Men at Work

Behind the scenes with the tireless concierges at Cannes' hotels

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"Are you looking for trouble? You're in the right place."

A man with an oversized smile skips jubilantly across the large hotel lobby. Roger Bastoni, 62, could be mistaken for a French Dustin Hoffman; charismatic and well-coiffed, he's small in size but large in personality.

Trouble? Hardly. Thanks to Bastoni and his colleagues, trouble is as rare here as a fully clothed starlet on a fully topless beach. As the chief concierge at the Majestic, it's Bastoni's job to keep trouble at bay.

Which means he is in constant motion, even now three weeks before the Festival de Cannes gets under way. One moment he's behind the desk answering the phone; the next he's out in front, dealing with a recalcitrant client; then he's scribbling a note to deliver cigarettes to room 227.

From the moment he arrives at 6:30 a.m. to the time he leaves at 9 p.m. or later, Bastoni doesn't pause -- not even for the traditional French lunch break. In fact, for 34 years, he has eaten only yogurt and an apple for lunch every day during the festival.

"That's how I stay so thin," he jokes, before rushing off to greet a new arrival.

From May 13-24, the run of the festival, Bastoni will be rushing even more. And he won't be alone. Throughout the grand palaces that line the Croisette, other concierges will be working equally hard, making sure their clients' every wish is taken care of.

Bastoni will deal with about 8,000 festivalgoers who stay at his hotel, and who together go through 14,000 guest towels, 15,000 sheets, 110 pounds of caviar and 265 gallons of bath gel.

That might intimidate a lesser man. But not Bastoni, who handles it with what the French call "sangfroid," a smile and a flick of the tie.

"I know I represent the hotel," he says.

"PEOPLE LOOK TO US FOR HAPPINESS"

He's tall and slender, with grayish hair balding at the back, and sports a pinstriped suit covered in silver buttons. He's somewhat older than Bastoni and as quietly graceful as the latter is perpetually in motion. He appears the very epitome of calm, as he picks up the phone at his desk in the Hotel Carlton lobby.


Stephane Fanciulli
 
Stephane Fanciulli, sixtysomething, is a Cannes native and has worked at the Carlton for 35 years. He estimates he and his colleagues on the concierge desk make about 3,500 phone calls every day of the festival. He is here daily from about 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., but -- unlike Bastoni -- he makes sure to take time for a lunch break in the employees' cafeteria.

"I need to be in good shape, so that I can be there for my clients," he says.

At times, that can border on the ridiculous.

"Last year, a star had a little dog," he recalls. "Every morning, the dog needed to attend to the call of nature on the lawn (outside) the room. And every morning we had to replace the lawn so the dog could do its thing."

Fanciulli describes these uncommon demands with amused nonchalance. He keeps the kind of professional distance from his work that befits a master. But every so often, details of the more eyebrow-raising parts pop out.

Like the time 15 years ago when Diana Ross "wanted a fuchsia Lincoln car. We brought one in from Geneva and left it outside, filled with flowers that we dyed fuchsia to match it." The diva approved.

Then there was the occasion when the King of Pop felt the need to embark on an anonymous shopping spree, with just a couple of hours' notice.

"Michael Jackson wanted to go shopping in Cannes, but didn't want to be recognized," Fanciulli recalls. "We had to hire several minivans and equip them with black-tinted windows, all within an hour."

The craziest demands, though, don't always come from the stars.

"A guy wanted to watch a horse race on TV, but it didn't air on any of our channels, only his native Bulgarian network," Fanciulli says. "He asked me to help him buy the rights to air the show on French TV. So we (did). He had to pay a lot of money -- but he was able to watch his race."

Many of Fanciulli's stories involve a "spare-no-expense" moment, like the time a star wanted his suite transformed into a private gym. "He paid for all of the equipment and booked the room next door," the concierge marvels.

Then he pauses, slyly. "It was an American, of course."

American absurdities -- like those of the thousands of others who pass through the hotel -- help keep Fanciulli's subtle sense of humor alive. But he knows absurdity of this ilk has no place in the real world.

Fanciulli came to the Carlton in 1973 as a groom, then worked as a bellboy. After a stint in the military, he moved to Spain and England before returning to Cannes. His experience abroad has given him an eye for the "Anglo-Saxon," as the French like to term English-speakers. He claims to be able to spot American and British festivalgoers a mile away.

"I can also usually tell what people are going to ask for before they open their mouths," he declares. "After 35 years in this business, it's only natural that I have a little bit of a psychologist inside me."

The down-to-earth staffer has been married for 31 years and has two children -- a son, who works as a journalist in Paris; and a daughter, a teacher in Cannes.

"When I have free time, I go home," he says. "My secret is that I have a little boat. When I can, I head out to the Iles de Lerins and grill little sea urchins that we eat and wash down with white wine."

Escapes to nature help him deal with his demanding work. "Of course I get stressed from time to time," he admits, "but I try not to show it. People need to think we lead extraordinary lives, even if it's not the case. People look to us for happiness."

Sometimes they look for more than that.

"Cindy Crawford and Charlton Heston once came in for a press conference," the concierge remembers. "When they saw the huge crowd of people waiting for them, they panicked and hid with us behind the concierge desk." He grins. "I had Ben-Hur behind my desk with me. It was great."

The golden era of stars like Heston still appeals to him, and one senses a certain yearning for the way things were.

"I'm nostalgic," he acknowledges. "It was great to see people leaving the hotel wearing tuxedos and long ball gowns."

These days, he laments, the celebrities "keep to their rooms and we mostly deal with their assistants. Now stars like to leave through the service exits; they rarely walk through the lobby anymore."

