Paolo and Francesca…

a novel about beautiful people in Italy.

Tag: Venice


image via

The water-bus passed under the wooden Accademia bridge and along the white Peggy Guggenheim collection palazzo. It was another of her favorite museums–a home turned into its owner’s modern art collection. She remembered visiting in school, and being mesmerized by a Clyfford Still painting titled “Jamais”, her teenaged self felt a deep connection to the starkness of the gash, the idea of never. They were approaching the San Marco stop, where she would get off the water-bus with Selim’s Bric’s bag in tow, board a private launch, and check into his room at the Hotel Cipriani.
Her legs seemed to shake more than usual walking down the gangway; she wished she could stop in at Harry’s for a quick, stiff drink–a negroni, maybe–something to fortify her for the coming evening. She couldn’t imagine how Selim would react. If he left her? If he left her, he would have left her, she thought. They had such an erratic relationship up to this point, it wouldn’t be surprising if it were to end. He could leave now with nothing invested. Go home to his wife and children.
She had to tell him, and she had to tell him tonight. It would be dishonest not to. And she had had a hard enough time not telling him already, on the phone, when she could have sworn he could tell there was something wrong by the sound of her voice. She shivered on the end of the dock waiting for the launch to cross the lagoon, careful to keep the heels of her boots from slipping through the slats on the dock.
On the launch, the captain gave her a cashmere throw for warmth as they sped across the lagoon. She huddled in the corner, looking back over her shoulder at the receding lights of San Marco. The familiar part of Venice, the part that she knew, was the part she was leaving behind. From here, everything was new to her.

inspiration #28 : Farhad Moshiri.

life is beautiful


“Life is Beautiful”, Farhad Moshiri.

I saw this installation last January in Venice at Palazzo Grassi and it literally changed my life.  ok, that’s kind of extreme, but I was having one of those moments–wandering through Venice alone, in the cold and fog, spending the day just looking at art–and it struck me, incredibly deeply, how brilliant this piece is.

LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL.  spelled out in knives.

I could say something pretentious about art and edges, but I won’t.

during their difficult mini-holiday in Venice, Francesca and Selim go to Palazzo Grassi and see this installation, and Selim buys the picture postcard in the museum gift shop to send to her later.  for me, the combination of the knives and the idea of life being beautiful–which it is, you know it is, but it’s something so fraught for Francesca at this moment–the symbolism is so horribly significant, and so true.



midnight in Venice.

They walked out into the Venetian night, the cold sharper than it had been before, but dulled by the two bottles of Amarone they’d finished.  The cobbled streets of Cannareggio were hung with tiny lights, a twinkling string of stars leading from bridge to bridge.  As they walked past shutters they heard the sounds of living behind them; television broadcasts and washing up and scolding children.

“How are we getting back?” Selim asked her.  She had forgotten how far they’d walked, how far they were from the hotel on the Giudecca.

“It’s not so far to walk to San Marco,” she said, pulling out her map and studying.  “Provided we don’t get lost.  But I think that’s actually faster than taking a taxi, see?”  She traced the route on the map: a nearly straight line walking through the city, the curvy, backwards S of the Grand Canal.

“So we walk,” he said.  “It’s rather Eyes Wide Shut.”  The streets were quiet, nearly deserted in the untouristed Ghetto Vecchio.  “You’re not too cold?” he asked tenderly, holding her leather-gloved hand in his.

“I’m fine,” she replied.  “And you’re right, it’s like some sort of film.  Something dark and mysterious.  Venice is one of those places that isn’t quite real.”

“Isn’t it.”  They paused in an empty piazza, a little campo, really, with trees and benches, a statue of the Virgin Mary standing silent sentinel.  “I don’t want to wait until we get back to the hotel,” he said.  His voice was dark and dangerous, steeped in desire.

She looked around nervously.

“There’s no one here,” he said.

“We’re outside,” she protested weakly.

“I’m sure that’s never stopped you before.”  In the silence of the piazza she felt his words echo off the walls of the surrounding buildings, buffeting her.  She looked around again.

“There,” she said sharply, pointing at a low, narrow sotoportego.  They walked into the shadows, and she braced herself against the rough-hewn walls.  He wrapped his coat around them both, enveloping her and drawing her close, and he kissed her hard.

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.

inspiration #23 : antiquing in Venice.


I was walking to lunch at Harry’s Bar in Venice last Sunday afternoon (of course I was.  this is how you roll when you’re a big romance writer.) and literally stumbled right on an open-air antiques market.  Turin is renowned for its Mercato Balon, which Paolo and Francesca visit one weekend.  the antiques market in Venice is located in the glamorous Mercato di Rialto, which on weekdays is a fish market, and on Sundays still smells faintly of fish but is full of art and artifacts, furniture and knick-knacks.  I meandered through, taking particular note of the jewelry (there was the pair of vintage earrings, but not the anchor pendant), but I really regret not buying a gorgeous piece of Fendi luggage.  ah, Venice.

inspiration #14 : a diary excerpt.

18 Jan 12

The Veneto today is an icy kingdom.

Palazzo Grassi — the room with the gunpowder trees and moon — “Life is Beautiful” in knives — El Anatsui — art, fog, cold, the sea — why I love Venice.  I’m drinking Valpolicella at Muro with a beautiful golden retriever.  The people next to me are drinking Aperol spritzes.  It’s cold here like I’ve never known, a damp, penetrating cold.  It doesn’t really matter — in a way, it’s nice.  I bought a beret in a shop, gloves for Mom and myself, a caffe macchiato and little cookie, several art postcards, and the catalogue from the exhibit at Palazzo Grassi.  The man with the golden retriever is handsome and older; he wears a Rolex Daytona and gives treats to the dog.  The bar is getting crowded — lots of young girls, in a way that makes you think there’s a school or college nearby.  I imagine coming here with him and wandering the little streets, stopping off for aperitifs and digestifs and local specialties, tramezzini and prosecco and things neither of us have at home.  Talking about what people talk about when they hardly know each other, getting lots and buying souvenirs.  Pretending that within these canals and palazzi there is no one else.  That’s what makes it an affair, and a dream.

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.

inspiration #2.

Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice.