Monday, September 21, 2009

Washington Social Diary

Two large-scale murals in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom at the National Archives Building in Washington D.C. depict fictional scenes of the presentation of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The murals were recently restored to their original beauty.
The Real Housewives of D.C.? A Well-Sourced Guess
by Carol Joynt

What better way to start a new workweek than with a little fodder for the gossip mill, particularly of the Real Housewives variety? As in, who will be the Washington cast of Bravo’s hit franchise? Is this definitive? Who knows? But it’s based on the finest investigative journalism among this city’s most impeccable sources - stylists, hairdressers, maitre’d’s and party planners.

Mai Abdo in Washingtonian Magazine.
Mary Amons. Courtesy of
Lynda Erkiletian with Muleh owner, Christopher Reiter.
Tariq and Michaela Sahali. Photo by John Arundel/flickr.
The shooting starts any day now, if not already. For every woman on the list, there are at least another five who claim to have been asked but turned down the invitation. I’m out and about a lot, but I’ve met only one of these women. And there wasn’t a lot on the web about any of them. Still, when I ask around for casting details, these same names are mentioned over and over. So here are the presumed, ah, victims, I mean, Washington reality stars-to-be:

Mai Abdo, mother of two, cited by Washingtonian magazine as one of Washington’s best dressed women. She is Director of Leasing for her husband’s Abdo Development company. For Washingtonian, Mai recalled her worst fashion disaster:

“I showed up overdressed for an event that was black tie optional. I was wearing a long, colorful Missoni frock. The other women were wearing black, knee-length, conservative St. John suits. I hate invitations that are vague like that.”

Mary Schmidt Amons, mother of 5, founder of the “District Sample Sale,” who revealed her beauty secrets on “Besides botox? It’s rid me of migraines, so it’s a medical necessity now! Staying active, playing tennis, laughing with my kids, eating healthy (raw, when I can), drinking good wine (a must!), wearing proper sunscreen, getting away with my husband, and most importantly, nurturing my inner spirit, as it is directly reflected on the outside.”

Lynda Erkiletian, described by Washington Examiner columnist Jeff Dufour as owning Washington’s “top modeling agency.” Her Georgetown-based office boasts that it represents “500 models and stylists.” Her lengthy client list includes Tiffany, Ralph Lauren, Saks, Neimans, and Vanity Fair, Elle and Allure magazines. Erkiletian “believes in giving back to the community” and supports many local charitable events.

Michaela Salahi, described on the web as a “tall, blond, former fashion model,” is said be a major polo fan. The Washington Post’s Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts recently reported some travails of her husband, Tareq, a polo match organizer and winery owner, who they said is behind a controversial lawsuit against another polo group, to the dismay of the venerable U.S. Polo Association.

Lisa Wernick Spies early on made it loud and clear she was “dying” to be on a reality show. She is a republican fundraiser married to Charlie Spies, a lawyer who was the chief financial officer of Mitt Romney’s failed presidential campaign. She is the contact for an October “Day On Capitol Hill” for women only, sponsored by the Republican Jewish Coalition, that promises “a full day to visit with Members of Congress in our nation’s capital.” The day caps with a dinner at Morton’s steakhouse, where the “men are welcome to join.”

Nary a Supreme Court or Congressional wife among ‘em, but nobody ever seriously expected the cast to include women whose husbands are on the public payroll. My list may not be 100% accurate, but as often as I’ve heard these names, it’s gotta be close. Some locals wonder, in a city that is majority African American, is Bravo still looking for the black Washington housewife, or did they all politely say “no, thank you.”

Good luck, Washington Housewives, you’ve got a challenge on your hands matching the quantum attitudes and wig-pulling of Atlanta, the wine consumption and blondness of Orange County, the devious family agendas of New Jersey and the fierce social ambition of New York.
We The People: the actual United States Constitution in its impenetrable case at the National Archives.
Dinner with The Declaration of Independence

Washingtonians can sometimes take our treasures for granted. We think of them as tourist attractions. But it’s impossible to be casual in the company of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution. The National Archives, celebrating its 75th birthday, held a black tie dinner in their company the other night, and most of the guests – some very tough to impress - took a moment to stop and stare with wonder at these monumental and irreplaceable charters of American freedom.

