George Clooney’s ex: Elisabetta Canalis is Laglio’s odd woman out

August 21, 2011

The citizens of this sliver of a village on the southern bank of Lake Como are not exactly broken up over the breakup between George Clooney, their most famous resident, and Elisabetta Canalis, their country’s most stunning showgirl.

“I mean, who is she?” said Jennifer Folloni, 25, a barista at La Lanterna coffee bar down the road from Clooney’s Villa Oleandra in this monied enclave in northern Italy. Sure, Folloni acknowledged, she has never met Canalis, but as locals played La Rosa del Texas and Billy Bones poker machines, she nevertheless expressed bewilderment over what Clooney ever saw in the Italian bombshell.

“She’s just a velina,” piped up a woman bent over a cappuccino at the counter, using a disparaging term for the scantily clad eye-candy who dance on Italian television.

As is often the case in love triangles, the glamorous two-year affair among Hollywood’s leading man, Italy’s most desired brunette and the denizens of a small lakeside town has ended badly for one of the parties. Italian celebrity magazines and talk shows have mourned the split, but Laglio, population approximately 900, is relishing its seduction of the American over the Sardinian siren.

The way the people of Laglio see it, they got their man. Since he bought Villa Oleandra for about $10 million in 2002 from the Heinz family, Clooney has become an honorary citizen. He has used Laglio’s streets as the backdrop for his Fiat commercials and has shot movie scenes in his villa.


Even in an area known for housing soccer stars, Russian tycoons and, recently, the son of slain former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, Clooney’s presence has resulted in a real estate boom, known locally as the “Clooney effect.” Asking prices have doubled, according to Laglio’s mayor, who is trying to build a handful of small, low-cost apartments for local newlyweds.

The town’s celebrity couple called it quits in June. The reason why has become a popular Italian parlor game: Was it Canalis’s insistence on a marriage proposal, a fiery storming off, the sad chilling of a once burning romance, or the cold calculus of a public relations equation that includes a two-year expiration date for Clooney companions? (Representatives for Clooney and Canalis did not return calls for comment.)

What’s clear is that the people of Laglio weren’t in love with the Italian. “She never lived the town,” said Roberto Pozzi, the mayor, who was hunched over his desk overlooking the same view of bobbing boats, sloping hills and swooping sea gulls enjoyed by Clooney. Pozzi said that when it came to important subjects, such as the lake, the couple didn’t have much chemistry. As he pointed out the window, to what he called “paradise,” he added: “She was used to the party life in Sardinia. This tranquil­ity can become boring. You either love it or you detest it, the absolute silence of it.”

Clooney, he said, was more in sync with Laglio’s brooding soul. “The people who love the lake don’t love it in the summer. They love it when it rains and it’s cold, and when a heavy fog settles in. I think Clooney appreciates this. I think she thought, ‘I’m going to shoot myself.’ ”

A recent issue of Vanity Fair Italia, the cover of which translates to “Eli and George, the end,” reported that Canalis told a friend that her time with Clooney in Laglio was like living in a “golden cage.” A well-thumbed copy of that issue stands in for the typical sports newspaper in the one-chair barbershop of Archille Taroni, 76, who boasts about having cut Clooney’s hair three times. He said he suspected that Canalis used Clooney for a career boost. “She got to do Sanremo because she knew the guy,” he said, referring to Italy’s most prominent song competition, which Canalis hosted last winter.

On the contrary, the barber said, Clooney “likes it here.”

Not that Laglio affords him complete privacy. Surveillance cameras and “beware of the dogs” signs are mounted on the villa’s walls. On a recent morning, a couple of sunbathers draped themselves over the public pier, next to small boats anchored under the property’s cypress trees and stone parapet. Passing boats killed their motors as their captains pointed at the villa.

Apocryphal tales about Clooney circulate around town: The first time he took his motorcycle helmet off in a local bar, a woman fainted; a local tourist discovered the Clooney-Canalis union by snapping a photo of the couple as they rounded a curve while driving out of Laglio; he carried groceries for an old lady (“That one is true,” the mayor said).

Pozzi, who quarreled with Clooney a few years ago over a few meters of public beach that the actor tried to build on, has come around. “He’s been a free advertisement,” Pozzi said, even speaking patiently about the procession of journalists and stargazers who observe Clooney’s villa or sit across the lake and, on days with no wind, hope to pick up a stray snippet of Clooney conversation echoing across the water.

On the other hand, the mayor said, Canalis attracted so many paparazzi and young, cat-calling men that he had to pass a decree barring more than three people from congregating outside the neoclassical house at one time.

Canalis’s split from Clooney has caused some people to leave her alone, though not in the way she might wish. In July, jewelry company DonnaOro, one of her sponsors, took out a full-page ad in several of the country’s top newspapers to announce the end of their relationship.

“Bye-bye Eli,” it read, describing the starlet as a “woman who more than two years ago, we decided should be our public face” and who shone long before she joined “the international jet set” and would continue to “sparkle.” Just not in its employment.

The people of Laglio have also moved on.

“Is Clooney around today?” asked Paolo Galimberti, a cyclist who stopped into La Lanterna with his son, Carlo, after a long ride at Lake Como.

“I don’t think so,” the barista’s father, bar owner Nearco Folloni, 60, said briskly.

“Everyone asks, right?” said Galimberti, laughing, who added that he was upset about the breakup.

“She was a nice Italian girl who was with the most famous star of Hollywood,” he said. “It made me sad when they split. In Italy, things are a disaster, economically, politically. It was a nice fairy tale, something beautiful.”

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