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When the already legendary George and Amal wedding took over Venice in September (who can forget that insane water taxi flotilla?) there was Roberto, offering a hand to Emily Blunt, joking with Bono, greeting paparazzi, and smiling, always smiling at his post as the longtime greeter and welcoming committee at the Belmond Hotel Cipriani. Venice is 70 degrees and sunny, he smiles. Venice gurgles under the acqua alta, he smiles. The guy can't help himself. He just really loves his job.
And why shouldn't he? The famous luxury hotel, which opened in 1958, hosts celebrities year round (especially during the Venice Film Festival) and guests take advantage of the floating city's only swimming pool and new restaurant Oro, designed by architect Adam D. Tihany. Located on Giudecca island a five-minute boat ride from St. Mark's Square, the Cipriani ("Chip" not "Sip") feels surprisingly private: Kanye brought Kim here for her 32nd birthday and Casanova himself once seduced lovers in the gorgeous garden, now the slightly less sexy home to a turtle and two cute bunnies.
The pool (Getty Images)
But the most frequent celebrity guest has been Clooney; he even helped create two cocktails with head barman Walter Bolzonella and named one Nina's Passion after his mother. When the real Nina arrived at the hotel for her son's wedding events, she joked, "I hear that I'm famous!" Ah, that classic Clooney charm.
Following the ceremony, the Clooney-Alamuddin after-party raged at the Cipriani until the wee hours, but security was so tight that hotel employees wore microchips to ID themselves. One turned down 500,000 euros to snap a photo. But that explains part of the Cipriani's secret. Everyone who works there is fiercely discreet, but also such effortlessly charming characters themselves that you'll double-check Wes Anderson isn't wielding a camera nearby.
One prime example is Roberto, who stands on the dock awaiting every guest that arrives via Shirley, the hotel's classic wooden boat. Born on the nearby Burano island, known for colorful houses and lace-making, Roberto is so effusively optimistic that he can soften the most jaded New Yorker (though I make no guarantees). Maybe the key to a happy life lies in having an "office" that overlooks the water with the promise of Venice in the distance. During a recent trip to the Cipriani, Roberto gave us a peek into his celebrity-squiring job.
How long have you worked at Belmond Hotel Cipriani?
How has the hotel changed?
The Cipriani is always the Cipriani. Sometimes the staff changes, but the atmosphere, the culture in this hotel about the guests is always the same. In this era, in this hotel, in this house—this is my house—the time stops. When you are here you are in a different part of the world.
What is it like having so many guests return each year?
Recently, the Jacuzzi family came back. He started coming here 24 years ago. It's a really nice family with two boys. I have a picture of them riding the boat with me, one was two years old and the other was four. This year we took another picture with the children, and now they are taller than me! This is so special to watch the children grow up. In that moment I stop the job and start my life. I take care of these guests like family, I give them a part of my heart. I'm not really formal here. I whistle with my guests. I sing with them. These things give me the possibility to live my life in my job. There's no line.
Did you always think you would enjoy working at a hotel?
This happened as a fatality. I'm 53 years old and I started to work when I was 14. I've done many jobs in my life. I worked with the transportation boat in Venice and my job was to go around to the hotels. I never thought about being a concierge, but I don't close any doors in my life. I knew one person who worked here and the manager said, "Roberto, I have a nice job for you," and gave me the possibility to be the concierge at the door.
And how was it at the beginning?
I said, "If you think I can do this job, I will do it." And it was really hard the first five, six months. But I think it's not the job that makes the person, but the person that makes the job.
What is it like greeting so many famous people?
People think that rich people are sometimes snobs, but it's not true. The most important people all over the world stay here and are so kind, funny, smiling, and really informal. One time a guest—I can't tell the name but he is the president of important companies all over the world—he called me over and said, "Roberto, stop the boat, we need to go to San Marco," and I say "C'mon, c'mon!" and I make the sign of the time [he taps his watch] and it's incredible that there are maybe 3-4,000 people who work for him, but here at the Cipriani we can laugh and smile together.
How crazy does it get when George stays over?
When George Clooney comes here all the paparazzi follow, and I [jokingly] say every time, "Oh Giorgio, every time you come here! Come on, I need it to be quiet, look at these people!" And he says, "You're right, Roberto, I'm sorry, but these people follow me, I can do nothing." But every time it's so funny.
What's the most challenging part of your job?
One important thing I learned is I can joke with my guests, but the service has to be excellent. If it's not, my guests kill me. So every time a guest says, "I need a taxi at 10 o'clock," at five to 10, I make sure the boat is already here.
Does that service extend to people who aren't guests?
This is our secret, you know. Sometimes I'm with someone coming for drinks or dinner, and they're a little timid when they come down. They say, "I'm sorry sir, I'm not a guest at the Cipriani hotel," and I say, "Come on, when you step down here, you are my guest," and people relax.
What's your favorite part of working here?
I love to say that my office is the best office in the world. You can't believe it, but every day I open my gate here and it is like the first time. I am always emotional. I am a very lucky guy to work in this place.
Kara Cutruzzula is a culture and travel writer based in New York. Follow her on Twitter at @karacut.