Monday, January 18, 2010

Washington Social Diary

The stunning entrance of the I. M. Pei designed Embassy of the People's Republic of China.
by Carol Joynt

The clever phrase used in the headline is not about a new nightlife photo exhibition, but the name of a popular and notorious website that was founded in Washington and tore across the cyber map to Baltimore, Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, New York and Los Angeles. It is a chatty, and sometimes catty, 24 hour universe of mostly twenty and early thirtysomethings who share or aspire to share bonds as preppies, yuppies, frat boys, Ivies, trust funders and the hyper social. And sex. There’s a healthy presence of “hooking up” in all its conjugations, particularly the hunt and reporting back on who got bagged, and when and where and how.

It matters because it says something about Washington’s young social set.

If Facebook is the “Mom” jeans of social networking, LNS is the edgy, smart mouthed counterpoint. It could jolt Mom and Dad. Facebook turned off many young people when their parents not only came on board but then had the audacity to “friend” them. Talk about a buzz kill. Parents can’t easily crash this party. Like much of social life, Late Night Shots is invitation only. What it also shares with the grown up social whirl is gossip. Because most of the postings are anonymous, the dish can be brutal and indiscreet. It is a social town square for an urban, warp speed generation that is fluent in connecting electronically, while just as challenged in the manners of old school interpersonal communication. Just try asking this generation not to text at dinner.

Reed Landry in a photo from his Late Night Shots website.
Neel Patel at a Halloween Party on Late Night Shots
For example, a girl posted that she wanted to have sex over the weekend but “I've never been able to bring myself to have a one night stand with someone that I meet out at a bar, feel like I need to have some sort of sober interaction with them before hooking up.” Fair enough. So maybe a phone conversation first? Nah. She continued in the site’s unique salty vocab: “So, single guys, if you're looking for a hot piece of ass, send me a brush up. We can spend the afternoon exchanging emails, then maybe some dirty texts, meet up tonight or tomorrow. About me 24, blonde, nice body.”

The next 30 posts were from guys offering themselves up or debating whether she was for real.

Washington’s nightlife, charitable fundraisers and “junior” social events play a vital role on the site, and lucratively for the charities. Each member is asked to list their top five favorite bars and restaurants, and the site is active in sponsoring parties at a lot of well known venues. Being out and about and available, and announcing when/where you’ll be out and about, known as “spotting,” are what drive the membership.

But for all the “forums” that relate to bar hopping and sex, there are also a number that focus on politics, world affairs, finances, careers, popular culture and survival skills in a privileged (leaning Republican) world. One member asked, “How much do you have to make to live in a million dollar house and send kids to a top DC private school?” The answers were surely from the realm of the “haves” but nonetheless thoughtful. “Million dollar home would give you a mortgage of around $4700 per month. Say you pay $35k at a top DC private school. Take off $160 for taxes, which leaves you with $155k to play around with. I think that's plenty.” Also: “If you live in District proper, a $1m house is a matchbox, and the taxes are higher so I'm thinking probably an extra $100k in gross is needed.”

A poster using the moniker “Peggy Noonan’s Lover” started a debate about Sarah Palin’s debut on FoxNews. “Did anyone see her? Is her lightbulb still as dim as it used to be? She is the death of the party.” The responses ranged from, “I think she's a compelling public figure but I don’t think she should be president,” to “Palin is an emptyshell,” to “I wouldn’t mind banging that shell.”

Prep schools and private colleges are routinely brought up in the forums. On Saturday a poster asked, “How far superior is Andover to St. Alban’s based on student intelligence?” There were a couple dozen responses, including the entitled: “I was accepted to Andover, Exeter, St. Paul’s and Hotchkiss. Decided to stay at STA. Aren't we splitting hairs here? If we're all in the top 99.99th percentile who cares?” Which was countered by the cynical: “What is most important is family history and the ability to pay the tuition. I have yet to meet anyone who went to either that I would consider having above average intelligence.”
Late Night Shots home page.
The site was founded by two graduates of the University of Virginia, Neel Patel and Reed Landry, who told Washington City Paper they have tens of thousands of members, lucrative ads, and are able to earn a living off their baby. In an email to me, Landry said, “LNS is a business that Neel and I have run for more than four years…. providing an online platform for members to learn more about DC's young social scene. As you may know, LNS has gotten a lot of press, both good and bad.” They have been slammed for too many blondes and too many men with “athletes shoulders,” but also, on a serious note, for some inflammatory late night drunken postings; trash talking by the trashed.

The LNS owners must cope with a policing issue that challenges all social networking sites. Landry said he and Patel “supervise the site meticulously and have put mechanisms into place so that our members can help us do this. Our goal is to allow LNS members to speak freely and share information, while still maintaining an air of civility and good humor, such that no one is attacked personally. With 1000's of posts made per day, we occasionally fall short, but we take this objective very seriously.”

