At the dozens of balls and receptions taking place in Washington this week, President-elect Donald Trump is, even in absentia, the man of the hour. Not so at the Tuesday-evening soiree at the Organization of American States building. There, it’s the incoming first lady, Melania Trump, who’s at the top of the ticket.
That’s because the embassy of the former model’s native country, Slovenia, is co-hosting, along with the Sister Cities International organization. The black-tie affair has the mood of an extended infomercial for the central European nation, which is suddenly feeling just a little bigger than its New Jersey-esque size.
Accordion players in folk costume are cranking out traditional tunes, and the bar is decked out with ads for Slovenian vodka. (Wait, is that Bill Murray, reprising his “Lost in Translation” role as foreign-booze pitchman?) Brochures with fairy-tale-setting photos promoting the country’s tourism and various attributes (“clean water!”) are available for perusing.
A woman waiting to check a fur coat murmurs to her husband that she’s heard Melania might make a brief appearance. Minutes into the start of the inaugural-party circuit and we’re already craning our necks for a future-FLOTUS sighting? That would be yuuuge. Alas, the rumor is proverbial fake news: We’re told that Melania and her husband (because that’s how it’s seen in this crowd) were invited, but they hadn’t responded.
Still, the woman who will be the nation’s second foreign-born first lady is here, if only because she’s invoked so often. Srecko Ocvirk, the mayor of Trump’s tiny hometown of Sevnica, appears via a video address to welcome the crowd and proclaim himself “proud and delighted.”
Ambassador Bozo Cerar says he hopes having a Slovenian in the White House will mean good things for relations between his country and the U.S. “We will be alert to seize any opportunity to develop the friendship between our countries with her help,” he says. “We will be patient but eager.”
It’s an international crowd, heavy on embassy staffers and business types, though lighter on ambassadors than organizers had thought. Just down Pennsylvania Avenue, Trump was hosting a dinner for diplomats, ambassadors and other heavyweights dubbed “The Chairman’s Global Dinner.”
At the Slovenia event, as a few dancers took the floor to a swing band, the accordion players — now off their shift of performing for guests during cocktail hour, but still in costume — joined the crowd. They are brothers who live in Pittsburgh but hail from a Slovenian family. One of them, Darryl Valencic, says Melania Trump has been great for tourism back in his grandfather’s native country. “They’re doing tours now — no one used to do that,” he said. So it’s been good for the economy? “Yeah,” he says, using one of the president-elect’s phrases. “Big time.”