Just a month into Donald Trump’s presidency, my European friends and colleagues wanted to know what I thought of the unusual behavior of 45. As I’m no expert on American law or the constitution, I could only give them my impression as a political observer, and U.S. resident. Trump, after his move to the Oval Office, continued to express seemingly thoughtless statements (Tweets) and act in an unpredictable and senseless way, far from the norm of presidential behavior; it is no wonder people desperately sought to reason. It is my opinion that a superpower like the U.S. cannot afford (and, therefore, nor can the world) to have an erratic person lead the country for a long period of time, and since the White House did not change, or make Trump more presidential–a hope many Americans were holding onto–my gut told me that he would soon hit a wall and there will be somebody, somewhere, who will invite him to leave office. I could not imagine how this irrationality could last more than a year. He will be out by Christmas, I kept saying.
For decades, China has been on everyone’s mind. Observers, economists, investors, and scholars have all been watching the country’s incredible pace of change and transformation. To my mind, what China is doing can be described in the words of Italian writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa: ”For things to remain the same, everything must change.”
They came with the night. They did not knock, they banged and kicked the door. They gave inhabitants little time to pack before they sealed their homes, forcing the people out on the freezing street with most of their belongings inside.
It happened several nights in a row, in the Liqiao township, in Shunyi district, the home to about 60,000 people working at Beijing Capital International Airport, according to the South China Morning Post.
The war of the American city, between bikers and car drivers, is not yet over, but a new one has already been announced. It will happen between the traditional bike share companies and the ones that are now using new technologies, technologies not native to the U.S.
They are painted in every kind of color: silver and orange, yellow and green, orange, blue, you name it. These are the colors of the growing armies of bikes preparing for the next urban American street war. In Washington DC, they first appeared in September, standing alone on the corners of the sidewalks of the nation’s capital. Because nobody introduced them, they just stood there, calling the attention of bypassers with their bright colors. An obvious marketing ploy, an invitation to communicate, but not to ride. Must be an installation of some kind.
After a couple of years of effort to discover the secret life of Melania Trump – alias Melanija Knavs – turned almost into a kind of fiction reporting, I nearly gave up. Melania is not a story, she should be left alone, trapped in her golden prison and respecting whatever contract she might have with her husband, now the President of the United States. But since I am also Slovenian, as the American First Lady is, or was, I still foster a hope that one day she will wake up and tell us her story. She owes us a story, as she is in the most privileged place to unearth the mystery of this country, once the strongest in the world. And while we are waiting for her words, FLOTUS Melania, at least she showed us her infant dream, perhaps the only reason why she wanted to get to the place where she is now. At the age of the 47, she is the sweetest and one of the most privileged girls in this world.
As a European, I became exposed to, then fascinated by, ginkgo trees during my far away travels, and again recently, when these adorable living fossils became my neighbors. The fact that ginkgos dump all of their leaves overnight before the first frost hits the ground and that female ginkgo drop their “poops” so vehemently as to permeate the entire neighborhood with a sewage-like stench, was my first step to learning about these beautiful creatures. On my street, ginkgos rule, and owners, if they insist, have to plant their own, different tree variations in the back alleys of their houses. Both sides of the narrow main street are dominated by tall ginkgos that in one hundred years grew tall above the houses. They hover, transforming the street below into an intimate, cozy space, well protected from the outside world. Our street is a universe by itself, an awe-inspiring ginkgo universe of total silence. Not even birds sit on the branches of these sacred trees that go back to Jurassic times.
Images of the reception of members of the Saudi royal family and other dignitaries, exchanging loyalty and complicity, were boring, but the purge of last weekend in Riyadh may end all this. Could the young crown prince be Saudi’s form of populism? We do not know. We also don’t know if the announced reforms will stop the cruelty and discrimination of a regime that can only be compared to North Korea. What we do know is that the change in Saudi Arabia might shake the world.
When the world was focused on North Korea and the Pacific, fearing an escalation of the nuclear crisis, a bomb exploded at the other end of the globe–in the middle of the desert. President Trump was in the air, traveling to Japan on the first leg of his 12-day Asian tour when a massive purge began deep in the Riyadh night. The Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old son of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, ordered the arrest of some of the most powerful and recognizable names in the country, including princes and members of the Saudi royal family, cabinet ministers, media and industry untouchables, government officials. The detainees, including Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a wealthy investor who owns major stakes in such companies as Twitter and Citigroup, were all locked up in Riyadh’s luxury hotels.
We all expected Trump’s visit to China to be historic and important. As shown, it was a mistaken assumption. The visit was banal and without suspense. The hope is that somebody else, the people called sherpas, did more serious work than these two bad performers.
When Donald Trump landed in Beijing he was greeted by Xi Jinping in the Forbidden City. We saw the presidential couple visit some of the palaces, roam the huge Imperial complex, and have a tea and chat before sitting for the dinner. There were very few people around Trump and Xi and their spouses. The huge empty spaces within the palace must have been unpleasant for Trump, who enjoys crowds so much, while the Chinese leader, on the other hand, considers the solitude an imperial privilege. But it was the utmost the host could offer his American guest with his Slovenian wife. Nevermind that no previous Chinese guest was received in the Forbidden city. They all visited it, but the Chinese leader never appeared with the foreign guest in the palace that during the Empire was banned to foreign barbarians. It was us, the “foreign devils” who started to call the Gugong (故宫, The Old Palace) the Forbidden City. It never was forbidden to Trump, apparently.
While President Trump is traveling on his Asian tour, he will be visiting China for the first time. Pointing out some of the intricacies of the U.S.–China relationship will make following this visit more interesting.
Twenty-one years ago, when Taiwan was about to hold its first presidential election, China flexed its military muscles by holding a series of military exercises and firing missiles close to the Taiwanese coast. The U.S. deployed an aircraft carrier group to international waters near Taiwan, signifying imminent battle. That silenced the Chinese and let the Taiwanese vote. From then on, almost every conversation on growing Chinese military power ended with a simple conclusion: stop the Chinese from any belligerent action with the two American aircraft carriers positioned in the Taiwan Strait. They would be enough not only to prevent the Chinese from attacking Taiwan but could win an entire war against China.
This was my seventh visit to Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York since its owner was elected 45th President of the United States. My visits are not a pilgrimage, but reporting trips into the cave of the enemy.
First, there is curiosity. Until what moment and to what extent will the tower stay open and accessible to the public? In my previous visits, things looked pretty bad. There was a growing number of metal barriers around the building, occasionally closing parts of 5th Avenue to traffic and pedestrians (demonstrators). Worst of all was the huge sanitation trucks loaded with sand that is supposed to block any terrorist car bombers. On these occasions, I did not try to enter the building. The huge trucks gave me a sense of claustrophobia I normally do not experience. Besides, those trucks were nonsense, since a potential car bomber would never have a chance to approach the building by driving through the narrow and trafficked streets of Manhattan. Normally, a terrorist attack of that kind would require great momentum before its explosion, and would, therefore, be stopped well before reaching Trump’s doorstep.
Washington D.C. is an elegant city. It is smooth and soft-spoken. It’s clean and well kept, possibly because most of the residential buildings in the city are family townhouses. Low, two, three-storey buildings spread the city out, creating the impression Washington is bigger than it is. Sparse-density urbanity evokes the pastoral, idyllic way of life, whilst turning the corner might be enough to be immersed in a hip, cranky street, one that distinguishes the predominantly young population of the city from its more traditional aspects.
Another spice of this city: a southern flavor and mindset which melts away the stress that in New York is the elixir of life. For the skeptics and outsiders who have the impression that DC is dormant, unsexy and boring, there is an answer in rediscovering the pleasure of wonder, that effort of finding, instead of just being served. There, of course, is one big thing that Washington leaves a visitor wanting. In this flat land of large spaces, walking, and biking, one misses the squares and public areas where people can gather and hang out. There are no piazzas, the lifeblood of the urban community, a comfort for humanity from the times of polis and the Etruscans.