The death of former Argentinian President Carlos Menem has commanded obituaries in the world’s media, not the least because, in the words of The Guardian, of his exotic private life. For example, one of his first Presidential acts was booting his wife out of the Presidential Palace and replacing her with a former Miss Universe, 35 years his junior.
Reading this brought back memories of his state visit to New Zealand, in 1998.
Menem was scheduled to fly into Auckland in late afternoon, then down to the Governor General’s Wellington residence for a state banquet.
I was a guest seated at a table with Helen Clarke, her husband and Steve O’Regan. Then news came through that Menem was not now coming because of bad weather, which was nonsense, but as subsequently revealed, he’d got his priorities right and opted for the more appealing option of getting to a hotel with his former Miss Universe. Who can blame him?
To their credit Prime Minister Jenny Shipley and the Governor General announced we’d carry on with the banquet which was great news as gone was the tedious prospect of pompous speeches.
Helen and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves taunting Steve (Sir Tipene) through the evening by thinking up suitable tortures she could inflict upon him when she became Prime Minister the next year.
Argentina reminds me of Lebanon, two fantastic countries perpetually wrecked by corruption and political incompetence.