Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Washington Social Diary

The White House over Christmas weekend - still a source of public fascination.
by Carol Joynt

On New Year’s Eve a decade ago, rather than hitting a party or two, I asked a friend to join me in the middle of Key Bridge over the Potomac River. No, it wasn’t to keep me from jumping. Instead, at midnight, I screamed at the tops of my lungs. It was primal, Baskervillian, worthy of a full moon.

I was ecstatic to have the old year over and out. It was twelve months of struggle and survival, while keeping the chin up, best foot forward, publicly hiding the sweat, and all that. No doubt some of you may feel the same about 2009. Goodbye and good riddance.

The Obama Inauguration - the highpoint of 2009 in Washington.
President Barack Obama at the Ford's Theatre re-opening gala.
While 2008 was a gut punch as the economy collapsed, this past year – even in “recession proof” Washington – was the year of sucking it up. Misery loved company but misery also craved hope. And that’s how the year began, with the frankly joyous inauguration of President Barack Obama.

There was no way the glow could last, this is the real world after all, but the January uplift was wonderful and welcomed. We wanted change and we got change, even though for some it wasn’t the balls to the wall change they envisioned. In a Tweet, Ping and Text world, we’ve become unmoored from patience, resolve and reflection.

All these months later, after the tribulations of dealing with a partisan Congress, a cold and manipulative Wall Street and two festering wars, Obama is still standing, and smiling, sort of. Is he buffeted? A little. Is he wiser? He’s gotta be.

His fans here are mildly disappointed, and when you ask what they want to see from him in the New Year, they all say the same thing. They want boldness; crack down on Congress, man up to Wall Street and get the damned wars under control and wound down. But don’t stop there. They say he if doesn’t show boldness on every front, the mid-terms will be dire for him. The Democrats could lose the House.

Because the official city and the social city are joined at the hip, the tumult was reflected in social life. It still had a pulse but no vitality. Everybody was working hard and no one wanted to spend money. The annual charitable events happened but on understandably scaled back budgets.

The secret was to make a little bit seem like a lot, and a few succeeded. There was more chicken than beef on the menus, and booze almost completely disappeared in place of wine-only events. (A flask is the new must-have party accessory.) Where have all the party flowers gone? The way of music, lighting and swag.

If there’s any one way to sum up 2009 socially it is to point out there was only one White House State Dinner, and look what happened there? (btw, enough said about the Salahis.)
The Capitol, in early January 2009, last stages of preparation for the inauguration.
Here are some random moments of the year as experienced by Washington Social Diary:

THE BEST OF THE 1,000 INAUGURAL PARTIES: The inauguration eve supper at the Fairfax Hotel hosted by Buffy and Bill Cafritz, Phyllis George, Robert and Kelly Day and Ann and Vernon Jordan.
Esther Coopersmith, Vernon Jordan, Secretary of State designate Hillary Clinton, and
Dr. Ruth Westheimer.
MOST SUCCESSFUL REOPENING: The renovation of Ford’s Theatre (its umpty-umpth), with a gala that included a sartorially splendid President Barack Obama and First Lady Michele Obama and a festive dinner at the National Portrait Gallery’s stunning Kogod atrium.
The Ford's Theatre re-opening gala.
MOST ADORABLE FASHION EVENT: The “Fashion for Paws” fundraiser at the Italian Embassy that raised $240,000 for the Washington Humane Society. Yes, there were humans on the runway, too, but the doggies stole the show.
BEST NIGHTS OUT FOR THE BRAIN: A tie between the French Ambassador’s “Kalorama Lectures” at his residence and the gatherings of The Empire Salon at the handsome National Trust for Historic Preservation. Both are monthly, feature provocative speakers and debate among the guests. If the French have an edge, it’s that they also serve an elegant seated dinner. Passion in Washington & The French Perspective
Cocktails and shared interests make The Empire Salon a happy group.
French Embassy officials sit comfortably and listen attentively as Hubert Vedrine lectures.
THE BEST BALL: By a mile, this honor goes to the annual Meridian Ball. For one thing, it drew a contingent of elusive young White House staff, but for another it was off the hook. From the dinners at embassies to the ball itself, everyone got loose, which is healthy, and into the wee hours, which means way past Washington’s official bedtime.
Dancing to the magic of DJ Pitch One at the annual Meridian Ball ... For a night, forgetting the weight of the world.
MOMENT OF AUTHENTIC SADNESS: In a city where emotions get faked on a daily basis, the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy touched even the coldest hearts. The mourning was genuine.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi with Sen. Ted Kennedy at A Capitol Party for “John Adams.”
The Kennedy gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery, where Sen. Ted Kennedy has joined his brothers John and Robert.
BEST CULTURAL FUNDRAISER: The annual gala for the Sydney Harman Center for the Arts, which offered an after-show garden of delights dinner at the National Building Museum and an eye-popping disco extravaganza courtesy of Harvard’s “The Donkey Show.”
Shakespeare meets disco. Welcome to the party! A member of Harvard's "The Donkey Show." Members of "The Donkey Show" out of their disco era costumes.
BEST GUEST AT A CULTURAL FUNDRAISER: Sir Ian McKellan, the chief honoree at the Harman Center gala, who was cheerful throughout the night and posed affably with anyone and everyone who asked for a photo with him.
Haley Pivato, Ian McKellen, and Luca Pivato.
BEST SWAG: There was virtually no swag this year, but Washington Life magazine could not and would not disappoint. The swag bag is famous at their annual fete for the young social set. This year’s may have been a little less lavish, but it was packed to the brim with fun stuff. I still use the Obama champagne flutes.
The bars at the annual Washington Life fling were recession proof: busy and happy.
BEST FOOD: Whether it was a buffet at the annual Winter Antiques Show, countless large and small dinners at the gracious home of David and Katherine Bradley, or little cocktail soirees for Bonnie McElveen Hunter, Susan Gage Caterers takes party food to new highs and never disappoints, and this in a city with stiff competition. When the cave dwellers need a caterer, they call Susan.
David and Katherine Bradley - stand outs as Washington party hosts. Caterer Susan Gage.
A Susan Gage Caterers buffet at a Bonnie McElveen Hunter luncheon.
BEST PRIVATE DINNER: Former First Lady Nancy Reagan’s dinner for friends and former colleagues in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall after the unveiling of the statue of President Ronald Reagan in the Rotunda. No detail was missed, from soup to nuts.
Nancy Reagan poses for pictures and greets guests during cocktails before her dinner in
Statuary Hall.
MOST WANTED: More Obama people. They need to get out more, show up, be seen. They’ve had an awkward habit of accepting and then canceling at the last minute, or just not showing up, which needs to change. The city is eager to know them, and that’s a good thing and should be embraced.

