The Italian Job

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, May 21, 2008

No plans for Memorial Day? Then hurry: Seats are still available for one of the best, not-to-be-missed congressional delegations of the spring season -- featuring a night at the opera -- "Tosca," of course -- in Venice!

You'll take off Friday morning in ultimate style aboard a military jet from Andrews AFB to Ljubljana, Slovenia, a lovely, largely undiscovered treasure in the foothills at the base of the Kamnik Alps.

It's a daytime flight, perfect for minimizing jet lag, getting you in at midnight at the Grand Hotel Union in time to catch enough sleep for a morning "delegation excursion to Lake Bled," according to our draft itinerary. There's an afternoon of meetings at the 64th European Parliament/U.S. Congressional Interparliamentary Meeting and Transatlantic Legislators Dialogue (TLD) -- the ostensible reason you're making the trip.

You'll dialogue for about three hours with the Euro crowd before heading off for a reception and dinner.

Your hardy band of lawmakers, led by Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), co-chairman of the TLD, will ease up on Sunday, starting with a "short walking tour of old city" at 10 a.m., followed by a 45-minute boat trip on the Ljubljanica River and a cable ride up to Ljubljana Castle. But then it's back to a grueling three hours of chat about the Middle East and such.

Monday, the last day of the conference, is just nonstop blather until, nearing exhaustion, you head to the airport. But you're not coming home. No, your task, which up to this point was justifiable policy exchanges, turns to the more arduous fact-finding.

So you're "wheels up" to begin searching in -- where else? -- Venice and the spectacular Westin Europa and Regina Hotel, right on the Grand Canal, where the cheapo rooms run about $1,000 a night. They'll be very steeply discounted to fit into your "enhanced per diem," which the embassy says is now $400 for hotel and $223 for meals and incidentals.

Don't spend all night wandering the Piazza San Marco, or drinking bellinis in Harry's Bar, because on Tuesday morning you're meeting with city officials who are trying to keep the wondrous locale from sinking into the sea.

That afternoon and evening you'll drop all pretense of working and head off on an official "delegation outing," including "a walking tour, boat ride, and optional [we strongly recommend skipping this] visit" to a glass-blowing factory.

Tuesday evening's schedule says "free time," but we received an e-mail the other day from Berkley's office saying she'd asked our embassy to "explore entertainment options" and yes, there is an opera at the world-famous La Fenice. It's Puccini's "Tosca," with enchanting young soprano Tiziana Caruso, a rising star, in the lead role and veteran tenor Walter Fraccaro as Mario. Tickets, the e-mail advises, are $155 apiece and "there will be no refunding/backing out once the tickets are purchased."

Okay, so that's a bit pricey. But hey, the taxpayers have picked up a huge chunk of the cost for this wonderful trip. Did we mention La Fenice? Venice? Puccini? "Tosca"? You've simply got to spring for it.

The next day you're off to Aviano Air Base for a "tour, presentation, wreath laying" and where your plane awaits you. Sure, you want to go home, but there's just a brief stop for a couple days in . . . Naples! Yes, the city's beautiful and the garbage strike is long over. Your bags will await you in your room at the lovely Hotel Excelsior, right on the water, where you'll arrive just in time for an evening of "free time."

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