work-in-progress.

RULE OF THIRDS

by Sophia Marchise.

Two distinct, equal lights, should never appear in the same picture : One should be principal, and the rest sub-ordinate, both in dimension and degree: Unequal parts and gradations lead the attention easily from part to part, while parts of equal appearance hold it awkwardly suspended, as if unable to determine which of those parts is to be considered as the sub-ordinate. “And to give the utmost force and solidity to your work, some part of the picture should be as light, and some as dark as possible : These two extremes are then to be harmonized and reconciled to each other.”

John Thomas Smith, Remarks on Rural Scenery

ONE

Francesca buried her head in pillows as the sun rose above the skylights.  The pillows smelled like Paolo, his subtle cologne, his sweat, his musk.  She burrowed under the covers and felt him surround her, his legs wrapping around hers, his arms enveloping her torso.  Somewhere downstairs, a phone rang.

“What time is it?” she asked his forearm.

“Morning,” he answered her shoulder.

She kissed the tattoo on his arm.  “Who’s Lucia?” she asked, tracing the heart around the letters with her lips.

He reached down to tousle her hair and kissed the top of her head.  “My mama,” he answered.

“That’s sweet.” Francesca twined her fingers in his.

“What happened to my tiger from last night?” he asked.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she answered.  She stood, wrapping herself in the bedsheet.  “May I use your shower?”

He gestured down the stairs.

She stood under the rain showerhead, hot water streaming in rivulets down her body, pounding her electric skin, the sweet soreness when she bent to pick up the soap.  It had been a long time since she’d felt this good, thoroughly and deeply satisfied by a man intent on pleasing her.  And what a man.  She sighed, soaping her breasts and lingering on her tender nipples.  Paolo Romaldo.  A football player for Juventus.  Surely her finest conquest yet, she mused.

Francesca dressed and towel-dried her hair, and then walked into the kitchen to find Paolo, shirtless and barefoot in jeans, standing at his big, expensive espresso machine.

“I didn’t know if you wanted cappuccino or espresso so I made both,” he said, gesturing to the two white cups, one large and one small, at the marble counter.

“Thank you,” she said, and poured the single shot into the cappuccino.

“I don’t have anything to eat,” he said. “I’m rarely here, and I just get takeout when I am.”

“This is what I usually have for breakfast,”  she said, and smiled.  They stood at opposite ends of the marble island, sipping in silence.  She tried to read the script lettering on the inside of his left forearm, a tattoo that had been a blur the night before but stood in clear relief this morning: vincere non e importante, e l’unica cosa che conta.  Winning isn’t important, it’s the only thing that matters.  A personal motto, she wondered.

“You live in Milano?” Paolo asked, breaching the silence.

“Yes, but I travel a lot, too.”

“Are you from there?”

“Yes.”

“Family still there?”

“Mostly,” she answered.

Her phone rang, and she was grateful to see it was Timo.  She could have let it go to voice mail; he would text her anyway to say whatever he had to say, but she answered to avoid continuing the conversation about her family.

“Where a-h-h-re you?” Timo asked with his favorite adopted affectation, a high-pitched English accent mimicking the Queen’s.

“I’m on my way in,” she fibbed.  She was, technically.  Her shoes were on, she could see the door, she was almost leaving.

“Everything from yesterday is okay, all pretty straightforward,” Timo reported.  The reason Francesca hired Timo, and the reason she loved him, was his efficiency.  He was outlandish in his appearance and his demeanor, but in the office he was fastidious.  “Elena passed me a call from one of those new Turkish magazines, they want to fly you to Istanbul for some shoot on the Golden Horn.”

Francesca could tell Timo was at optimal caffeine consumption and ready to power through the day’s work, but she couldn’t give him her full attention with Paolo standing in front of her, half-naked.  She could tell Timo a thing or two about the Golden Horn.

“I’ll call you in ten minutes,” she told Timo, and hung up.

“I’m sorry,” she said to Paolo, and he waved her off.

“You’re busy,” he said.  “I understand.  You’re a fancy fashion photographer, you’re probably off to Ibiza with Kate Moss.”

“I am,” she answered.  “We go every month for the Fuck Me I’m Famous party.”

“I knew I’d seen you somewhere before.”  After that they were both quiet a moment, and to fill the space, Francesca sighed and looked at her watch.

“I need to call a taxi.  My car is at Vinovo.”

“You’re lucky–I’m going that way.  Let me grab a shirt.”

“Do you really have to?” she asked, too quietly for him to hear, as he vaulted up the stairs to his bedroom.

They rode down in the elevator the same way they’d ridden up; silently, separately, eyes fixed on the floor.  In the car, he kept the stereo off and they didn’t speak.  Francesca looked out the window, trying to recognize anything along the way, trying to remember the same ride just half a day earlier.  Paolo drummed his fingers on the steering wheel.

