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By John Helmer, Moscow

This morning Signor Enzo Caderni, the Director of the Grand Hotel & Pace Spa at Montecatini Terme, a well-known establishment in the Tuscan mineral waters resort, has confirmed that the wife of the outgoing president of Russia, Svetlana Medvedeva , has taken his hotel for a personal visit. The entire hotel, but not all of its 140 rooms.

Details of her stay appeared first in the Italian newspapers, then in the Russian media. Since the hotel is currently closed for its seasonal break, and will not reopen to regular guests until March 23, it’s possible that the First Lady’s party will benefit from a substantial discount for their accommodation. Otherwise, her presidential suite would cost about €600 per night, and the full complement of connecting or accompanying rooms and suites about €12,000 per night, not counting nourishment, treatment, water, etc.

Sources at the hotel say Italian privacy regulations preclude their discussing Medvedeva’s stay, the number of days and nights, the number in her party, the number on the bottom of her bill. Director Caderni explained: “this is a reserved visit, a private visit.” He said he could confirm what has already been reported in Italy, but not when the party would be leaving, which hasn’t.

The hotel sources did confirm that right now, outside the hotel grounds, there is a tight cordon of Italian carabinieri.

The baths of Montecatini have had a swampy history since they were first constructed in the 16th century, and then plundered by the Medicis of Florence, who left them to the mosquitoes. After a revival of thermal tourism at the start of the 20th century, the waters really got their spurt when Benito Mussolini arrived to take them; that was in May of 1930. Nobody of his political size has been there since. At least, Director Caderni doesn’t think it polite to name them.

As Mikhail Zoshchenko (image left) reported from his experience of Russian bathhouses, it’s a devil of a security problem keeping your clothes safe if your cloak and locker tickets wash off the organs of the body to which the tickets are tied. In Zoshchenko’s time, he considered it an extravagance to pay ten kopecks for a bath if that meant running the risk of losing underwear, trousers and coat to insensitive cloakroom attendants. In fact, Zoshchenko was obsessed with the problem of stolen clothes at Russian bathing establishments, because he wrote a second story about the problem. That’s the one about how an innocent bather had his entire outfit pinched while he was washing, and was then forced to beg for covering in order to get home. Imagine – the naked man covering his sex with the only thing the thief hadn’t taken, his cap, while he negotiated with the manager of the baths, a lady whom the innocent made the mistake of calling the Kursk Anomaly.

But everyone knows Zoshchenko was writing in the 1920s; that he’s quite dead; and that Russia is much more secure and civilized nowadays. No doubt Medvedeva’s trip to Montecatini has nothing to do with the fear of losing her clothes. It’s probably a present from the President on the occasion of Women’s Day, and if Medvedeva stays until March 15, for her 47th birthday. You don’t have to be a great Russian writer like Zoshchenko to acknowledge what a very generous present a wash at Montecatini makes.

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