Paolo and Francesca…

a novel about beautiful people in Italy.

Tag: Ricci

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.]

goldfish and picture books.


Upstairs, she watched as Leo changed into his Toy Story pajamas and brushed his teeth, standing on a stool so he could reach the sink.  He had a goldfish bowl on the vanity and he slowly and deliberately counted out six fish flakes and sprinkled them on the surface of the water.

“Do you remember when we went to the aquarium?” Francesca asked, gently mussing his hair.

“Yes,” Leo said pointedly.  “I got the fish from Daddy,” he continued.

“What’s his name?”

“Luke Skywalker.”

“You named your fish Luke Skywalker?” she asked, trying to suppress a laugh.

“Yes.  He’s my favorite Jedi.”

They walked back to Leo’s bedroom, decorated with posters of the solar system and framed pictures of him at different ages, with Ricci and Giulietta.  For a brief moment, Francesca wondered again if this is what her child would have been like–precocious and sweet, sensitive and blond and curious.  She picked up Leo and hugged him tightly.

“Ouch, Zia Francie,” he kicked against her.

“Okay, okay,” she said, releasing him onto a beanbag chair.  “What book do you want me to read?”  She should have brought him a new book, she thought.  She hadn’t had a chance to pick up anything special for him.

“This one,” he said, selecting a hardcover picture book.  Jumanji.  It had been one of her favorites.

“‘Now remember,’ Mother said, ‘your father and I are bringing some guests by after the opera…'” She began reading, nestled into the beanbag chair next to him.  She finished reading the book even though he had already fallen asleep, then she picked him up and tucked him gently into bed, kissing his forehead before she left.

sailing vacation.

[before this: rich girls.]

The next morning, the crew served coffee and pastries on the deck as they got underway, waving goodbye to the Amalfi coast.  They were set to cruise leisurely down to the Aeolian Islands, off the coast of Sicily.  Giulietta appeared wearing a snakeskin-print cover-up, elaborate Jimmy Choo sandals, and enormous Gucci sunglasses.  She already looked tanned, like she had prepared for this trip.  Francesca, in contrast, was wearing as promised one of Selim’s button-down shirts, a colorful, printed Etro scarf in her hair, Celine sunglasses, and bare feet.  She had a flat white pedicure on her toes and felt quite chic, even next to her overdressed sister-in-law.  Selim was slow to emerge from below decks; Ricci was standing at the wheel, coffee in his left hand, chatting with the ship’s captain.  He wore a t-shirt and swim trunks, both of which had probably been carefully selected by his wife, and with the breeze blowing through his light brown hair Francesca thought he looked more relaxed than she’d seen in months.

Giulietta shook a small pink packet of sweetener into her coffee and declined pastries.  Francesca chose a large croissant and went to work peeling the flaky, golden layers apart before drizzling them with honey and eating them.  She had a big, foamy cappuccino by her side.

“How do you stay so skinny eating like that?” Giulietta asked her.

“I’m not that skinny,” Francesca replied.  She lifted the tails of her shirt and grabbed at a barely-existent chunk of her left thigh.

“I think you’re perfect.”  Both women tilted their heads up to see Selim standing above them, paying Francesca a compliment.

“Thanks,” she said, offering him some honeyed croissant.  He took it, holding onto her hand and licking the honey off her fingers.  Giulietta turned away nervously.  Francesca raised an eyebrow.  “Hey,” she said quietly.

He walked up to stand at the bow of the sailboat, like a figurehead, the wind blowing back his dark hair and rippling his shirt and shorts.  It was going to be okay, she thought, laying back on the smooth teak deck.  She unbuttoned her shirt and balled it up under the back of her head.  Unlike in the scenario she had described to Selim on the phone, she was wearing both parts of her bikini.


[before this: showering alone.]

They stayed in bed for a long time on New Year’s Day, not wanting to leave the warm cocoon they had created for themselves.  Francesca had slept in Paolo’s old jersey and wore it still, curled up amidst the pillows.

She stroked his forearm with her fingers, scratching it gently with her nails.  “I like that you’re not embarrassed to have me here,” she said finally, breaking the morning quiet.

“What do you mean?  Why should I be embarrassed?”  He jerked up defensively pulling his arm away.

“That’s not what I meant,” she stammered.

“Oh, really.  So say what you meant, then.”

