Monday, December 7, 2009

Washington Social Diary

The brunch hosted by Liz and George Stevens, Jr. over the Kennedy Center Honors weekend.
THE SALAHI BEAT GOES ON (but hopefully not much longer ...)
by Carol Joynt

Washington, as we know, had quite a week, and by the weekend was still reeling from its central role in the kind of tabloid madness that usually attaches to the late Anna Nicole Smith and Michael Jackson, or Brangelina. The preferred joke was one variation or another on how Michaele and Tareq Salahi would find a way to crash last night’s Kennedy Center Honors. But the annual salute to talent had enough security to thwart even the world’s most famous gatecrashers.

The week was a series of tips and rumors about the couple. A few came like missives from Deep Throat, with requests to meet, where to meet, to turn off the cell phone and to make certain I wasn’t followed to the rendezvous. This did make me laugh. My favorite rumor was that they weren’t the only crashers at the White House State Dinner. A more plausible rumor was that Bravo, who cast Michaele in “The Real Housewives of Washington DC,” always planned for the State Dinner episode to be the show’s season finale, but may have spent some of last week following the couple on their latest rounds, which included not a little bit of lawyering. In fact, is that the IRS knocking on their door?
Not surprisingly, some of their cast mates are questioning whether they did the right thing, getting involved in the show. But it’s too late for that. What’s done is done. If they are having cold feet, they may not have to worry. Bravo could change the name to “The Real Salahis of Washington, DC.”

There’s no question Michaele and Tareq are more interesting in their new infamy than in their prior wannabe status, because as their lives crashed on the rocks what spilled out from below decks was a cargo of sensational family strife, debts, lies, cons and lawsuits. You can’t make this stuff up, and no doubt – behind closed doors – Bravo producers must be giving each other the high five. After all, when the DC “Housewives” franchise hits the air early next year, who won’t watch?

Well, possibly Desiree Rogers, who told friends and acquaintances she had one of the worst weeks ever. Thanks to a stoic Secret Service, and her friends, the President and First Lady, she’s weathering the storm with meaningful protection. But her career as Social Secretary is badly bruised, and if she stays in the job she will have work triple time to prove herself. One friend explained, “Desiree considers herself a big picture person. The little details of the job are not her strengths.” Details like managing the calligraphy staff, who are complaining they don’t have the names for invitations to White House holiday parties that are happening, well, now. Being big picture is fine when you have a strong support staff but, as a Social Office insider said, “everyone on her staff is young and inexperienced. They mean well but they are overwhelmed.”
Syrian Ambassador Imad Moustapha, his wife, Rafif al-Sayed Moustapha and their daughter at
a night of Syrian music on behalf of The Embassy Series.

As the week wound down I sought a diversion from the gatecrasher fiasco, and found it at the home of the Syrian Ambassador, Imad Moustapha, who is a writer and educator as well as a diplomat, and his wife, Dr. Rafif al-Sayed Moustapha.

They hosted a night of Syrian music on behalf of The Embassy Series, which sponsors similar evenings in other embassies throughout the city.
Jerome Barry, founder of The Embassy Series, welcomes guests in the Syrian ambassador's downstairs room.
Dinuk Wijeratne plays the piano's strings with Kinan Azmeh on clarinet.
Dinuk Wijeratne, a Canadian born in Sri Lanka, feels his music as he plays.
The performers were two stars of the Middle East, Kinan Azmeh on clarinet and Dinuk Wijeratne on piano. Both men are Juilliard graduates and Kinan, who commutes between Damascus and New York, is a doctoral music student of Charles Neidich at the City University. Their music, almost all composed by the performers, was at times haunting and romantic or lively and danceable. Dinuk has a way of playing not just the keys of the piano but the entire piano, plinking the strings or treating the wood frame like a bongo. It was an enchanting getaway for the mind and thankfully they have a CD, “Complex Stories, Simple Sounds.”

Every concert of The Embassy Series concludes with a dinner that features the native foods of the host country. Guests feasted on a lavish Syrian buffet as Kinan and Dinuk circulated and chatted. The Ambassador and his wife brought down their young daughter and baby son to join the party, giving the evening a warm family feel.
The musicians after the concert. Ian Portnoy, chairman of The Embassy Series, with Rafif al-Sayed.
Barbara Fenton, Alison Adler, who is on the board of The Embassy Series, and Monika Petter. Jan DuPlain.
The ambassador's drawing room.
Clockwise from above: A piece in the dining room at the Syrian ambassador's residence; Detail of one of the dining chairs at the Syrian ambassador's home; Over the dining room mantel, a Syrian painting of a village north of Damascus.
No alcohol is served as the Syrian Embassy's social functions, but there are sodas plus pitchers of water and juice.
Guests included Lisette and Jerome Barry, Len and Patty Campbell, Robert and Andrea Brown, Leonora Himes, James and Lisa Covington, Rosa and Ed Extract, Claire Lent, Stephen Kent, Alan Inouye, Deborah Murphy, Louis Reith, Joan Rosenfield and Ben Hole, John Borders and Susanne Sapa, Lloyd Huff, Shirley and Joseph Jackewicz, Alison Adler and Abraham Adler, Judith Lanius, Renee Gardner, Gary Tischler, Joyce Hagel and Charles Silverman, Patricia and David Sims, Morris and Deborah Simon, Adam Sherman, Sylvia Zoslow, Karen St. John, Ralph and Jane Travis, Henriette Von Kaltenborn, Steffi Stahlmeister, Carmen Niethammer, Walterina Clack, Mowaffak and Daleann Al-Hamad, Charlotte Catz, Robert and Andrea Brown.
The Syrian buffet moments before the guests hit the table.
Meat and cheese pies, and flowers.
A closer look at the buffet.
Clockwise from above: The ambassador's chef, Bachar Raji, with a lentil dish; Mamounieh, a dessert of semolina sauteed with sugar; Muhammara, made from spices and red peppers.
Guests return to the buffet more than once.
Patrons of The Embassy Series enjoy the Syrian buffet.
Dessert flown in from Damascus.

