Monday, May 5, 2008

Washington Social Diary

A performance by the combined St. Albans and Cathedral School choirs at the annual Flower Mart on the grounds of Washington National Cathedral.
By Carol Joynt

It would be tough to top the weekend
we just had in Washington: bright blue skies, temps in the 70s, mellow breezes, and flowers blooming everywhere. Though I’m an autumn person, the past 48 hours made it difficult to argue that spring is the most beautiful season in the nation’s capital.

Despite our image as political cynics and profiteers, a lot of locals do head out of town to work the primaries as volunteers pounding the pavement for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. However, for those who stayed home it was a chance to take in one of our most popular events – the annual Flower Mart on the grounds of Washington National Cathedral.

The Cathedral has hosted the annual Flower Mart for almost seventy years. It is as much like a county fair as possible to get in a city. Admission is free. People come from all over -- especially families -- to feast at the food stalls, to peruse concessions offering plants, crafts, rare books, clothing, accessories; to ride the antique Merry-Go-Round, to tour the nooks and crannies of the Cathedral; or to simply sit in the shade and watch the passing parade.

There are puppet shows and choir performances. Every year there is a “theme” country, and this year’s honoree was South Africa. It’s traditional to fill-up on lobster rolls and funnel cakes, and then to walk off the excess as you search for your car parked somewhere in the adjacent Cleveland Park neighborhood.
Amongst all kinds of flowers for sale. the St. Albans School Choir performs on the Cathedral steps; but the organ grinder was perhaps the most popular performer.
Clockwise from top left: This year's Flower Mart honored South Africa; Colorful ribbon belts, and many more items in shades of pink and green, were the dominant sale item not of the plant world; Courtney Rainer with his South African wares.
Flower Mart is most of all for children, and they were out in force on Saturday, in strollers, on shoulders, on their own two wobbly feet, showing mostly awe, wonder or "nap time" on their faces.
The moon bounce always brings glee, as do the slide and the duck pond.
For some, Flower Mart is an opportunity to learn how to make a shopping decision ... or take a spin on everybody's favorite, the Merry-Go-Round ... or hop on a ride that's good for all ages.
The Flower Mart features foods for every taste (clockwise from top left): Barbecue, almost ready to go; Meigan Chan oversees the bake sale of the Episcopal Church Women; A tough choice to make when all the cookies look good; Fresh strudel, ready for slicing; Helen's lobster rolls, kept cool and ready to eat on the ice.
A local favorite - funnel cakes, in all their forms.
Left: Knowing their audience, a sign at Regent Asia Grill assured "no curry, not spicy."
No Washington event is complete without some sign of political opinion ... or security reality; NOT a reference to Congress, though some may disagree.
Pets go to the fair, too.
Clockwise from top left: On the Cathedral grounds there are plenty of places and opportunities to take a break (2); The industrious neighbors who set up a business outside the Cathedral gates; Ready to go home?
Washington Social Shocker. Stories about one person or another either taking a buy-out or getting canned from their job in the old-school news (meaning print) business are common occurrences these days. A month ago there rumors were rampant that Executive Editor Leonard Downie would take a buy-out at The Washington Post. He shot them down -- which doesn’t mean it won’t happen -- but in the weeks following, a long list of Post bylines made the buy-out list, including feature writer Anne Groer (who helped start the famed Reliable Source column), food writer Walter Nicholls; as well as Peter Carlson, Eve Zibart, Richard Harrington, Desson Thompson, and Susan Schmidt.

Kevin Chaffee
But the news that rocked social Washington last week came from The Washington Times, usually referred to as the "moonie paper," but also the last bastion of a legitimate weekly social column, which ran on Thursdays and was written by Kevin Chaffee and photographed by Jim Brantley for the past 17 years. Chaffee and Brantley were as certain a presence at any important Washington party as the caterer and the valet. Nevertheless, both men were let go by The Times, and the column discontinued.

What is troubling is not just that Kevin and Jim are well liked, excellent in their work, and a singular reason why many people bought The Washington Times, but that there is a noticeable resurgence of interest in social Washington. The days of the white gloves and calling cards have gone by, but an evolving vitality is likely to accelerate with the next occupant of the White House, be it Hillary Clinton, John McCain or Barack Obama. Any one of them is expected to give a fresh boost to the job of White House social secretary. If ever there was a time for the kind of work done by Kevin and Jim, now is that time.

Typically in Washington, major media waits until after an election to make changes -- re-assigning beats, making promotions, and letting people go. But newspapers in particular don't seem to have that luxury right now: circulation isdown and profits on the ropes. The Washington Post Company, for example, sees its lifesaver in their Kaplan education division - and possibly the paper's online version - rather than what some call the "dead tree" edition.

I talked to Kevin after I heard the news. He's prepared for a period of adjustment as he decides what to do next. He expects he might get crossed off a few guest lists, but I bet most hosts will probably not reach for the red pen. He’s been swamped with phone calls and emails from well-wishers. "Buffy Cafritz called," he said, "that was a surprise and so nice.” Event planner Carolyn Peachy was stunned by the news. “Kevin Chaffee has been one of the best writers we’ve had the pleasure of working with. He always captured the flavor and intent of an event and communicated the same to his readers.”