For a moment, Fanciulli's infectious smile begins to fade. Times have changed, and he's had to change with them. But he can't quite mask his own preference for the larger-than-life figures of the past.

"When he was president of the jury, we'd chat with Clint Eastwood every morning," he sighs, "Tony Curtis used to come downstairs and give us kisses every morning. We knew him. He was our friend."



"MY LIPS ARE SEALED"

Standing on the roof of the Hotel Martinez a little later, Fabrizio Bozzolan is literally on top of the world. But the lanky concierge of the most star-powered lodging on the Croisette didn't always stand so tall.


Fabrizzio Bozzolan
 
Bozzolan -- the only foreigner among this group, who exudes an almost aristocratic authority -- grew up in a tiny Italian village near Padua, Italy, and became a concierge purely by chance.

"I had a cousin who was in hotel school," he explains. "We didn't even know what that meant. My father had never stayed in a hotel in his life, but he took me to look at the school and I decided to go for it because I didn't know what else to do."

Bozzolan became a concierge through a process of elimination. "I had to pick a specialty and I wasn't good at math, so I couldn't work at the reception. And I couldn't cook, so I chose concierge."

With his regal bearing and stylish beige suit, Bozzolan comports himself as if he were one of the VIPs, but that's softened by the warm manner of his native land. He hasn't forgotten his humble roots.

"I was born in a place with little comfort," he remembers.

"We went to get water from the well; we had one sink in our entire house and no heat. So now I appreciate comfort."

He adds: "I had nothing before, but that doesn't mean I should abuse what I have now."

Bozzolan -- who came to the Martinez in 1990 after five years at the Hotel du Cap and several more in hotels abroad -- is behind the concierge desk by 7:45 a.m. during the fest. Then, he expands his lair from one to two desks -- the first, purely to handle deliveries of flowers and gifts; the rest, for everything else.

Like many other regulars, he has learned to endure the Cannes marathon.

"During my first festival in 1990, I never stopped all day long," he says. "I slept in rooms for personnel until I was 32. I rarely left the hotel."

These days, he has a full life outside the hotel.

"I move a lot," he says. "I bought a bike two years ago and rode 25,000 kilometers on it."

A few years ago, his outdoor activities almost cost him his life. "In 2000, I had a motorcycle accident on April 1 -- it was like an April Fool's joke. I broke my knee. It literally exploded. I was in a wheelchair, then moved onto crutches -- I healed quickly considering the injury, but not in time to do my job at the festival that year."

He pauses, as if he still feels bad about his absence. "This job cost me some of my health, but I've succeeded in my life and I have no regrets."

No regrets?

He admits his work takes a toll on him. He has a wife and family and a dog, but "I have a job where you have to ask a lot of your wife. Family life risks suffering a bit in this line of work."

That's not surprising, given the demands.

"One year, Canal Plus exploded something on the 7th floor," he notes with a giggle. "They didn't tell the hotel, so, all of a sudden we heard a big bang and there was black smoke everywhere. The fire department had to come and there was chaos. But that was nothing out of the ordinary for Canal Plus in those days. They did some crazy things back then."

The craziness didn't faze him. Nor would it today.

"I'm in the service profession -- we're not stars ourselves," he says. "It needs to be 'you, you, you' instead of 'me, me, me.' "

"INTIMATE, PRIVILEGED MOMENTS"

Back at the Majestic, Bastoni is still driving hard deep into the day.


Roger Bastoni
 
Despite long hours of work, his suit is immaculate, and so are the glimmering pins attached to his lapels: Two golden keys that were bestowed on him -- like his fellow concierges -- by the real power behind the hotel world, the 80-year-old UICH (International Union of Hotel Concierges), which boasts more than 3,000 members in 38 countries and whose president Bastoni was until recently.

If he is tired, he has mastered the art of hiding it.

A Cannes native, Bastoni says he has spent 34 years doing whatever it took to ensure his clients left the hotel smiling, which has sometimes required desperate measures.

"One year, a jury member went to his room to get dressed for a gala screening, only to discover that the room was empty. No tuxedo, no shirt -- nothing. I called a well-known dress shop in Cannes last-minute, that delivered the clothing, and I went upstairs to help him get dressed. He was so angry and charged up that it was hard to close the buttons on his shirt."

He laughs. No matter how taxing, he appreciates his work. And there's no better proof than the fact that his two sons have followed him into the service business: One works with him at the Majestic, and the other, after toiling alongside his father for years, is now at the famed restaurant Fouquet's in Paris.

Bastoni, who likes to golf and play the French game of petanque in his spare time, has not just seen his own children grow up at the Majestic; he's seen other generations come and go, too.

"I see the parents, then their children and then their grandchildren," he says. "I see generations passing all the time."

However, witnessing the cycle of life so closely can be bittersweet. "There are always very touching moments. Famous actors who become old and sick and have trouble sleeping through the night. I have intimate, privileged moments with them."

Bastoni may rub shoulders with the rich and famous to a degree that would make lesser mortals turn green with envy. But it's rare that such proximity turns into anything deeper.

When it does, it marks him deeply.

"One year, at around 3 a.m., a now big-shot producer, who at the time didn't have enough money to stay in a hotel, sat down on one of the couches in the lobby and went to sleep. I let him be, then woke him up in the morning with a gentle rub on the shoulder and he said, 'Five more minutes.' "

Bastoni gave him his five minutes. Now, he notes fondly, the producer stays in the hotel each time he's in Cannes. "And whenever I see him, we share a sort of complicity."

Concierge photos by Jerome Kelagopian
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