SEVNICA, SLOVENIA - The medieval central Slovenian town of Sevnica sat unnoticed for centuries until it became the scene of atrocities in World War II that left it dotted with mass graves. In the communist, postwar years, the town, population 5,000, became a furniture manufacturing center.
Factory smokestacks belch thick smoke and steam as graffiti-covered trains speed past socialist-era apartment blocks and dilapidated buildings.
In the distance, a 900-year-old castle atop a hill overlooks the town, which in other respects is not exactly a place of dreams.
Watch: What Shaped Melania Trump
But big dreams are what happened here.
Sevnica is where Melania Trump, then Melanija Knavs, spent her childhood before moving to the capital, Ljubljana, where she pursued a fashion modeling career that eventually took her to Milan, Paris and New York.
The inauguration of Melania’s husband, Donald Trump, as president of the United States is bringing new fame to Slovenia. A new sense of pride and excitement has swept the country and her hometown, where some have found their own ways to honor the town’s most famous daughter.
“We were very proud of Melania’s success. She used to be one of us and we are really happy for her,” said Nusa Vidmar, owner of a bakeshop not far from the nondescript apartment bloc where Melanija Knavs and her family once lived. “So, we created a simple but luxury cake. We wanted to have a beautiful cake like she is.”
The confection, a vanilla-cream torte decorated with white chocolate spirals and a golden sheen has been a hit with customers and a way for Vidmar to show her pride in and admiration of Melania.
“We used all the best ingredients that we have at the moment because only the best was good for Melania. And we use also white chocolate. ... We want to make white cake because she wears a lot of white dresses,” Vidmar said.
Melania’s husband also gets a tribute. At a local restaurant, chef Denis Suhopoljac, puts together a hamburger in honor of the incoming American president.
In the restaurant’s kitchen, he demonstrates how it starts with shavings of yellow Slovenian cheese fried to a crisp to resemble the hairdo that is now known across the globe.
“The idea with the cheese came from his hair. Just so you know, we do not make fun of the president, but the cheese associates with the president somehow, and we used arugula because it is a bit more sophisticated kind of salad,” Suhopoljac said.
After putting the slab of golden fried cheese on top of the hamburger bun, he sticks a large pick with an American flag on one side and the Sevnica municipal banner on the other.
To top it off, a ramekin of barbecue salsa goes on the side.
“What is the message of Mexican barbecue? We think that everyone deserves a chance no matter where he comes from. So, we added a bit of Mexico, too,” Suhopoljac jokes.
First lady wine
Like much of Slovenia, Sevnica is known for its good wines, and local vintners are preparing to do their part to honor Mrs. Trump with a new wine called “First Lady.”
One of the winemakers, Zdravko Mastnak, who is also a friend of Melania’s family, says residents are sad that Donald Trump has never been to Sevnica, and even sadder that the town’s most famous daughter has yet to return.
“If only she would come with a big heart and hug someone in our town or in the middle of Ljubljana, and say, ‘Here I am.’ This is something that every individual not only in Slovenia but also elsewhere could wish,” Mastnak said.
For Melania, home will soon be the White House, but here, the home fire is also waiting.