They had picked the wrong season. It was a rainy late autumn vacation. Julia lived on the East Coast before and the fall was the most beautiful time of the year. The colours and the trees. The softness of the sun. She remembered of times were her extended family had Thanksgiving lunch on the deck, kids playing in the backyard.
But in Lake Como it was rainy and grey. The trees bordering the lake were naked. And a cold humidity was coming from the water. The ferries were scarcer. Winter timetables. The villages were dead. Hotels and restaurants closed. Off season. Their small hotel La Perla was empty. Except for them. The corridors were cold and the breakfast room had a musty smell. There was one employee on duty. A young girl with limited English. She was the day and night receptionist, she prepared and served the breakfast and she was the one cleaning their room. Julia found it a little creepy, in the mornings the girl would put a little white apron to take their breakfast order, run into the kitchen and come back with warm cornettos and coffee. After breakfast and until they left for the day, she would be standing behind the reception desk, looking different. She would give them leaflets and maps and smile to them.
Julia was excepting the service to be below standards, the bathroom to be dirty, and the coffee to be too cold. She found complaining cathartic. But the hotel was well attended to. There was nothing to complain about. There was nothing to be excited about.
They visited the Villas and the Duomo. The Villas were cold and deserted. The echoing sound of their footsteps. The Villa employees bored and sleepy. They crossed path with an old couple at Villa Carlotta and met them a few hours later in one of the few restaurants open for lunch. They smiled briefly at each other. They roamed roaming the gardens bordering the lake. The gardens were barren and muddy.
Their hotel was by the lake, close to Bellagio. From the window they could guess in the distance the other side of the lake. Hotels, beautiful Villas, strange shapes wrapped in grey fog floating over the lake like strange earth born clouds.
Leo pointed in the vague distance:
-I think this is George Clooney’s house, over there."
-"I doubt he is around in that Season" she said.
Leo was trying hard to find things to get excited about. He marveled at crumbling buildings. She liked freshly renovated ones.
-"Jules this is beautiful is not it?" he squeezed her hand as they walked along the lake.
It was not Leo’s fault but for some reason it felt like it was. May be it was him feeling a little guilty. Seeing she was unhappy. His over display of energy and creative ideas to spend the time was a little aggravating to her. The five day’s vacation was stretching. Hours after hours days after days.
She felt sleepy. Lazy and bored. He was tireless. Leo was calling restaurants to find which ones were open. Checking what attractions were open. Planning, organising, filling the hours. Talking to locals with a few Italian words to get recommendations and connections. She was going with the flow. It reminded her of Italian vacations with her dad when she was 16. She wanted to lay in. He would get her up at 7 am to avoid the heat and crowds and drag her in museums, churches and Palacios.
They ate too much and drank Montepulcianos and Chiantis. Drinking with all their meals and bringing back a bottle of Prosecco every night in their room. Leo would fall asleep first, snoring gently, spreading on the bed which was too small. She would push him away unkindly. They were not in the mood to make love.
The fourth day the low clouds opened up and a stripe of pale blue sky appeared, with drops of sun. The dark water suddenly looked clearer, as if repainted in milky blue in some places. Some cafes timidly put a few chairs outside. Some boats appeared on the lake like by magic, as if they were hidden deep in the water, dragged out by the promise of a sunny afternoon. Leo was beaming and holding her hand, as they walked along the lake. He was staring on the other side of the lake.
-“ I saw some light in the house yesterday” he said.
-“ What house?” she asked.
- “ Come on, Clooney’s of course!”.
Leo looked excited and happy.
Julia looked at him, a little puzzled. And then she bursted out laughing, realising that she was in Lake Como because the man she married loved George Clooney.