Thursday, October 4, 2007

Washington Social Diary: Hail Lafayette

Inside the museum house, the dining room where the Peters would have entertained the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824.
Today marks the debut of our Washington Social Diary by correspondent Carol Joynt. Carol is a familiar personage in the nation’s capitol as proprietor of the popular restaurant Nathan’s Georgetown and her popular Q&A Café, her in-person interview of prominent journalists, authors and public figures that she conducts weekly at Nathan’s.

Washington Social Diary: Hail Lafayette

There’s a reason two particular portraits hang side by side in the drawing room of Georgetown’s historic Tudor Place mansion. One is George Washington, the other is Washington’s revolutionary ally and life-long friend, Marie Joseph Paul Ives Roch Gilbert du Motier, otherwise known to most Americans as the Marquis de Lafayette. The portraits are poignant because Tudor Place is the only home in Washington that has direct family lineage to George and Martha Washington. It was built two centuries ago by Thomas and Martha Custis Peter — she, the granddaughter of Martha Washington from Martha’s first marriage. In October 1824, on his last visit to the U.S., Lafayette dined at Tudor Place with the Peters.

Lafayette, in spirit at least — and as portrayed by an actor — was again the guest of honor at a Tudor Place dinner last night when 100 invited guests gathered to celebrate the 250th anniversary of of the marquis’ birthday. It brought out the new French Ambassador, Pierre Vimont, whom many here are eager to meet. He was without his companion, because Washington protocol still has not yet figured out how to factor in a woman who is a live-in “companion,” rather than a wife.   

Dinner co-chairs Niente Smith and Ellen MacNeille Charles
The host, Tudor Place president Ellen MacNeille Charles. Ellen is a granddaughter of the late but once formidable Post Cereals heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post who had her own stately Washington mansion, Hillwood, which Ellen now oversees as a popular museum house.

On that date 183 years ago when the marquis dined with the Peters, the “grand banquet,” as it was called, started midday and — as was the custom then — rolled out with formal service for many courses and then some. This century’s dinner was sized to suit the less robust modern appetite. Nevertheless it had a regional flare that matched the occasion and the still-warm October night in Washington. 

The evening began with a toast from an actor very similar in face to the marquis himself.  “I am honored to be here with you in the home of my friends,” he said. “I am deeply touched to be honored by this country, this grand experiment.” 

Later, Ambassador Vimont charmed the room with reference to his recent arrival in Washington. “For those of you who did not know, I arrived on September 6, which is the actual birthday of Lafayette. Since I arrived I have been living with (him), but that’s okay because in every Frenchman there is a little bit of Marquis de Lafayette.”

Hors d’oeuvres included miniature Maryland crab cakes and Smithfield Ham Biscuits, Oyster “Sips,” and Duck Prosciutto on Autumn Apple Crisps; the first course was an Asparagus Salad Seasoned with local Rappahannock County, Virginia Apple Cider. The main event featured what the French always love to eat in the U.S. — a good Steak, with Scalloped Tomatoes, Turnip and Parsnip Puree, and Buttered Carrots.  Dessert was not birthday cake but a sweet Bread Pudding named “Fayette,” of course.
The city’s cave dwellers — young and not so young —  were out in force, including Chiswell and Barbara Langhorne, Norman and Diane Bernstein, Bob and Niente Smith, Leslie Buhler, William and Lucy Von Rasab, Janice and Wiley Buchanan, Ruth Buchanan, Katherine and Richard Bull, Austin Kiplinger, Outerbridge and Georgina Horsey, Beverly and John Fox Sullivan, Louisa and Robert Duemling, Amy Bondurant and David Dunning, Beverly and Peter Yost.  Also, Herb and Patrice Miller, Fran Kenworthy, journalist Terence Smith and his wife Susy, Tom and Jeannie Rutherfoord, Frederica and George ValanosMelissa and Dale Overmyer, Edith and Jack Schaeffer, Michael Sullivan, Celia and Mac Lovell, Lizzy and Michael Cantacuzene and John D. Firestone.

An exhibition of Lafayette memorabilia will run at Tudor Place until the end of the year.
Ellen MacNeille Charles and French Ambassador Pierre Vimont
Amy Bondurant, Fran Kenworthy, Patrice Miller, and Herb Miller
John D. Firestone arriving with his date
Frederica Valanos, the Marquis de Lafayette lookalike, and Jeannie Rutherford
Beverly Sullivan, and the pureed turnips, filet mignon and carrots w/ cranberries
Outerbridge Horsey and Beverly Sullivan

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