Jim Brantley
Kevin said he might get out of the party-reporting business altogether and find work in another non-journo division of the social scene. Public relations, for example. But it’s too soon to do anything but take it easy. "Covering parties does wear you down," he said. "I'm ready for a break." He also does freelance travel writing, and editing for the local glossy Washington Life, and has a book idea to formulate, citing Bob Colacello's successful "Out" as the inspiration and tell a compelling (and historical) story of the last few decades of Washington society, such as it was.

Still, Chaffee laments, it didn't help his beat that President George Bush and First Lady Laura Bush were the least social of White House occupants in memory. Their State Dinners can be counted on two hands -- and that's over eight years. They have friends over for early dinner, but it's so off the radar it's as if the White House is gone to bed at sunset. And that's not really a joke. Laura Bush herself has said her husband's 9 p.m. bedtime made her a "desperate housewife." No wonder daughter Jenna's upcoming wedding has put an obvious smile on her face.

In general, however, Kevin says the social side of the White House is ripe for a revival.

Novelist, New Yorker and Georgetowner Jane Stanton Hitchcock, who knows her way around a social event and who places her new novel in the heart of Washington society, said Kevin “artfully dressed people up rather than dressing them down, which made for lovely change of pace in Washington. Dropping his delicious take on things seems to me like dropping dessert. But I have no doubt he will land on his elegant black tie feet.”
The view into the ballroom of the Ritz Carlton Washington at the Larry King Cardiac Foundation Dinner.
Larry King Has a Big Heart. For years, Larry King was as familiar a sight in Washington as one of our monuments. He broadcast his overnight radio show from here, and his “Larry King Live,” was born and raised here. He was a regular at Duke Zeibert’s and The Palm. He had an apartment that overlooked the city, married, divorced, dated and married again, and divorced again, and was in every way an authentic Washington character. That all changed almost ten years ago when he moved the show to Los Angeles, where he started a new life, with a new wife, Shawn Southwick King, and a new family.
Larry King with Brina Sanft
Since the move, Washington, and the show, have not been quite the same. But Larry seems happy. For one thing, he gets off work at 7 rather than 10 p.m. Or, maybe it’s the new contract with CNN, momentarily snuffing rumors that Katie Couric would soon be in his chair.

One meaningful constant, though, is Larry’s commitment to help those who, like him, suffer from heart disease. Twenty years ago, he started the Larry King Cardiac Foundation to “provide funding for life-saving treatment for individuals who, due to limited means or no insurance, would otherwise be unable to receive the treatment and care they so desperately need.”

Every year since he has hosted a gala Washington fundraising dinner, which always features a big name act (in the past, Celine Dion, Vanessa Williams, Tim McGraw, Donna Summer), big money, a popular silent and live auction and, of course, the man himself.

This year’s dinner was this past Saturday night, at the downtown Ritz Carlton, and featured singer Seal, comedian Darrell Hammond and illusionist Nathan Burton as the entertainment.
The table setting at the Larry King Cardiac Foundation Dinner.
We dropped by briefly to take a few photos and explore the vast array of auction items, which included a guitar signed by all The Eagles; a chance to be trained to be a fighter pilot, courtesy of American Airlines and listed in the program as “priceless;” to bid on a coat once worn by country singer Kenny Rogers, and various items of sports memorabilia autographed by the likes of Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning (photo), Muhammad Ali (boxing gloves), Rod Stewart (soccer ball), Washington Redskin Chris Cooley (a jersey), and Orioles Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. (a collage).

Like his broadcasts, the guest list at the LKCF dinner always are eclectic: former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt; Jim Bohannon, Dan Snyder, Wolf Blitzer, Jim Zorn, Katherine Tallmadge, Bernard Shaw, Dan and Linda Moss, Heidi Klum, Bob and Sue Nardelli, Philip Kent, Dr. Mark Carlson, Rita Cosby and Tomaczek Bednarek, Wendy Walker, Lucy Spiegel, Nancy Baker, Pat Piper, Lisa Durham, Chaia King, Larry King, Jr., Shannon King, Bill and Jean Mulvihill, Jeff Dufour, Roxanne Roberts, Philip Langley, Janet Donovan, Barry and Naomi Cohen, Bill and Sue Novelli, Richard and Kathy Katz, Todd Goldstein, Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, Sid Young, and Larry and Sue Wineke.
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor
Larry King Live's long-time executive producer, Wendy Walker, with Shawn King
Pat Piper, co-author with Larry King on several books, with Sean Kelly
Former and current Larry King producers - Lucy Spiegel, Nancy Baker, and Lisa Durham
Colleen Evans of Ritz Carlton Hotels, Stephanie Pinol, Tana Leasure, and Audrey Slade
Ritz Cosby and Tomaczek Bednarek
Susie Xu and Michael Watts
Bob Nardelli poses with the auction item he intended to win - a guitar signed by Eagles Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh, and Timothy Schmit
Shawn Southwick King, Darrell Hammond, and Seal (courtesy of LKCF)
Larry King poses for a picture with a friend
Katherine Tallmadge
Hustler Magazine publisher, Larry Flynt, in his gold wheelchair
Bernard Shaw
The auction items are a large part of the Larry King Cardiac Foundation dinner
The "swag" bag
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol Joynt is the host of The Q&A Cafe, a talk show at Nathans Restaurant in Washington, D.C.