“That you’re not ashamed of where you came from.”  She became acutely aware that she wasn’t making matters any better.

“But why would I be ashamed?  I don’t understand.  Because my father doesn’t wear Berluti shoes or a Rolex watch?  Because he works every day?  Because my sister doesn’t carry a Gucci handbag?  What the fuck are you trying to say?”  He had moved away from her, almost as far as he could be without falling off the edge of the bed; he had narrowed his eyes and looked at her incredulously.

“That didn’t come out right at all.”

“You’re damn right it didn’t,” he continued, angrily.  “If I were you, I’d be a little more careful deciding who should or shouldn’t be embarrassed about their family.  As far as I know, only one of us has a relative to be ashamed of, and it sure as hell isn’t me.”

It was her turn to sit up and be indignant.  “How dare you drag Ricci into this,” she hissed.

“You started it,” he sneered.  “You’re the one passing judgment on everyone.  I’m just suggesting that you not throw stones, when it’s your brother all over the Corriere.”

“I was trying to say something nice,” she argued.

“Well, it was a damn backhanded way of saying it,” he replied.  There it was again: money, class, society, in the bed with them, building a wall between them.

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly.  “What I should have said is that I like your family, I’ve enjoyed spending time with them, and I’m glad that you’re comfortable enough with me to have you in your home.”

“Then that’s what you should have said,” he answered, getting up out of bed.  He pulled his shorts on and opened the bedroom door.

“You aren’t going to apologize?” she asked from the bed.

“Apologize for what?” he said, turning back.  “Not having Frette sheets?  Making you ride in a Fiat?  No,”  he shook his head, “I have nothing to apologize for.”

a conversation with a sea lion.

When she got back to her flat she collapsed on the sofa and returned Paolo’s calls.

“What happened to you?” he asked when he answered his phone.

“I’m sorry.  I’m really sorry.  It’s this thing with my brother, and his bank.  Something happened last night–I’m not entirely sure what it is, but it’s bad, and Ricci’s involved–and I felt like I had to come home to see him.”

“You didn’t even wake me up,” Paolo said finally.

“I know.  I didn’t know what to do.  I just felt like I had to come back to Milano.  If I had gotten you up, maybe I would have changed my mind.  But I think I did the right thing.  I got to spend some time with Leo, I took him to the aquarium–Giulietta just seemed a little bit off, I mean, obviously, but still, when I got there it was like she was on something.  So I took him out, and we had fun–he’s such a funny little kid.  Sometimes I think he’s like Ricci and sometimes he reminds me of myself.”  She paused.

Paolo waited to speak.  “I would have come with you.”

“What?”  She was surprised.  “No, you wouldn’t have.  It would have been too weird.”

“I would have.  I wish you had gotten me up before you left.”  He sounded hurt.

She sighed.  “Really.  You would have driven two hours with me, gone to my brother’s house, tried to have a conversation with my crazy sister-in-law, who probably would have asked you all sorts of ridiculous and strange questions because she’s like that anyway plus she’s on some sort of sedatives, then you would have taken my three-year-old nephew to the aquarium and had inane conversations about whether fish sleep or not, and then, to top it all off, go out for lunch at a Chinese restaurant with my brother who just lost a ton of money that wasn’t his to begin with and really seems to be at the absolute end of his rope.  You would have done that.  I don’t think so.”

“You didn’t even give me the chance.”  He was hurt, undoubtedly.  She couldn’t understand why.  It wasn’t like she had left him to go to Paris and party with Kanye West.

“I’m sorry,” she said.  “I really wasn’t thinking about anything other than getting home.”

“It’s ok, I know.”

“I had a conversation with a stuffed animal sea lion.”

“A what?”

“A sea lion,” she said.  “It’s a marine mammal.  Looks like a seal, but with whiskers.  Like a walrus, but no tusks.”

“How exactly did this happen?”

“I bought it for Leo at the gift shop.  And then one thing led to another, and there was a point when I asked the sea lion what his favorite Chinese food was.”

Paolo laughed, and for a moment, Francesca was relieved.

what are Cheerios?

Giulietta appeared at the top of the stairs in a bathrobe.  “What are you doing here?” she asked Francesca.

“Bruno called me,” Francesca replied.  “He’s looking for Ricci.”

“But why are you here,” Giulietta reiterated.

