When stars and Nobel laureates meet
THE dinner at a chic rambling apartment along the grounds of the Villa Borghese (the Eternal City’s eternal equivalent of Beverly Hills) started at 9:45 p.m., early by Italian standards. The hosts -- two Californians spending a year in Rome -- knew their guests had a busy day ahead.
There was George Clooney and his lithely beautiful girlfriend, Sarah Larson (sorry, ladies, he’s quite fond of her), actor Don Cheadle, renegade African activist John Prendergast, Nobel Peace Prize winners Mairead Corrigan Maguire and Betty Williams and -- of course -- the mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni (no respectable Italian gathering is complete without the popular sindaco, Italian for “mayor”). Like similar events on L.A.'s Westside, the setting may have been beautiful, but the business at hand was serious: What can the world do to stop the killings in Darfur?
The dinner, hosted by Stockton real estate guru Anthony Barkett and his wife, Rima, a chef, was the opening gathering in a three-day annual summit that brings together Nobel Peace Prize laureates from around the world. Each year, the group founded by former Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev meets in Rome. For several years now, it has honored artists who work to “spread the message of peace.” Previous recipients of the Peace Summit Award include Bob Geldof, Peter Gabriel and Yusuf Islam (the former Cat Stevens). This year, Clooney and Cheadle were chosen to be honored for their efforts to raise awareness about human rights and the war raging in the Sudan’s Darfur region. The actors have spent the last two years lobbying the United Nations, Washington, China, Egypt and Hollywood to take action on the killing there. And now, it seems all roads lead to Rome.
“What they’ve done is remarkable,” said Veltroni.
It was a dinner for 40, most of them Romans and Californians, an eclectic mix of peace and human rights activists. Photographer Michael Collopy was there. He’s doing a coffee-table book on Quincy Jones at the moment, but he’s also doing portraits of all the living Nobel Peace laureates.
Also there was peace activist Father Giulio Albanese (who has a great sense of humor and was the life of the party) and Napa resident Mary Wald, who has been painstakingly doing a video about all the laureates. She organized this year’s summit with the peace organization she founded, TheCommunity.com, which is producing a series of televisions messages featuring Paul Simon, Bono, Michael Douglas and other artists.
In a way, the gathering was a tribute to the style of political activism that has developed over the last few decades, in which the rich and powerful -- as star-struck as everybody else -- gather in private homes to discuss causes with Hollywood luminaries. As it turns out, Hollywood’s political style is as much an international commodity as its films.
The mayor of Rome, who provided the voice-over for Mayor Turkey Lurkey in the Italian version of the animated “Chicken Little,” wanted to discuss presidential politics. He’s been wowed by Democratic contender Barack Obama. “He’s so charismatic,” he declared. And he’s friends with Bill Clinton. “He’s the greatest.”
But he’s not sure about Hillary. Perhaps she seems chilly, especially by Italian standards. “Do you think she has a chance?” he asked veteran Hollywood publicist Stan Rosenfield, who went on the trip with Clooney. (Clooney awoke the next day to learn he was nominated for a Golden Globe for his role in “Michael Clayton,” which was itself nominated.)
The mayor, a former Communist and an atheist member of Italy’s new left-wing Democratic Party, said, “We’re in trouble if the Democrat doesn’t win.”
Rosenfield didn’t miss a beat: “So are we.”
Veltroni, whose favorite Clooney film is “Good Night, and Good Luck,” about journalist Edward R. Murrow, is hoping to visit Los Angeles soon and was curious about how Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is doing. “I like him very much, but he did get into some trouble recently, no?” (That’s the problem with being the mayor of Tinsel Town -- everyone knows your business).
While Veltroni and Rosenfield chatted, Clooney -- who was nursing a badly infected root canal -- Cheadle, who was wearing a maroon suit, and Prendergast clearly were conspiring on Darfur: “You could go in through Chad,” Pendergast suggested. It’s obvious that all three want to get back into the ravaged province as quickly as possible but are uncertain on how to convince the government in Khartoum, which couldn’t have been pleased by the powerful documentary “Darfur Now.”
Despite the pain, Clooney spent most of the day before the dinner working on the somber statement he gave Thursday to an assembly of Nobel Peace laureates that included Gorbachev and the Dalai Lama.
“Don and I . . . stand here before you as failures,” Clooney said. “The simple truth is that when it comes to the atrocities in Darfur, those people are not better off now than they were years ago. The murders continue, the rapes continue and some 2 1/2 million refugees are yet to go home.
“Some day this will all end, and whether all of us succeed or not it will end someday. And when they write about this, the question will be asked: Where was the rest of the world? And the answer will be: It just wasn’t a priority.”
From a distance, Larson kept a watchful eye on her ailing beau. She’s tall and lovely, and at the dinner she wore a long cashmere sweater, Hermes belt, black leggings and tall black boots (the red soles give them away as Christian Louboutin). “Does he look like I need to save him?” she asked as guests swarmed around him after dinner.
Clooney was busy working the crowd, and she decided not to interfere.
Clooney, who had spent most of the two previous days in bed coping with the infection, joined in a group shot with the dinner guests.
Someone shouted, “Saluda!”
It was nearly midnight and time to go home. Even in Rome the party has to end sometime.