“I think this is you,” he said, grinning, parking next to the only car in the lot.

She pulled her keys from her Bottega hobo.

“Keep in touch,” he said, and kissed her gently on each cheek as she leaned to unbuckle her seatbelt.

“Ciao, Paolo.”

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

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

“I’m just tired.  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 and quickly changed tack.

“So the Turks.”

“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 the Bosporus, you know, blah blah local color and cultural pride, 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–”

The Katy Perry song from the night before came on the radio, and Francesca remembered making fun of him for it, and the car ride seemed to be ages ago, fadingly dreamlike.  She shifted in her seat and felt a soreness that assured her it had not been just a dream.  She hummed along quietly.

“–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. The models are fully clothed, and they wear headscarves.  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 into retirement.”

“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 loitering, smoking in cafes and ogling foreign tourists and whistling at any girl 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 university, in a segregated subway car, 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 Gucci and Prada 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 can’t seem to get it together today.  I’m running horribly late.  I’ll be in by noon.”

“Can I order you lunch?”

“God, yes.  The biggest panino you can find.  With prosciutto.  And a copy of that Turkish magazine, if you can find it.”

“You got it, boss.  See you soon.”

Francesca flipped the radio dial absently, searching the static before finding another station playing American Top 40.  Her thoughts wandered to Paolo.  “Keep in touch,” he’d said, but had given her no way to do so.  No phone number, no email, nothing.  “Keep in touch,” like it was just something you said, like “Have a nice life.”  Maybe it was.  After all, he was a professional athlete, and she imagined he played the field.  She was just another of those girls.  It wasn’t worth feeling badly about, she told herself; she did this kind of thing all the time.  Meet someone at a hotel bar, go back to his room, leave before the sun rises.  Of course, there had been the endocrinologist in private practice who had wooed her for four months, even proposing they look at two-bedroom flats together.  She had not.  And the politician’s son whom she had liked (and her mother had liked, too) until he urged her to give up fashion photography and pursue something less demanding of her time, something like art collecting.  She had not.  Paolo wouldn’t do those things, she imagined.  Of course he wouldn’t, she told herself.  Paolo probably doesn’t even remember her name.

It was imperative that she change.  Timo would never let her hear the end of showing up at the studio in yesterday’s clothes.  She pulled into the courtyard of her building and parked the car at an angle.  She skipped the creaky iron elevator and ascended the curving central staircase to the second floor, where she lived in a large, shabby apartment that at first seemed at odds with her modern and streamlined personal aesthetic.  She loved its high ceilings with their faded and crumbling frescoes, the wainscoting with its deep oil stain, the slight divots in the marble of the stairs and hallways from years of people walking.  The apartment was drafty, with large windows that made it too warm in the summer and too cold in the winter, but she adored the light.  She had grown up in a house like this one, a decaying monument to Milan’s past, and she felt comfortable living here.  Her neighbors were all older, kind people who kept to themselves, people who had lived in the building for years.

She opened her wardrobe and pulled out a fresh pair of Stella McCartney jeans and a striped sweater by Sacai.  It was a chilly day in Milan, the first hint of winter in the air.  She swapped her booties for red lizard flats, swiped on some mascara and lipstick, and bounded back to her car.

Like Paolo’s apartment, her photography studio was in a converted warehouse.  She had space and light, the two things she needed most to work.  When she first started out on her own, she had used the space to shoot family portraits, professional head shots, any work she could get to keep the lights on.  As she began getting magazine shoots, first still-life accessories, then studio shoots with models, and then location shoots and covers, she was able to abandon portraiture almost entirely.  The almost part was the photography she happily did for friends and family–the first photos of her nephew, Leo; some wedding photos for Cristina; candid photos of her family at Christmas.  She didn’t consider herself a famous photographer–apart from Richard Avedon, Mario Testino, and Steven Meisel, fashion photographers weren’t household names, and she liked it that way.  For her, the biggest benefit of her success was the work it offered her, and her ability to choose.

Which brought her back to the question of the Turkish magazine.  Timo was right about the opportunity, the creative aspects, the breakthrough it would allow her into a rapidly emerging market.  You wouldn’t know it from looking at him, Francesca thought as she walked into the studio and saw him at his desk, wearing a fuchsia and navy striped sweater with a newsboy cap, but Timo was executive material.  He wouldn’t be an assistant for long, not hers or anyone else’s.

“I’m glad you got the memo about stripes,” she told him, smiling.  They often subconsciously ended up wearing coordinating or complementary outfits, causing Cristiana to refer to Timo as Francesca’s gay twin.

“God, they were all over the runways.  Obviously.”