“Giulietta, I’m sorry, I didn’t know what to do.  It sounded serious.  I thought maybe I could help–”

“You?  Help?”  Giulietta stayed at the top of the stairs; her pose reminded Francesca of an old Hollywood film, right before something awful happened.

Francesca scooped up Leo, who had been clinging to her leg.  “Maybe Leo and I can go out to the aquarium, give you a little time to yourself.”

“How’s Romaldo?” Giulietta asked.

Francesca looked confused.  “Fine,” she said.  “He’s fine.  So,” she continued, ignoring Giulietta’s non sequitur, “Leo and I are going to go to the aquarium, and we’ll come home in a couple of hours.  Do you think Ricci will be back then?”

“I don’t know when he’s coming back,” Giulietta said flatly.

“Ok,” Francesca said.  “Ok.  We’re going to go now, we’ll see you in a little bit.  Leo, say bye to mama,” she directed her nephew.

Giulietta turned and walked away from the stairs into the hallway, and Francesca heard her bedroom door close.  She turned to the maid.

“Can you help me get his clothes and car seat?  And anything else we might need?”

The maid nodded and walked upstairs.  Francesca set Leo down and wandered towards the kitchen.  “What do you think, should we have some breakfast?  I’m pretty hungry,” she told her nephew.

“Are we really going to the aquarium?”

“Of course we are.  Right after we have breakfast and you change into your clothes.”  She looked around the kitchen.  “What do you normally have for breakfast?” she asked him.

“Cheerios,” Leo said, climbing into his chair.

“What are Cheerios?” Francesca asked.

“Cheerios,” Leo replied.  “Cheerios are Cheerios.”

“You’re not helping at all,” she said under her breath.  The maid returned with some neatly-folded clothes.

“The car seat is in the foyer,” she said.  “I’ll put it in your car when you’re ready to leave.”

“Thank you,” Francesca said.  “Antonella, what are Cheerios?”

The maid opened a cabinet and pulled out a big yellow cereal box.  “From America.  Breakfast cereal.  You can tell you don’t have kids.”  For the first time since Francesca had arrived, Antonella cracked a smile.  She served a small bowl for Leo and poured some milk.  “Would you like some?” she asked Francesca.

Francesca looked at Leo spooning the little o’s into his mouth deliberately.  “Ok,” she answered.  Antonella served her a slightly larger bowl of Cheerios and she and Leo sat together and ate breakfast.

a surprise guest at dinner.

She went to dinner with her brother and his tiresome wife anyway.  It wasn’t that she disliked her sister-in-law, Giulietta, she just preferred not to listen to her talk.  And she had been close to Ricci, as a child, especially after her father died.  Ricci had stepped in and taken care of her, more like a father figure than a brother.  She was closer in temperament to her brother Michele; closer in age, too, but Ricci had always been protective and kind, if not entirely understanding.

They had planned to meet at a Japanese restaurant near her, in Brera.  Giulietta was notoriously late so Francesca gave Ricci’s name to the maitre-d and expected to have to wait with drink at the bar.

“It should be three, under Ricardo Ghiberti,” she said to the host.

“Four,” the host answered, “and one guest has already arrived.  Would you like to be seated with him?”

Francesca scanned the dining room, confused.  Michele was out of town, and didn’t get along with Giulietta anyway.  They only all had dinner together once a year, at Christmas.  She nodded, and the maitre-d led her to a table in a far corner.

Fully engrossed in his blackberry, Bruno sat facing out to the dining room.  Francesca saw him and froze for a moment.  Damn Ricci and damn Bruno.  As if this dinner wasn’t going to be awkward enough.  By that point, Bruno had seen her walking with the host and was smiling; he was standing up from his chair to allow her to be seated.  Francesca did have that to recommend him: his manners  were impeccable.

“Ciao, Francesca,” Bruno said, embracing her familiarly.

“Ciao, Bruno.  What a surprise,” Francesca replied.

“I was surprised myself,” he said.  “I had just mentioned to your brother that I’d seen you last week, and he told me you had plans for dinner and invited me along.”  He paused.  “You did say that we could have dinner sometime.”

Francesca nodded. Bruno looked good–no longer a businessman on holiday, he wore a finely-tailored suit and tortoiseshell reading glasses.  He looked like he belonged.  “I received your flowers,” she said.  “Thank you.  You didn’t have to do that.”

“It’s nothing,” Bruno said.  “I feel so badly.  How much longer do you have to wear that?” he asked, gesturing to her air-cast.

“The doctor says four more weeks,” she answered.  “I’m getting used to it.”  She looked around for her brother and his wife.  “Have you heard from Ricci?” she asked Bruno.

He pulled out his blackberry.  “He told me he was running late,” he said, scrolling through his messages.  “That was about twenty minutes ago.”

“He’s always late,” Francesca grumbled.  Bruno ordered a bottle of wine and they were well into their first glass when Ricci and Giulietta finally arrived.  Her sister-in-law was wearing thigh-high Jimmy Choo stiletto boots and trailing Tom Ford’s Neroli Portofino scent.  Her brother seemed more distracted than usual, and Francesca felt like it almost wasn’t fair to ask him why he thought it was a good idea to invite Bruno to dinner.

“So after fifteen years,” Bruno began, “suddenly Francesca and I have seen each other twice in a week.”

“Oh, yes,” Francesca answered unconvincingly.  “I’m sure you heard about our accident in Capri.”  A pained look crossed Bruno’s face and immediately she felt horrible for having mentioned it like that.  “I hope you enjoyed the rest of your vacation,” she added quickly, trying to ameliorate her temper.

“It was fine,” Bruno said.  Ricci and Giulietta said nothing and kept looking back and forth from Bruno to Francesca, like they were watching a tennis match.  “We had lovely weather,” he added.

Francesca drank the remaining wine in her glass and Bruno signalled for the waiter to refill it.  Ricci told the waiter they’d do the omakase then began talking with Bruno about some sort of derivatives; Giulietta asked her opinion on whether bell-bottom jeans would actually be making a comeback in the spring like all the magazines said they would.  Francesca took another long swig from her glass of wine.

She should have stayed home.  She should have just stayed home and watched MTV.  But when Bruno and Ricci started talking about football, her ears perked up.  Bruno was a Lazio fan and Ricci’s team was Inter, both strong this year but neither as strong as Juventus.  Bruno said his bank had box seats for Lazio and Ricci should come for a game some time when he was in Rome.  Giulietta saw she had lost Francesca’s attention and tuned into the men’s conversation to see what she had been missing.

“Don’t tell me you follow football,” she pressed Francesca.

“I don’t, really,” Francesca said, shaking her head.  “I shot a spread at a stadium last month.”  That was safe–it was going to be obvious when the magazine came out.

“I don’t know a thing about the game,” Giulietta continued, “but I could watch those players all day long.”

Francesca laughed, almost so loudly that she worried she’d give herself away.  “I’ll have to take a good look,” she replied.

“They’re all over the magazines,” her sister-in-law said, “with their girlfriends in Ibiza or Mykonos or Miami.”

“I’ll keep an eye out,” Francesca smiled.

“Francesca hangs out with models all the time,” Bruno joked.  “Footballers’ girlfriends won’t impress her.”

Giulietta looked puzzled.  Ricci just looked tired.

“We went to a party the magazine threw in Capri,” Francesca explained.  “Bruno got to meet some of the models.”

“You never take me to parties with models,” Giulietta pouted.

“I think she felt sorry for me,” Bruno quipped.  “I made it sound like I never had any fun.”

“I suppose global economic collapse just isn’t what it used to be.”  Ricci hadn’t spoken much all evening and when he did, it was like a tray of dishes dropping in the distance: they all stopped and stared at him.  Of course that’s why he had been so distant and distracted.

“He didn’t mean it like that,” Francesca said quietly, cutting the silence.

“I’m sure it’s easy for you to say, with your Prada this and Gucci that, all anorexic smiling girls and photos of shoes on yachts in Capri–”

“What I do promotes the Italian economy,” Francesca said, keeping her voice calm and measured.  She had never seen her brother so upset.  “You know that.  These brands are made in Italy.  It is an actual industry.”

“What are you going to do when your precious brands can’t get anyone to secure their loans?  When lenders call in their revolving lines of credit?”

“Ricci, relax,” Bruno said cautiously.  “I’m taking it as seriously as you are.  I didn’t mean anything by it.”

“What I don’t know is what’s going to happen when this–” Ricci gestured around them at the restaurant, its chic patrons, its dark teak and sushi chefs, “–all this, is gone.”

Giulietta began sniffling and crying quietly.

“Oh, shut up,” Ricci said to her.