Tom wants nothing to do with this blog entry – an unworthy topic, he feels, a yawn at that. But the readers, especially the girls, have been begging. Can I find him? Did I see him? Is there a new girlfriend? Ever since George Clooney bought Villa Oleandra, the former Heinz mansion, in 2002 for $10 million, his name has been synonymous with Lake Como.
When Lyudmila Putin, the Russian president’s wife, visited Como several summers ago, the locals say, the first thing she asked is “Where is the house of George Clooney?” Then she hired a boat to go see it.
All the way up the lake shore on the bus that first day, I looked for houses that might be his. Turns out the lake’s shores are totally riddled with humongous glamorous villas with 10 or 16 French windows facing the water, so I eventually gave up.
I questioned our landlady, Maria, the first day. “He lives in Laglio, which means garlic,” she said. “I’ve been here nineteen years and never seen him.” The bar next door to us has two glossy black and whites of Clooney on the wall. “He came once, and it was a long time ago,” said Henry the waiter.
I had to resort to the trusted source of all legitimate celebrityhood, Vanity Fair online. Yes, it turns out the Villa Oleandra is right on the water. Clooney bought it as an investment property but it ended up changing his life, or so he once told a pack of reporters: “I realized how beautiful life was in Italy and how it really helped calm me and not feel so pressured.”
(I know just what he means. When I got here, I sat in the chaise in our garden and decided to stay there for three weeks. No need to even get up.)
Villa Oleandra has never been a big secret: it is separated from the road by a fence, a hedge and a video camera, and the pool is visible from the lake. But life is hardly restful. Paparazzi hang out in a garage across the street from George’s gate. Several lake boats offer drive-by tours of his villa (see the picture at the top of this post — click it to read the small print). Rumor has it that one summer he installed an egg-throwing machine on his dock to pelt vessels that came too close.
But he plays it just right, apparently. He’s learning Italian. He’s teaching the local kids to play basketball. He bicycles around without bodyguards or even a helmet. His favorite watering hole is Harry’s Bar in nearby Cernobbio, where the small Bellinis cost $21, but his picture hangs on the walls of many modest restaurants as well, his arm clutching the owner. Guidebooks and restaurant reviews of the area’s eateries almost always include a Clooney endorsement.
So the locals take care of him, sometimes pointing tourists in the wrong direction when they ask the way to George’s villa. When he pondered selling in 2010, the mayor begged him to stay. George has since bought properties on either side of Villa Oleandra to use as an editing room and a motorcycle garage. He has built a bridge between them and laced it with ivy so he can cross unnoticed.
Have I seen George? Laglio is maybe an hour and a half away by boat from our apartment. We haven’t been there. Also, I don’t really care to see George’s villa from a boat; I want to see George himself up close. I know it would be possible to launch an aggressive hunt but it would involve expensive boats and bars and the natives would point me the wrong way at every turn.
Instead, I just keep in mind that any one the 85 helmeted motorcyclists that go by me every day could be George. Because life is too short to leave this chaise lounge.
(Photo credit for Villa Oleandra: Wikimedia Commons)