There's no shortage of conjecture about why we gawk. Scientists say we enjoy watching people more successful than us because it satisfies an ancient neurobiological instinct. Others claim that a recession necessitates escapism, i.e., we're living in the TMZ age. For designers, celebrity-home-porn has more of a conciliatory effect: "Well, Putin might have great pecs, be a friend to all animals, and an oligarch -- but man, he has awful taste."
In that smug spirit, we surveyed a bunch of vacation homes frequented by world leaders, tech giants, and investment bankers, organizing them into a series of summer roundups. We're starting with world leaders, and all in all, it's a banal affair: it seems like politicians generally just want to be "alone" in order to "pursue" their "personal hobbies" when they're on vacation. Look out for next week's much more rococo installment: the tech world.
Who? Silvio Berlusconi
Where? The embattled Italian prime minister's vacation home, Villa Certosa, on Sardinia was the location of his first major scandal.
In short: There's a fake volcano on the grounds: "Mr Berlusconi will offer guests a personal tour of the gardens. As they walk through eucalyptus and cacti, he informs them that, unbeknown to many, Sardinia is an active volcanic zone. When the group approaches the lake he pretends to become worried. At that point, one hears a crazy explosion... An artificial volcano works its magic on cue, erupting in a spectacular light show. It’s a game." [via Times Online UK]
Who? Vladimir Putin
Where? Novo-Ogarevo, his "dacha" outside of Moscow
In short: "When you arrive at the dacha's faux-neoclassical gate, you have to leave your car and hop into one of the Kremlin's vehicles that slowly wind their way through a silent forest of snow-tipped firs. Aides warn you not to stray, lest you tempt the snipers positioned in the shadows around the compound." [via TIME]
Who? Silvio Berlusconi (Part 2)
Where? Tucker's Town, Bermuda, adjacent to NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg's house.
In Short: "It's a great sacrifice to do what I'm doing, I'm not having fun at all. I have a sailing boat, but in two years I've only been on it for one day. And I haven't been in my house in Bermuda for two or three years ... My life has changed. The quality has become terrible, with a terrible job."
Who? Barack Obama
In short: "Yesterday morning, the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted a surfer who paddled a little too close to the First Family's beachfront vacation home. The Coast Guard has set up a security zone to protect the President and his family."
Who? Dilma Vana Rousseff
In short: Palácio da Alvorada is actually the official residence -- not vacation home -- of Brazil's president, but it's an Oscar Niemeyer-designed masterpiece, and the single notable piece of design in this roundup.
Who? Mayor Mike Bloomberg
Where? Tucker's Town, Bermuda
In short: The Mayor was in Bermuda when the great Snowpocalypse of late 2010 took place, prompting angry lawmakers to demand Bloomberg reveal his vacation plans in advance. His response? “No matter where I am, there’s never a day that goes by where I don’t have a number of conversations with different city officials…I haven’t had a vacation for 10 years and don’t plan to take one for 12.”
Who? Dmitry Medvedev
Where? The high seas
In short: The phrase used most in the media to describe the 43-million-dollar boat is super-yacht: "It has two whirlpool baths, a cinema and a range of 5,000 nautical miles. At £26m the 54-metre Sirius may look a little ostentatious for a world leader whose people have an average salary of £400 a month."
Who: Pope Benedict XVI
Where? The Dolomites
In short: Playing Mozart, taking long walks around the chalet, and CSI-ing out.
Who? The Kennedy Clan
Where? Hyannisport, Cape Cod.
In short: "When I think of Bobby, I shall always see Cape Cod on a sunny day. The wind will be from the southwest and the whitecaps will be showing and the full tide will be sweeping through the gaps in the breakwater. It will be after lunch, and Bob will be stripped to the waist and he’ll say, “Come on, Joe, Kathleen, Bobby and David, Courtney, Kerry, come on Michael, and even you Chris and Max — call your mother and come for a sail.” One of the children would say, “What about the baby?” and the father would reply, “Douglas can come next year.” They push off from the landing. The sails of the Resolute catch the wind, and the boat tips and there are squeals of laughter from the crew… . The boat heads out into Nantucket Sound. The tide is gentle — the sand shifts — the sky is blue — the seagulls watch from above and the breeze is warm. And there will be happiness and love and we are together again." —EMK, November 1968
Who? Nicolas Sarkozy
Where? The French president famously stayed in former Microsoft executive Mike Appe's New Hampshire compound ($30,000 per week). Carla Bruni's family villa in Cap Nègre is a regular destination.
In short: "[The visit] could help ease the bad blood stirred up in 2003, when some restaurants in the United States peppered their menus with references to "Freedom," rather than "French," fries and called for boycotts of French wines. 'We're down with pouring the French wine down the drain. I hope that period is over,' said Keith Chamberlain, 57, of Alton, New Hampshire." [via Reuters]
Who? Last, and judging from the aerial picture, maybe least -- George W. Bush.
Where? Low-profile ranch in Crawford, Texas.
In short: Cool dinner conversations.