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Post Foreign-Born First Ladies and Famous Slovenians
Created by John Eipper on 11/17/16 5:34 AM

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Foreign-Born First Ladies and Famous Slovenians (David Duggan, USA, 11/17/16 5:34 am)

John E asked WAISers to identify the only foreign-born First Lady prior to Melania Trump. That would be John Quincy Adams's wife Louisa.

I beg to differ as to the demotion of a marginal cultural critic to the second-most-famous-Slovenian. Assuming Melania trumps anyone (pun unavoidable), the most famous Slovenian has to be Miroslav Cerar, the two-time Olympic gold medal winning pommel horse gymnast (1964 and '68) from then Yugoslavia. And to make sure that he was not a 1-trick pony (pun unavoidable), Cerar also won the bronze medal for the horizontal bar at the Mexico City Olympics and was twice European all-around champion (aggregating his scores across the 6 Olympic events). He was arguably the best male gymnast of the pre-Japanese v. USSR hegemony that began in 1964 and ended only 20 years later with the Americans' triumph at the 1984 Los Angeles games. He is also a lawyer by training and the father of the current Slovenian president, Miro Cerar. In the 1960s while I was throwing my body around the pommel horse, he was my idol. His "triple-Russian-Moore" move set the gold standard for difficulty in that era.

And as to the Slovenian-Slovakian confusion, there's a story about legendary investment mogul Bruce Wasserstein (founder of mergers and acquisition shop Wasserstein-Perella, managing partner of Lazard Freres at the time of his 2010 death, and brother of "Uncommon Women" playwright Wendy) as recounted in Vanity Fair. I can't do it any better:

In his New Republic eulogy, [Larry] Grafstein [an investment banker at Rothschild] recalled how Wasserstein used to laugh about one particularly bungled meeting. He had been running very late and an assistant told him to go immediately to a conference room to meet representatives of the government of Slovakia. "Bruce proceeded to launch into a distinctive, long-winded Wassersteinian monologue about all of the different issues facing Slovakia's privatization program, corporate sector, and politics generally given its recent separation from the Czech Republic," Grafstein wrote. "And why, of course, Slovakia needed a banker like Bruce to steer it forward. The guests and his colleagues tried unsuccessfully to interrupt several times. Finally, the finance minister said, ‘Excuse me, Mr. Wasserstein. We are not from Slovakia. We are from Slovenia.' The way Bruce told it, the room went silent, with ashen faces around the table. After a brief pause, Bruce--always a bit faster and more confident than most of us--answered: ‘And that's precisely your strategic dilemma.'"

Plainly, these people are playing in a league far above mine. I have one small addition to this story. When I made the connection between the Slovenian president and my adolescent idol, I phoned one of my Dartmouth gymnastics teammates, now a lawyer in Portland, Maine, to ask if he recalled Miroslav. He said he didn't since he was a parallel bar and rings guy, "and you pommel horse guys were off in your own world." Noting that the son like the father are lawyers, he said, "But can he do gymnastics."

JE comments:  Slovenia-Slovakia have the "strategic dilemma" of the Guay nations of South America.  Para, Uru:  most people (not WAISers, of course) treat this distinction with a "whatever."  And what about the world's seven or eight Stans?  Not even specialists can identify 'em all.

Slovenia has suddenly been thrust into the limelight, as Europe's equivalent of Plains, Georgia, or That Place Called Hope.  The Slovenians should brace for an uptick in tourism.

One nit to pick with David Duggan:  Slavoj Zizek is actually a household name in the rarefied world of cultural criticism and critical theory.  Although I haven't and don't, citing him is a point of pride in my field.


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