THE FIRST LADY'S HOME­TOWN

Me­la­nia Trump's na­tive city of Sevnica in Slove­nia

Vocable (All English) - - À La Une - PA­TRICK KINGS­LEY

Born and raised in Slove­nia, part of for­mer Yu­goslavia, and nat­u­ralised Amer­i­can later, Me­la­nia Trump, First Lady of the United States, has at­tracted her fair share of me­dia at­ten­tion since her hus­band’s elec­tion. The sense of dis­cre­tion and aura of mys­tery sur­round­ing her at­tracts both pub­lic and press in­ter­est. What is her na­tive town like and how has her fame af­fected it?

SEVNICA,

Slove­nia — Me­la­nia cake. Me­la­nia cream. Me­la­nia wine. Me­la­nia tea. Me­la­nia slip­pers. Me­la­nia salami. Me­la­nia choco­late-coated ap­ple slices. There are few prod­ucts that the en­ter­pris­ing burghers of Sevnica, a small, ru­ral Slove­nian town where Me­la­nia Trump spent her for­ma­tive years, have not sought to brand in honor of the first lady of the United States.

2. Copy­right re­stric­tions mean that most of the items merely al­lude to her iden­tity: The wine is called “First Lady,” while the slip­pers (a sil­very num­ber gar­nished with a fluffy white rab­bit’s tail) are called “White House.” But le­gal ker­fuf­fles aside, Trump has been good for Sevnica (pro­nounced SEH-oo-nee- tsa) — a town of around 5,000 that sits in a for­est-lined river val­ley some 90 min­utes by car from Ljubl­jana, the cap­i­tal of Slove­nia.

TOURISM BOOST

3. The town’s only ho­tel re­opened ear­lier this year. The an­nual tourist traf­fic — helped, of course, by Me­la­nia-themed tours — has risen by 15 per­cent, to 20,000 vis­i­tors, in the three years since Trump’s hus­band, then a real es­tate mogul and a star of re­al­ity tele­vi­sion, be­came a front-run­ner for the pres­i­dency. “Af­ter Me­la­nia, things re­ally changed,” said Srecko Ocvirk, the town’s mayor. “Now we have tourists from all over the world.”

4. At Ko­pi­tarna, the shoe com­pany that makes the Me­la­nia-themed slip­pers, staff mem­bers saluted Trump for putting Slove­nia on the map. “Many other peo­ple,” said Mar­ija Bal­inc, an ex­port man­ager, “thought we were called Slo­vakia.” 5. But press a lit­tle harder, and there are signs the nov­elty is wear­ing thin, even for peo­ple like Lidija Ogorevc, one of the lo­cal guides who oc­ca­sion­ally takes tourists on a tour of the town’s Me­la­nia-re­lated sites for about $35 a head. “Yes, that is the Me­la­nia wine,” Ogorevc sighed on a re­cent tour, as she breezed past a bot­tle of First Lady on sale at the town’s 12th-cen­tury cas­tle. “But this,” she added, point­ing to a nearby bot­tle of Gra­jska Kri, a Blaufränkisch red, “this is the top wine.”

MUCH MORE THAN THE ME­LA­NIA STORY

6. These days, Ogorevc does not hide her in­dif­fer­ence to all the com­mo­tion over Me­la­nia. “For me, I re­ally don’t re­ally care about these things,” Ogorevc said, not seem­ing to mind how this might sound on a Me­la­nia tour. “Sevnica has much more to show than just this story.”

7. For Ogorevc, the glory of Sevnica is its cas­tle, on a nearby hill with dreamy views of the Sava river be­low. “Can you imag­ine what it’s like in sum­mer?” she said, gaz­ing across the val­ley from the doors of the cas­tle. “Wow, re­ally nice!” Her mood dark­ened as we drove back down into Sevnica, and parked out­side a com­mu­nist-era tower on the edge of town. “Now we are mak­ing a stop at the apart­ment block where they lived,” she said, re­fer­ring to the fu­ture first lady, then named Me­lanija Knavs, and her fam­ily. Then she ges­tured vaguely at the build­ing, and shrugged. “But I can’t tell you ex­actly where they lived be­cause I don’t have that in­for­ma­tion,” she said, a lit­tle ir­ri­ta­bly.

