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For Geithner, a blur of hotels and motorcades

By Martin Crutsinger
AP Economics Writer / December 9, 2011
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MILAN—U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner got little down time during his three-day dash through Europe. But what sleep he did get was in some of Europe's finest hotels.

U.S. officials justify the luxurious bookings by explaining that where Geithner stays is often dictated by security concerns. The U.S. embassy in each country recommends hotels considered acceptable for overnight stays by high-level government officials like Geithner who get Secret Service protection.

In Milan, the hotel of choice for Geithner's stay was the Hotel Principe di Savoia. It's a five-star hotel graced by a grand foyer.

The top-of-the line Presidential Suite was featured in the 2010 movie "Somewhere" by director Sofia Coppola. The movie, set in Milan, also displayed the hotel's opulent swimming pool.

Geithner's digs were far less plush than the "Somewhere" suite -- just a standard room with a sitting area for meetings. And instead of a swim, he began his day in the hotel exercise room, walking on the treadmill while reading the morning newspapers.

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To meet with national leaders and financial officials in five cities in three countries in three days, you need a little help getting around. That's where a police-escorted motorcade comes in handy.

Geithner's caravan of limousines and vans for staff and reporters drew police escorts in each city he visited.

It all worked well until Geithner's entourage hit Marseilles right at rush hour. The road from the airport to a downtown hotel where Geithner was meeting Spanish Prime Minister-elect Mariano Rajoy Brey was jammed.

Still, not to worry. The motorcycle escorts simply squeezed between the two lanes of cars headed into town. The cars were forced to both sides of the road, clearing a path in the middle for the motorcade.

Geithner's meeting Wednesday night lasted about 40 minutes. Then it was back to the motorcade for the return to the airport. At least by then, the roads had cleared considerably, and the motorcycle escort had less work to do.

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So much for legendary German efficiency. On Geithner's three-country trip, it was the Italians who shined most in arranging a glitch-free meeting with reporters. The Germans and French ran into more difficulty.

Of course, the Italians had arguably more at stake. Geithner's appearance with reporters in Milan on Thursday followed a meeting with the new prime minister, Mario Monti. By contrast, the sessions in Germany and France involved only finance ministers.

The Italians managed to position a crush of journalists and 15 television cameras in place well before the session began.

In France, Geithner and Finance Minister Francois Baroin made statements to the press in Baroin's office. The French supplied no translator. After the session, non-French-speaking journalists found a kindly official who translated Baroin's remarks by listening to a tape recording of it.

In Germany, reporters, TV crews and photographers crammed near a stage in the German Finance Ministry. Reporters had no chairs and instead crouched on the floor with laptops. When officials decided to move the crowd back and supply chairs, shouting and jostling erupted as photographers struggled to keep the prime positions they'd staked out.

Still, from reporters' vantage point, the Germans fared best in one key respect: Alone among officials in the three countries, they allowed at least a couple of questions from journalists.

The French and Italian events were designed to have Geithner, Baroin and Monti give statements but take no questions. Given the sensitivity of the markets to Europe's debt crisis, officials in France and Italy probably didn't want to risk having an answer (or non-answer) to a question panic investors.

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Associated Press correspondent Colleen Barry in Milan contributed to this report.

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