“Obviously.”  She walked over to the granite coffee bar (the first thing she’d installed after her first magazine cover, an impressive Jura espresso machine) and pulled herself a shot.

“Coffee?” she asked.

“Basta,” he said, waving his hand dramatically.  “I have so many phone calls to return and I’m already beyond my caffeine limit for the day.”

Francesca sat on the long, low, leather couch (installed after her second cover; almost as valuable an investment as the espresso machine) and flipped through the magazine.  Our Lifestyle, it was called.  Possibly the worst name for a magazine in the history of the world.  An American tabloid called Life & Style was one of her guilty pleasures whenever she flew through JFK airport.  Perhaps the Turks weren’t aware.  She was relatively certain Our Lifestyle wouldn’t be doing any features on the Kardashians.

But she had to concede, if she hadn’t known Our Lifestyle was a conservative Islamic magazine, she probably wouldn’t have noticed.  At least not at first glance.  The layouts were clean, tasteful, and well-shot.  Top shelf brands, relevant editorial, features by prominent authors.  Funny horoscopes.  There was the odd picture of a young woman with a head covering, but it didn’t seem glaring or out of place.  Maybe it was refreshing, the absence of tits and ass in print.  The dearth of poolboys in swimming briefs, of sixteen-year-old girls touching each other’s nipples.  God, she sounded like her mother.  But it was hard to shoot a good nude, or semi-nude, and Francesca harbored deep disdain for the internet pornography that cheapened it.

Francesca moved to her desk, where she started up her Mac and began to look at a day of email she’d skimmed over on her phone.  Contractual stuff she’d forward to Timo, requests for permission to reprint, gossipy missives from her friends.  She stared at the screen for a moment, and then typed “Paolo Romaldo” into Google.  Instinctively, habitually, she looked at the image results first: action shots of him on the field in his black and white uniform, pictures of him in regular clothes, posing, a few photos from the 2006 World Cup, wearing a medal.  Several photos in front of different step-and-repeat screens at events, a different woman on his arm at each one.  The girls were invariably tall, blonde, and beautiful.  If she had to guess, Francesca would say they were models.  He seemed to have a type, and she seemed to fit it.

She clicked over to the full results.  First up, his official biography on the Juventus roster.  She read it line by line.  Born in the south of Italy, in the football system since grade school and officially recruited out of secondary school to the under-17 and then under-19 Italian national teams.  Played his first professional ball at Napoli and then traded to Juventus in a multi-million Euro deal that, if she was understanding it properly, secured his place on the team for seven years.  The curious part of his biography was the section titled “Hobbies”: opera, languages, and motorsports.  Opera?  His taste in music was awful.  She wondered, briefly, if there were just a bunch of nouns thrown in a hat and each player had to choose three.  No mention of his family, no mention of his marital status, no mention of any extracurricular activities beyond opera, languages, and motorsports.  But that was just the official biography.

Unofficially, she found a lot more details.  From tabloid and fan websites, she found conclusive evidence that he had been linked to a top runway model, a girl she knew from the shows.  She also found that he was under contract to Juventus for the next two years, a deal that had net him millions of euros.  She found a lot of YouTube videos of a goal from Euro 2012 that had seemed impossible and sent Italy, improbably, into the semi-finals.  She found even more videos of Champions League footage, mostly dramatic goals but occasionally just brilliant passing plays.  She watched them with the sound muted.  He moved sinuously, confidently, the same way he’d moved in bed the night before.  Like he knew exactly what he was doing.  Paparazzi reports of sightings in Anacapri, San Remo, and Cinque Terre, each time with some different, brand-name girl.  Francesca googled herself.  The results looked like her portfolio: a listing of all her shoots, campaigns, and spreads, biggest names first: Vogue Paris SS 2011 runway recap, Marni FW 2011 campaign, Fendi jewelry, and on and on.  She skimmed the first five pages and found nothing remotely personal.  Good.  The last thing she wanted on the internet was a running commentary on her social life.

She paged back to the image results for Romaldo.  A few dozen photos in, she found the D&G underwear shot.  She downloaded it to her computer and popped it into Photoshop, then zoomed in on the handsome man at the back of the photo.  Even though it was five years old, he still looked exactly the same.  Chiseled pects and abs, tan, muscled legs and arms, and that immediately recognizable bulge.  Her pulse quickened, and Francesca looked around guiltily for Timo, who was at his desk, wearing his headset and having an intense conversation on Skype.  Safe.  She turned her attention back to her massive monitor and the image of Romaldo.  If she closed her eyes, she could feel her fingers on his skin, tracing its contours and hardness, and she remembered the weight of his body on hers, his warmth and his sweat and his fullness.  It seemed like it hadn’t been real.

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