WASHINGTON -- First lady Michelle Obama may catch some flak for vacationing at an expensive luxury hotel on Spain's Mediterranean coast. By the end of the summer, Mrs. Obama will have taken eight vacation trips -- including her visit to Marbella, staying at the five-star Hotel Villa Padierna with daughter Sasha and some pals.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked at a Wednesday briefing if there was any concern about "the appearance" of Mrs. Obama's overseas jaunt.
"The first lady is on a private trip. She is a private citizen and is the mother of a daughter on a private trip. And I think I'd leave it at that," Gibbs said.
The "private" vacation has a side trip touted as "official." Spain's King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia invited Mrs. Obama and Sasha for an "official" visit, likely to be at their summer palace on the island of Majorca. Mrs. Obama was pictured walking through Marbella on Wednesday with deputy chief of staff Melissa Winter.
Mrs. Obama's U.S. Air Force jet landed at Malaga on Wednesday; she skipped celebrating her husband's 49th birthday with him. (Daughter Malia, 12, is at overnight camp.) Mrs. Obama pays for personal expenses -- as do her friends who arrived on their own -- but that only covers a small part of the expense. Taxpayers pick up the tab for staff and security at the exclusive hotel and most of the expenses for the plane.
First ladies often go on vacations, with and without the president. An issue for Mrs. Obama may be how many: New York in March; Chicago, over Memorial Day; Los Angeles in June; Camp David -- sort of an extension of the White House -- in July; Maine in July, to highlight Acadia National Park, and now Spain. Mrs. Obama is glamorizing Spain's coastal resorts before her Aug. 14 first family weekend visit to Florida's Gulf Coast, to encourage tourists scared away by the oil spill. Starting Aug. 19, the Obamas will spend 10 days in Martha's Vineyard.
The State Department, prompted, I'm told, by Spanish reporters making inquiries in advance of Mrs. Obama's trip, lifted a travel advisory for Spain that warned "racial prejudice could contribute to the arrest to African Americans who travel to Spain." The warning was posted because of an incident Feb. 13, 2009, in Barcelona. State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley said Wednesday the warnings are routinely reviewed, and it "was the press attention around [Mrs. Obama's] trip that caused us to look at it once again. . . . And as we viewed it, we thought it was no longer current information."
MICHELLE OBAMA ON HER FOOD "CLEANSE" AND DISLIKE OF BEETS
Mrs. Obama occasionally goes on what she calls a "cleanse" to purge her body of certain foods, she told Ladies' Home Journal.
Don't confuse a "cleanse" -- to get certain foods out of your system -- with other techniques to detox, such as colonic irrigation.
Mrs. Obama, in an interview to promote her "Let's Move" anti-obesity campaign, talked about the "cleanse" and the dislike, which she shares with the president, of beets.
"Neither the president nor I have the beet gene," Mrs. Obama said. But talking about healthy foods when she was interviewed in June in the White House led her to disclose her internal purification routine. "Recently I was on a sort of cleanse, and I was just eating vegetables," she said.
Asked how it worked out, Mrs. Obama said, "The cleanses are good for a short period of time. I can't live my life on a cleanse. But they help me clean out my palate. Because when you start adding things like sugars into your diet, you start craving them.
"And the more you eat, the more you crave. ... So maybe I'll do a cleanse for two days. It isn't a way of life because I like food too much. But it is good to break your mind-set," she said.