The National Archives building itself is a proud treasure. It was designed, like the West Building of the National Gallery of Art, by John Russell Pope. Outside and inside it is formidable, a profound Classical Revival celebration of all things limestone, marble and brass.
The light is low on purpose, and the ink on the parchment is faded, but this is the Declaration of Independence.
Beverly and John Fox Sullivan study the U.S. Constitution.
The U.S. Constitution, well-guarded, was brought out of its vault for the dinner.
The dinner was held in the awe-inspiring and looming Rotunda, where, in addition to the documents, the room is also graced by two large-scale murals, known as the “Faulkner Murals,” which depict scenes of the presentations of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The murals were originally created in 1936 by Barry Faulkner and restored several years ago.

The original parchment documents, encased in protected glass and aluminum cases filled with “argon” gas, are usually on display only during “business” hours, when the Archives Building is open to visitors. Otherwise they are hydraulically hidden away in impenetrable subterranean vaults. Historian Michael Beschloss, talking about the security system over dinner, said it’s debatable just how deeply underground they are stored. There could be some myth and legend at work, he laughed. Not to mention the powers of lore that come with being the focus of a Hollywood blockbuster, like “National Treasure.”
The view from the rotunda that holds the "Charters of Freedom," looking across the dinner setting, and out the main door, where champagne was served after dinner.
The Faulkner Mural of signers of The Declaration of Independence. It wraps around the Rotunda above the treasured document.
Michael Beschloss talks to the guests about fellow historian Annette Gordon-Reed.
Waiters at the ready as guests come from the award ceremony to dinner.
A quartet serenades the dinner guests.
But for this special dinner, the documents were out and on display, and quietly watched over by two stern guards. We could look, we could take pictures, but no flashbulbs, please. The dinner was preceded by a cocktail party and the presentation of the annual “Records of Achievement Award,” given by the Foundation for the National Archives. The Foundation is the museum’s fund-raising component, a necessity for even our most august institutions.

Serving the main course, Stuffed Guinea Fowl with vegetables.
This year’s honoree was the esteemed law professor Annette Gordon-Reed, who won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in History for her book “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family.” Her first book, 1997’s “Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy,” scrupulously addressed the relationship between the second U.S. President and the slave, a full year before DNA tests showed Hemings bore Jefferson several children.

Gordon-Reed grew up in segregated Brownsville, TX, where her parents insisted she attend a white school to get a better education. It was a ground-breaking move. She first discovered Thomas Jefferson in 3rd grade, through a book about a slave boy, and at 14 she joined the “Book of the Month Club,” to obtain more books about Jefferson. The passion continued through Dartmouth College and the Harvard Law School, where she was a member of the Law Review. She teaches law at Rutgers and lives in Manhattan.

Gordon-Reed learned about the award in a phone call from her friend, Beschloss. “This is overwhelming. Of all the things I’ve gotten,” she said, “it is especially appropriate that I would win this award…I am 100 percent an archive rat. Even with everything online, you still have to go to the archives.” She said, “places like this, all over the world, are my favorite places to be.”
Dinner guests taking their seats in the Archives foyer off the Rotunda.
Annette Gordon-Reed with Ann Jordan Carol Wheeler and Michael Beschloss
The first course, Citrus Glazed Striped Bass with Fresh Vegetable Slaw.
After dinner conversation.
Guests at the dinner included:  Sen. Lamar and Honey Alexander, Lyndon K. Boozer, Maureen and Charlie Cragin, Tom Duesterberg, Riley Temple, Sharon Fawcett, Jane Fawcett-Hoover, Arelene Albert, Richard Eliasberg, Giuliana Buillard, A’lelia Bundles, Patrick Butler, Thora Colot, Franck Cordes, Bitsey Folger and Sidney Werkman, Angela Fox, Fruzsina Harasanyi, John Fox Sullivan and Beverly Sullivan, William Hoover, Kartrina Gordon, Erica Godfrey, Jackson Frost, Maryilyn Wood Hill, Joanne Huggard, Raymond Garcia, Sean McCormack, Cappy McGarr, Peter and Judy Kovler, Nick and Mary Lynn Kotz, Ann Jordan, John and Virginia Kaneb, Stefanie Mathew, Molly Moynihan and Alex Schmandt, Thomas and Bobette Mills, David McKean, John Quinlan, David Pryor, Jon Peede, Marvin and Melanie Pinkert, Lawrence F. O’Brien, James Nolan, Henry Rivera, Joyce Wasserstein, Robert Weil, Marvin Weissberg, Harry Thayer, David and Carolyn Stump, John and Diana Zentay, Harold and Nancy Zirkin, Jay Zimmerman and Mars Child.
Before sunset, the grand exterior of the National Archives Building, designed by John Russell Pope. After sunset, and the dinner celebrating the Archives 75th anniversary.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C. Visit her at: