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True Fiction

True Fiction: Melania Says Basta! The Former First Lady’s Secret In Milan

True Fiction: Melania Says Basta! The Former First Lady’s Secret In Milan
Bertrand Hauger/Worldcrunch Montage
Cynthia Martens

Two months into Donald Trump's presidency, we already know more — real or fake — than many care to know. But as far as Slovenian-born First Lady Melania Trump, remarkably little has been said or seen. Will the closed doors stay closed forever? Will Mr. Trump's third marriage survive the White House? Here's how it might all just go down...

Sept. 25, 2018*

It had been more than six months since she'd last appeared in public. But when Melania Knauss — she'd secretly reclaimed her maiden name two days earlier by New York City court petition — finally dared to face the photographers and cameramen, she would do it on once familiar turf. Closer to home.

The video clip circulating on network television and Instagram showed Ms. Knauss neatly crossing her legs and smiling an almost genuine smile. Donald Trump's newest ex-wife had chosen to make her grand return from the front row of Milan's Spring-Summer 2019 fashion week.

It had been the most public-averse First Ladyship since Bess Truman's, with Melania sensitive to the rivers of quips about her foreign accent — and her husband's naughty behavior. Now, following her post-divorce exile, the 48-year-old Slovenian-born former model was ready to embrace her newfound freedom in a way few could have anticipated. And there was no better place to do it than among the fashion folk of Milan, where she had long ago signed with an agency as a teenager in the late 1980s. Melania had always made a point to keep up her contacts there, and Donald had never bothered to ask why she spoke Italian so often on the phone.

Now, in any case, she was sure this was where she should be. Milan knew her. Milan would understand, and would never judge.

Melania's mind had been made up the moment the invitations arrived. Who could say no to the gala dinner Miuccia was holding at the sprawling Fondazione Prada art complex, the former distillery that was now a must-see exhibition space for the glitterati? Why turn down an invitation to Donatella's lavish bash at the former Milan digs of her late brother Gianni?

Dressed in a sparkling, backless number from Versace's latest lineup that emphasized her svelte curves, Melania was nothing short of ravishing when she entered, striding straight toward Donatella. Reporters hustled in vain to try to identify the man on her arm, though he would later be described as "dark and handsome," "charming," "maybe a Saudi," and "not a day over thirty-five." Melania quietly relished the knowledge that the other invitees were posting pictures of the couple on their Instagram accounts, and was sure that some of the pithy comments landing on Twitter would reach Donald.

Donald. Melania frowned at the thought of her ex-husband. All those parties at Mar-a-Lago, those beauty pageant girls — some sickeningly young, only 16 or 17 — throwing themselves at him. And the actual confirmations of his trysts from the one Secret Service agent whose confidence she had gained. It was finally all just too much. He had gone too far. Even if Congress refused to impeach him, she would be humiliated no longer.

Less than 20 minutes after her arrival, someone was tapping Melania's arm.The guest of honor stiffened: Something about this aging man's portly shape in a tailored blue suit, the artificial tan and artificial hair, was upsetting in its familiarity.

"Melania, bellissima come sempre!" Silvio Berlusconi announced with a wide grin, his eyes moving up and down over her figure. Instantly recognized by all, he gestured to the crowd by way of explanation. "We Italians appreciate beauty, and we will always welcome Melania here, especially since, as Donald once pointed out to me, she always looks great in a bikini."

Guests tittered, though a tad nervously. Melania could not conceal her irritation. She picked up a champagne glass and began walking away from this awful man. But Italy's former prime minister, who would turn 82 three days later in the midst of a Renaissance of sorts in Rome power politics, wasn't finished.

"Cara," he insisted. "A sense of humor is important in life. Otherwise, you know, the life, it is ‘sad!" and ‘terrible!"" he paused, and winked knowingly at the rest of the party. "My experience has taught me that the only way to handle the dishonest media is to own it!" He laughed loudly, and this time, the rest of the party joined in.

Back in the comfort of her hotel room (a suite at the Four Seasons), Melania was still fuming as she reached for a nail file and stepped into her powdery white slippers. How did Donald still manage to ruin everything? Even thousands of miles away, he was like un unwelcome kitchen smell, wafting in from the servants' quarters.

She opened her laptop and noticed an email from the PR firm handling the launch of her first fragrance, which was slated to be the climactic event of the entire Fashion Week. There were some suggestions for product placement on fashion blogs, and someone thought of reaching out to Kim Kardashian for a supportive tweet.

"This is going to be a perfume for the woman of today — a woman who is traditionally feminine, yet unafraid of pursuing fabulous wealth," the person wrote. "That's something Kim can totally get behind."

Melania would give it some thought. By now, she knew the social media calculus all too well; but first, a phone call was in order. She needed to speak with her secret business partners on the perfume venture: Ivana Trump and Marla Maples. The trio of Trump ex-wives had been orchestrating the launch for months now by way of encrypted phones. And every detail mattered. Anna Wintour had promised a Vogue cover, with an exclusive interview and a glossy photo spread by Annie Leibovitz. Each of the women was to wear nothing but dollar bills and hold a stack of Donald's tax returns to her chest.

But final agreement was needed on the name of the new brand. Ivana picked up breathlessly on the first ring, bracelets clacking, with that middle European accent of her own. Melania was eager to share her latest idea. "I was thinking, for the name, we would keep it simple. How do you like: ‘Revenge?""

"Ohhhhh, dahlink," Ivana purred. "This is going to be delicious."

*True Fiction: A narrative experiment for an era of fake news and hard-to-believe reality. (This piece was published on March 22, 2017)

*Cynthia Martens is a trilingual writer and translator based in New York. She worked in fashion in Milan for eight years and covered the industry for WWD, and is currently JD candidate at Fordham University School of Law.

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Smaller Allies Matter: Afghanistan Offers Hard Lessons For Ukraine's Future

Despite controversies at home, Nordic countries were heavily involved in the NATO-led war in Afghanistan. As the Ukraine war grinds on, lessons from that conflict are more relevant than ever.

Photo of Finnish Defence Forces in Afghanistan

Finnish Defence Forces in Afghanistan

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HELSINKI — In May 2021, the Taliban took back power in Afghanistan after 20 years of international presence, astronomical sums of development aid and casualties on all warring sides.

As Kabul fell, a chaotic evacuation prompted comparisons to the fall of Saigon — and most of the attention was on the U.S., which had led the original war to unseat the Taliban after 9/11 and remained by far the largest foreign force on the ground. Yet, the fall of Kabul was also a tumultuous and troubling experience for a number of other smaller foreign countries who had been presented for years in Afghanistan.

In an interview at the time, Antti Kaikkonen, the Finnish Minister of Defense, tried to explain what went wrong during the evacuation.

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“Originally we anticipated that the smaller countries would withdraw before the Americans. Then it became clear that getting people to the airport had become more difficult," Kaikkonen said. "So we decided last night to bring home our last soldiers who were helping with the evacuation.”

During the 20-year-long Afghan war, the foreign troop presence included many countries:Finland committed around 2,500 soldiers,Sweden 8,000,Denmark 12,000 and Norway 9,000. And in the nearly two years since the end of the war, Finland,Belgium and theNetherlands have commissioned investigations into their engagements in Afghanistan.

As the number of fragile or failed states around the world increases, it’s important to understand how to best organize international development aid and the security of such countries. Twenty years of international engagement in Afghanistan offers valuable lessons.

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