8. Over in the town’s tourist of­fice, vis­i­tors can buy a book about Trump’s early life — Me­la­nia Trump: The Slove­nian Side of the Story — and a wide range of First Lady prod­ucts, in­clud­ing the choco­late-coated ap­ple slices. But the head of the lo­cal tourist board, Mo­jca Per­novsek, would agree to an in­ter­view only if the sub­ject of Me­la­nia was left un­touched.

9. There is so much else to talk about, Per­novsek said. The val­ley the vil­lage sits in. The hik­ing. The wood-chop­ping. The men-only salami fes­ti­val. The wine fes­ti­val (for all gen­ders). The fishing and beer fes­ti­vals. And, of course, the cas­tle. But, Per­novsek said, “I don’t want to talk about politics.” Un­til 2016, when Trump rose to global promi­nence, there would have been lit­tle rea­son to ask. Sevnica was then bet­ter-known as a mi­nor in­dus­trial hub, hous­ing Ko­pi­tarna, one of Slove­nia’s old­est shoe com­pa­nies; Stilles, a fur­ni­ture com­pany that sup­plies in­ter­na­tional ho­tels; and Slove­nia’s largest lin­gerie com­pany, Lisca.

10. When Trump was a child, her mother, Amal­ija, worked at an­other cloth­ing fac­tory, which has since closed. Her fa­ther Vik­tor is re­ported to have sold car parts. Few res­i­dents re­mem­ber them from that time — not even Ocvirk, the mayor, who is just a year older than Trump, and would have at­tended the lo­cal ele­men­tary school at the same time. Trump left Sevnica about 30 years ago, first to study in Ljubl­jana in the late 1980s, and then a few years later to work in the United States.

PRIDE AND IN­DIF­FER­ENCE

11. For some of the town’s younger gen­er­a­tion, born af­ter Trump left, the as­so­ci­a­tion is still ex­cit­ing. “I don’t know her as a per­son, I am just very proud that she’s from my town,” said Maja Ko­zole Popadic, a cafe owner who sells a Me­la­nia-themed ap­ple pie. “For some­one from this small town to be­come first lady of the United States is such

a big thing for us.”

12. But Trump has not made a pub­lic re­turn to Sevnica, or Slove­nia, since be­com­ing first lady, and for most the con­nec­tion re­mains pri­mar­ily a com­mer­cial op­por­tu­nity. At the Rondo restau­rant, din­ers can sam­ple a “Pres­i­den­tial Burger” — in which the bun is topped with a frizzy slice of fried cheese that looks con­vinc­ingly sim­i­lar to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s mop of hair.

13. The staff mem­bers, how­ever, do not all share the same ex­cite­ment for all things Don­ald and Me­la­nia. “I think at the time when he was elected, peo­ple were ex­cited, but now it’s kind of worn out,” said Mia Podlesnik, a young wait­ress at Rondo. “Mar­ry­ing some­one — I don’t think that’s re­ally an ac­com­plish­ment.”

For most the con­nec­tion re­mains pri­mar­ily a com­mer­cial op­por­tu­nity.

Sevnica

(Laura Boush­nak/ The New York Times)

Sevnica, the town where Me­la­nia Trump spent her child­hood.

(Laura Boush­nak/ The New York Times)

Burg­ers and slip­pers in­spired by first lady Me­la­nia Trump in Sevnica.

(Awak­en­ing/Shut­ter­stock/SIPA)

A "Me­la­nia" ap­ple pie at the cof­fee shop Kruhek.

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