(newyorker.com) The other day, the President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, came to town to see an old friend: Donald Trump. In the atrium of Trump Tower, beneath a banner reading “TRUMP INVESTS IN GEORGIA,” the two men announced a plan in which Trump will lend his name and expertise in superlatives to two new buildings—one in Tbilisi, the capital, and another in Batumi, a resort on the Black Sea—that will be the tallest in the country.
That evening, the Georgian delegation, a group of young people who looked as if they had just come from an open call at a modelling agency, joined a dozen Trump employees and friends at the Four Seasons to celebrate. Trump himself was a late scratch (family emergency), but the afterglow of mutual regard from the press conference (“one of the greatest personalities in the world”; “one of the great leaders of the world”) barely wavered. During the cocktail hour, in the Grill Room, Saakashvili, who is six feet three, with close-set eyes and floppy black hair, explained that he had been a Trump fan since the mid-nineties. After getting a master’s in law from Columbia, he worked at a New York firm that was a Trump tenant. “I met him in an elevator,” the President recalled. “He asked me whether we liked the building. I said to him, ‘You better fix the showers on our floor,’ and it was done within, like, twelve hours.”
The Trump touch left an impression. “I always stay in New York in Trump hotels,” Saakashvili said; this time it was the International Hotel and Tower, at Columbus Circle. Georgia, too, is known for hospitality. When asked about arranging a chat with Saakashvili, Raphaël Glucksmann, a thirty-one-year-old aide, had been obliging: “We’ll kidnap you! It’s an old Caucasian tradition.” How he would know about the region’s customs wasn’t fully clear; he is French, born far from the Caucasus, and has lived in Georgia only since 2008. (Saakashvili is evidently more forgiving of where politicians were born than Trump, who has taken up the birther cause as part of his threatened run for President.)
Glucksmann turned to Vera Kobalia, the twenty-nine-year-old Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development (portfolio: “everything growing and green”). Grinning, he asked her, “Can you say something nice about our culture?”
“I lived in Canada for fifteen years. I was happy, but I still moved back to Georgia,” she said. She was appointed last July, seven months after returning from Vancouver. Saakashvili’s tenure—he took office in 2004, after leading the Rose Revolution the year before—has been a sort of “olly olly oxen free” for bright members of the diaspora. Some have more enthusiasm than experience; Kobalia notes in her official bio that she graduated from high school (King George’s, ’99) and that from 2004 to 2006 she worked as a producer for “Destination Funny Entertainment.”
At dinner, in the Pool Room, Glucksmann sat next to Camilla Olsson, a Swedish fashion marketer. “I introduced the fabulous Trumps to the Georgians,” she said. Standing in for his dad was Donald Trump, Jr., just off a plane from Scotland, where he had checked on a Trump golf course. Donald, Jr., who was wearing a white shirt with red stripes and a red-and-white tie, explained that he and his family would make sure that the Georgian projects were up to “Trump standards.”
To Olsson’s right, Temuri Yakobashvili, the brand-new, forty-three-year-old Georgian Ambassador to the U.S., listened as Carol Alt, the eighties supermodel, touted her raw-food diet, leaving the grilled Dover sole in front of her untouched. Like Trump, Alt was eager to ease the pangs of a country starved for luxury. She mentioned that she was about to begin Georgian distribution of her natural skin-care line, Raw Essentials.
“You guys can buy it in Duane Reade, but it’ll be very exclusive in Georgia,” she said. There seems to be a market: earlier in the week, a member of a Georgian delegation had been picked up for shoplifting at Century 21, though his diplomatic immunity nullified the arrest. Alt has never been to Georgia herself, but she had heard good things: “My girlfriend says the earth smells sweet.”
Few of the guests had visited the country, and efforts by those who had been there to describe its charms produced some striking mashups. On Batumi: “Monte Carlo meets Las Vegas.” On Georgia: “The best of Italy combined with the best of France.” On Georgian cuisine: “It resembles some kind of Indian food, but, in a sense, it’s Mediterranean.”
Around 10 P.M., the President posed for a photograph with Alt, then swept out. Trump’s absence appeared to leave no hard feelings. Earlier, Saakashvili had suggested that Trump could always emigrate: “If he decides to run for President in Georgia, he might win.” ♦
Trump Signs Deal to Develop Two Towers in Georgia, the Former Soviet State By CHARLES V. BAGLI and ANDREW E. KRAMER (nytimes.com)