Marbella's uncoolest moment
Published 21/08/2010 | 05:00
Michelle Obama must rue the day she ever set foot on Spanish soil. The First Lady took her daughter Sasha and a couple of girlfriends on a short break to Marbella earlier this month, but she'd barely unpacked her bikini when she was slammed by the American press as a modern-day Marie Antoinette.
Back home, polls showed her popularity ratings plummet when it was revealed that she was staying in a glitzy Costa del Sol hotel with a price tag of up to €5,000 a night. Hardly good recession optics.
She might have paid for the trip herself (though the taxpayer had to foot the bill for the large secret-service contingency that accompanies the world's most heavily protected woman wherever she goes), but in these puritanical times, when the average American can hardly afford a barbecue in the back yard, it wasn't the smartest move.
Since then, the Obamas have been trying to make amends. Last weekend, the US President was pictured ripping his shirt off and diving into the Gulf of Mexico to boost the flagging local economy in the wake of the BP oil spill.
The White House scheduled the trip in response to criticism that Barack Obama was not heeding his own advice that Americans take their holidays in the stricken Gulf, and should set an example for the rest of the country.
But the damage caused to his reputation by his wife's Mediterranean jaunt could come back to haunt him in the upcoming mid-term elections.
What baffles me about the First Lady's foreign travels is that she chose Marbella at all. Why would such a normally smart woman want to spend a week in a bling-filled resort that bears no resemblance to the real Spain and is stuffed with violent gangsters, drugged-up glamour models and bust developers?
I secretly squirm when people tell me they're heading to that part of Spain for a break. Yes, it's worth its weight in sun, sea and sangria, but why spend a week surrounded by wall-to-wall concrete and crowded beaches when you can explore the fabulous ancient towns of the interior or have the gorgeous strands of the north coast all to yourself?
Marbella proved just how shamelessly vulgar it can be when it rolled out the red carpet for its American VIP, putting up bunting, closing off beaches and repaving roads in her honour.
How terribly uncool.
One local congressman, mortified by the affair, slammed the community for behaving like 'hicks'. Idolatry and servility do not sit well with a dignified democracy, he said.
But it's not a problem the Costa del Sol, or anywhere else in Europe for that matter, is likely to face again any time soon. In the White House, the controversial trip has been seen as a turning point for foreign travel by the Obamas.
Safely ensconced in Martha's Vineyard for the rest of the summer, the First Family, like most Americans, will be staycating for the foreseeable future.
Still, at least that means their ancestral home in Offaly won't have to dust down the red carpet and fill in the pot holes for another few years to come.