It was Kennedy Center Honors weekend, an action-packed and required extravaganza for anyone who wants authentic social credibility here. No, there were no “Real Housewives of DC” in sight, especially at the tightly edited brunch hosted by Liz and George Stevens, Jr., the creator and producer of the Honors program.

There were many jokes, though, like would the Salahis perhaps actually crash through the ceiling.
Shrimp and sushi on the buffet.
The brunch, held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, was a mosh pit of entertainers - from politics, media and showbiz. The buffet line was so long it became the scene of most of the schmoozing. Harvey Keitel with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. White House advisors David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett with Edward Norton; Michael York and Rep. Jane Harman; the British Ambassador, Nigel Sheinwald, and honoree Robert DeNiro.

Drifting virtually unrecognized through the dressed, fluffed and buffed crowd was Sharon Stone, showing all how to look absolutely smashing in practically no make-up. Mikhail Baryshnikov was effortlessly stunning, too. In Washington we just don’t typically see humans who look like they do.
Mussels on ice. The Mandarin's signature ice sculpture.
Candy apples.
All the celebrities were affable and approachable, with the possible exception of Norton, who gave the hand to cameras. Donald Sutherland, on the other hand, smiled warmly, as did DeNiro while he had a sitdown powwow with Kerry. Honoree Dave Brubeck sat with friends, including Billy Taylor. Herbie Hancock proudly showed off his camera and shot video. Chita Rivera and Lisa Mordente were everywhere, and smiling.

The food was especially popular and included salad, fruit, oysters, shrimp, salmon, Eggs Benedict, dim sum and bright red candy apples. For many it would be the last meal until much later Sunday night, after the taping of the Honors program, where the President and First Lady would be seated with the honorees, including also Mel Brooks, Bruce Springsteen and Grace Bumbry.
Valerie Jarrett and Ann Jordan. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Harvey Keitel and Gerald Rafshoon.
Carol Burnett. Actor and White House aide Kal Penn. Donald Sutherland.
Rafshoon, Bradlee and Greenspan have a powwow. That's Ed Markey's hand-with-Starbucks. David Axelrod listens to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius.
David Gregory and Beth Wilkinson. John Kerry and Robert DeNiro.
Herbie Hancock and Dave Brubeck. Cool jazz in the key of brunch.
Rep. Ed Markey talks with Victoria Reggie Kennedy. Michael York jots down a number for Rep. Jane Harman as she talks to Pat York.
Edward Norton: "No pictures, no pictures." Mikhail Baryshnikov, with Liz Stevens on his right. An approving smile.
Dave Brubeck and his wife, Lola. George Stevens, Jr.
Amb. Sheinwald and Sen. Kerry. Barbara Walters.
Sharon Stone. Ben Bradlee, Eden and Gerald Rafshoon and (the back of) Sally Quinn.
People come in from everywhere for the Honors gala, and there were many satellite parties and dinners. Saturday night at Café Milano, designer Bunny Williams and her husband, the antiques dealer John Rosselli, tossed a cozy Honors and holiday dinner for a few old and new friends. Somewhere between the martinis, the Pinot Grigio and the Irish Coffee the evening became totally off the hook, which was fine for all involved: Bunny, John, Peter Quinn, Amy and Richard Zantzinger, and decorators Barry Dixon and Michael Schmidt. Unquestionably one of those nights that Milano handles with aplomb and where the photos tell the story.
John Rosselli and Cafe Milano owner Franco Nucchesne.
The art of the business card exchange.
Richard Zantzinger. Michael Schmidt.
CJ and Peter Quinn.
Bunny Williams. John Rosselli.
Michael Schmidt, Peter Quinn and Amy Zantzinger. Amy was Social Secretary in the Bush White House.
Bunny Williams and Barry Dixon at Cafe Milano.
The Irish Coffee. The aftermath of the Irish Coffee: Michael Schmidt and Peter Quinn.
There were gifts for all from Bunny and John.
After dinner, waiting for the cars.

The job’s been offered and, according to those who know him well, George Stephanoupolous will be the new host of ABC’s Good Morning America. What this means for George and his wife, actress, comedian and “Oprah” regular Ali Wentworth, is a move to New York with their daughters. He’ll eventually give up hosting “This Week” when the network names a new host – quite possibly Terry Moran. Though George and Ali don’t want to leave Washington, there’s more professional opportunity for her in New York, and George will bring some needed muscle to the breakfast show arena.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C. Visit her at: