THE LIFE OF A GRAND HOTEL
Every party needs its life and what is a grand hotel if not a party that never ends?—till you sadly check out. Perhaps, sadly too, there is only one truly grand hotel left in all the world. It's Villa d'Este on lake Como in northern Italy, a unique and glorious monument to the highest level of hospitality! The glamorous lady shown above, at dinner with me on Saturday night at Villa d'Este's famed Veranda restaurant, is Giovanna "Jean" Govoni Salvadore, and she and no one else is the life of Villa d'Este.
She lives behind that Gothic door in the middle of one of the most celebrated gardens in Italy, a five minute's walk to the main entrance of the hotel—though nowadays, what with the toll time takes on one's legs, it can take her a little longer.
She emerges in red today determined to meet up with Gil and me for breakfast even though it's Sunday and she could have slept late if she'd really wanted to.
She's going it alone this morning (she's often escorted by adoring bellmen) even though the leg hurts but she's got her crutch, also red, and a Villa d'Este bag with something special inside to pull out and show us once we're settled in one of the most beautiful breakfast rooms in all the hotel world.
And though she says she really doesn't appreciate having her picture taken her picture has been taken with every celebrity Hollywood has produced since the early twentieth century, with every head of state and every crowned head for that matter because all of these people have made their way to Villa d'Este over the years and all of them have made friends with Jean Govoni Salvadore, the friendly face whose welcoming greeting quickly transforms this daunting atmosphere into a relaxed and homey one. Put far too simply Madame Salvadore is (though in fact she has no title) the director of public relations for the hotel. But that doesn't truly describe what it is she does—she's not even on the payroll! She's a fixture here. She's the hotel's image. She's its soul. She runs the place—but it's a labor of pure love.
This is what she had in her bag. Her new book, to be released this May. It's not her first book. She's published several others, all of which talk about some aspect of the hotel: its distinguished past, its glorious present, its divine food. She's a wonderful writer with an addictive sense of humor and a penetrating memory that preserves all the color of any magic moment. My Dolce Vita tells Jean Govoni Salvadore's life story. The cover notes say, "Growing up during the Second World War, becoming the first Public Relations executive in Italy for Howard Hughes and TWA (1947-1966) and following that with her 40-plus years as director of PR at the world's best hotel (according to Forbes magazine), the Villa d'Este on Lake Como, Jean has brushed shoulders with some of the most elegant, famous and notable people of the last century."
When she leaned towards her cup of coffee I snapped this double portrait of Sir Philip Anthony Hopkins who'd beamed and smiled broadly as Jean entered the room on my arm—perhaps he'll find himself in the next volume even though his movies scare her to death!