MOST EFFECTIVE EVENT PLANNER: Carolyn Peachy could teach the master class in how to organize an event, regardless of whether it is official, private, corporate, for 30, 300 or 3000, with a small or large budget. She handles hosts and guests with firm grace. She practices the art of walking softly but carrying a big stick, and is the keeper of the best list in town. If Desiree Rogers were ever to opt out as White House Social Secretary, Carolyn Peachy would a likely and worthy successor.
Carolyn Peachy with Bennett Rink. Desiree Rogers.
RESTAURANT WARS: People ask, where to go to see and be seen: the new W Hotel rooftop, Bourbon Steak or Café Milano. The W has the money view and is definitely hot with the Twitter generation, but the attitude, the list and the velvet rope are ridiculous; Bourbon Steak is loved and hated in equal portions.

The bar has action but with an airport vibe, though the restaurant’s food is good. You must book a booth. Café Milano is Washington’s Swifty’s and Michael’s rolled into one. It’s showing its age, and you’ll get a better table if they know you, but once you are seated it’s almost certain you’ll see Senators, celebrities, socialites and rogues, and have a good meal, too: Washington’s New Point of View, Lunch in the Afternoon, Last But By No Means Least: KCH
The view from the rooftop bar at the W Hotel.
James Ginty charms his way across the table at Bourbon Steak.
Hostesses with the mostest: Buffy Cafritz and Ann Jordan at Cafe Milano.
John Kerry and Robert DeNiro at the Kennedy Center Honors weekend brunch at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
WHAT MATTERED MOST: Of all the columns I wrote this year the one for which I’m proudest is the day I spent at Mologne House at Walter Reed Army Hospital, sharing a barbecue lunch with wounded soldiers. They all moved me, but here’s an update on one of them. SPC. Brendan Marrocco of Staten Island.

While on a mission in Iraq on April 12, Brendan’s vehicle was hit by an Explosive Formed Projectile (EFP). A medic saved him from bleeding to death, but Brendan lost both arms, both legs above the knees, and sustained many other injuries. He’s had 13 surgeries.

SPC. Brendan Marrocco of Staten Island, at Mologne House.
Like so many wounded soldiers, his life after Walter Reed is the concern of his family, who have set up a trust to supplement the cost of his care, including “adaptive housing.”

His father, Alex Marrocco, wrote: “Brendan may have lost his arms and legs but he never lost his will to survive. Since waking up on day four, Brendan has maintained an extremely positive attitude about his recovery and life after recovery. He knows that his recovery will be long, setbacks will occur and that his future will be challenging. Regardless, he continues to focus and channel his energies on his recovery and is looking forward to the future.”

Brendan is only one of so very many, but if you want to help him out contributions may be made payable to The Brendan Marrocco Road to Recovery Trust and mailed to:

The Brendan Marrocco Road to Recovery Trust
P.O. Box 120197
Staten Island, NY 10312

From Washington Social Diary to our valued readers, here’s wishing you a New Year with less struggle, easier survival, and certainly happiness.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C. Visit her at: caroljoynt.com.