the entire time, even making friends with the people sitting around them, and partly, no, mostly because she couldn’t stop imagining what was going to happen later that night.  From what she could gather, the two teams were well-matched and the game was highly defensive; neither team scored in the first half and it resembled a chess match more than a football game.