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Green Acre #129: Melania’s Mesmerizing Trees

Christmas 2018 at the White House. / White House photo.

FIRST LADY and ex-Slovenian model Melania Trump was given a green card under a program created for those of “extraordinary ability,” informally known as the “Einstein visa,” at which I have been known to snicker.

Yet, she does have a genius for wonderfully bizarre holiday decorating.

Last year the East Wing hallway was lined with a gaspingly lovely parade of white branches, lit from below and casting ominous shadows. This year, there are blood red trees—which one or more wag pointed out would resemble the cast of The Handmaid’s Tale if you clapped white bonnets on their tops. They’re perfect for strutting about in Cossack boots and a riding crop, reviewing the troops.

The other night President Trump stood outside one portico or another announcing something or other, flanked by a striking arrangement of red berries stuffed into lead-black urns. Part funeral, part Japanese wedding.

“America’s Treasures” is said to be the theme, but there’s a helluva lot of red here. Is this a secret signal? A wink?

Overall, there’s an air of violent melancholy one finds only among Eastern Europeans, of which I am one.

Picture Melania as Marlene Dietrich as Catherine the Great in The Scarlet Empress, charging up the castle staircase on her white steed, sword in hand. Picture Melania crunching moodily through the snow-encrusted wonderland of Dr. Zhivago, which appears to be re-created in the gingerbread White House.

The illustrator Edward Gorey, whatever his heritage, may be her patron saint.

Even in rooms that initially seem bright, there’s a darkness to this White House. The white-lit trees in the Grand Foyer are decorated with huge red balls, of course. But glooming above the chandelier’s glitter is a mysterious shadowy projection, an impression of leaves and what appear to be paper-cut snowflakes, sharp white against the creamy ceiling and echoed across the checkerboard floor.

I will steal this idea. Often, the drawback with laser and projection lights is that objects placed in front of the projector disrupt the pattern. Shooting up at the ceiling allows for an uninterrupted canvas. There is already a kaleidoscope light in my possession, the white beam moves slowly, casting hypnotic shadows.

This will work well, I think, with goulash and a crusty loaf.

But that’s just me. LittleBird Kathy isn’t so high on all the red: “My impression of the red trees is that it would be like walking through a blood clot.”

Well, there’s that, I guess.

LittleBird Nancy has a milder reaction. “Years ago I took my little niece and nephew to view the White House decorations. After waiting in line forever, we walked into a room lined with impossibly tall live (I think) trees, all covered with snowy glitter (or glittery “snow,” hard to remember). It was magical. I could see myself lingering among Melania’s red trees and feeling part of an art installation. But then, also years ago, I was thrilled to walk  into a giant Louise Nevelson cube and marvel at the comfort I got from the monochrome sculpture. (My boyfriend, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with it.) So I’m good for this.”

—Stephanie Cavanaugh


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