I have become a watcher of Melania Trump, and not an unsympathetic one. I like her and find her interesting in a chaotic and crass White House where she is, truly, a breath of fresh air.
Born in Slovenia, Melania is the first naturalized citizen FLOTUS. Once a top model, she is the only first lady to be photographed naked for a magazine cover, on a fur rug, wearing only jewelry. (This is probably just as well: The sight of Hillary Clinton or Barbara Bush naked on a fur rug might precipitate 911 calls.)
She completed the first year of a Slovenian university (architecture). She claims to speak five languages: Slovenian, Serbian, English, French, and German, but after doggedly researching that claim, all I could find were videos showing her walking into a classroom or a hospital to visit children. In the first video, she says, “Ciao, come stai?” (instead of “Come state?,” since she was addressing a group of Italian kids). Then she reverts to her heavily accented English.
In the second video, she says, “bonjour” and “moi aussi” (me too) — but that’s about it for French, and she again ends up speaking English. In any language, however, this “Little Engine That Could,” daughter of working-class parents (now also US citizens, with Melania’s help), became a world power.
As such, Melania sails smoothly through situations that would trip up average people. While even most good Catholics never get to see the pope — let alone divorced and remarried husbands with wives who posed naked — she and President Trump were welcomed warmly by the pontiff. She appeared modestly dressed with the required black veil covering her head, and with her rosary beads in hand for the pope to bless.
Donald is also in the Vatican video — three marriages and two divorces later (not counting alleged hush-money recipients.) The POTUS had no rosary beads, but did give Pope Francis a first-edition set of books by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — certainly a better choice than “The Art of the Deal.”
Melania has interesting fashion sense, though her judgment about what to wear when can give pause.
Italy’s Dolce e Gabbana fashion house is a favorite of hers. Their appliqued floral coat worn by Melania in 2017 sold for $51,500 — more than the median US income, according to the US Census Bureau.
A similar D&G coat that she wore last month at a ceremony for a combat dog being honored by the president was estimated at “well over $3,000” by Britain’s Express newspaper. But her Louboutin stiletto heels, though a relative bargain at $900 a pair, were probably inappropriate for visiting hurricane-torn Puerto Rico or immigrant detention camps on the Mexican border.
Still, I believe Melania more often makes Americans proud. She has been more “presidential” than the president, poised and gracious even when Donald is a boor. She is admired for the valiant job she does protecting her only child’s privacy. It is clear that his well-being is her top priority.
It’s been reported Melania wept on election night 2016, from unhappiness. (Is “happiness” ever part of the lexicon of any wife of Donald Trump?)
Despite being in the global spotlight, Melania remains mysterious. For many, she is a sympathetic part of a White House full of many noisy, less dignified individuals. This "little engine that could'' picked herself up and did.
I say, good for her!
Mary Ann Sorrentino’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow her on Twitter at @Thatmaryann or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.