Late Night Shots comes up a lot among Washington’s young scenesters, a site they love to hate and vice versa. After I was invited to joined LNS, for the next 48 hours I was wide eyed, amused, appalled and mesmerized while sampling forums about bars, how to buy diamonds, share secrets; country clubs, business school, anarchy, Goldman Sachs, book recommendations, computer games, the best Brazilian wax, perfume, haiku, and “Falatio Styles.” While the site doesn’t have spell check, fortunately it does have a “vocabulary” guide, which is essential to breaking through the dozens of code words.
A "spotter" page on Late Night Shots.
Again, Mom would be shocked. I leave you with a few of the tamest:

Creep: Cheating on one's partner. A creeper is the person with whom the creeping individual is creeping.

Orange Julius: Something fondly remembered from a prior era, often delicious or enjoyable.  Term can be applied to cougars' fading looks, or the glory days of Georgetown hot spots.  For example, "GR in 2008 was pure Orange Julius" or "her Orange Julius body wasn't the same after kids."
Pearl Harbor: A questionable maneuever in which one expresses deep love and affection to his sleeping partner.

Rasham Salam: Someone who repeatedly messes up or "drops" opportunities in life. This term was named after former NFL running back Rasham Salam who had a problem with fumbling the football throughout his NFL career.
Terrorize: To have sex with. See 'Crush', 'Tax', 'Murder'.
New York Social Diary attends a reception at the Embassy of the People's Republic of China.

One of the pleasures of Washington social life is the opportunity to visit the city’s splendid array of embassies, which range from the modest to the fabulous. There’s little doubt the relatively new Embassy of the People’s Republic of China is fabulous. It is an I.M. Pei limestone palace in the heart of a diplomatic compound known as the International Center.

Saturday night Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong welcomed 275 patrons of “The Embassy Series” for a piano recital by Chinese born artist Di Wu, who last year won Juilliard’s William Petsheck Piano Debut Recital Award. The Ambassador said the event was the first concert held at the embassy since it opened last year.
A guest arrives for the concert by Di Wu.
At the Western Entrance of the Embassy: Guan Shanyue's 1972 painting "The Great Wall of China."
Chinese calligraphy.
The red carpeted stairs that lead from the upstairs main halls down to the Grand Ball Room.
The octagon of the Western Entrance of the Embassy features a hanging sculpture by Xu Bing that consits of more than 300 plexiglass "petals." The Ambassador's "Chinese Style" reception room with an embroidered mural Suzhou style, which dates back more than 2500 years.
"Dawn at Huangshan Mountain" by contemporary artist Zhang Song was painted in 2009 on a single piece of rice paper. It is about 12 feet tall.
A closer look at the embroidery, the work of a dozen embroidery artists.
The mural is named "Bamboo Forest and Birds."
Jerome Barry with Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong, who announced details of China's humanitarian effort on behalf of Haitian earthquake victims. David and Joanna Slan pose with the Chinese Ambassador.
Ian Portnoy, Charles Parks, and James Packard-Gomez at the Ambassador's pre-concert reception.
The Embassy Series, which we wrote about last month with a visit to the Syrian ambassador’s residence, is a monthly music program at diplomatic missions throughout Washington. It’s also about food, and the Embassy’s culinary staff did not disappoint with a buffet of special preparations of fish, beef, chicken, cabbage, noodles, buns, sticky rice, crispy rolls and, to everyone’s amusement, American French Fries.

Yanhui Zhu of the cultural office explained everything on the buffet was made fresh in the Embassy kitchens, “but not the French Fries.” There were cocktails, too, including Russian vodka and Chinese wine.
The vast Grand Ballroom with Di Wu at the piano on stage.
Di Wu performs Robert Schumann's Davidsbundlertanze, Op. 6.
Di Wu, who made her professional debut at age 14 with the Beijing Philharmonic. Yanhui Zhu of the cultural office moved to Washington from Beijing only one month ago.
The exterior Chinese garden.
Before the concert, the Ambassador hosted a small reception in what’s called the “Chinese style” reception room, a beautiful, vaulted, carpeted, spacious room that features an incredible “Suzhou style,” 26-foot wide hand embroidered mural called “Bamboo Forest and Birds.”

Just like the full Embassy building, it deserved close inspection.
Bean curd noodles.
Seasoned celery with beans and peppers.
Spicy cabbage.
Irresistible bean curd buns.
Mussels with grains.
Crispy vegetarian rolls.
Chinese "fish n chips" with American fries.
All the dishes were prepared by the Embassy's culinary staff.
Guests enjoy the buffet after the concert.
Cocktails at the Chinese Embassy, featuring Chinese wine.
A few nights earlier we were at the Smithsonian for a visit to the Islamic world, a screening of “Journey to Mecca,” a documentary style dramatic IMAX film that tells the story of Ibn Battuta, a 14th century Morrocan explorer, as he rides his camel from Tangiers to Mecca for his first Hajj.

While the film is largely based in ancient times – with quite a lot of dessert landscapes – it ends in the modern era, as an estimated three million Muslims arrive at Mecca for the Hajj.
A party at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History following the screening of the Imax film, "Journey to Mecca," a 45-film about the trip Ibn Battutah made from Tangiers to Mecca in 1325, and ends up in the modern Hajj. See the buffets and the notables. The guest of honor is HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal, who greets many guests.
The film had its world premiere in Abu Dhabi two years ago, and since then has been making its way round the world. Wednesday’s party was hosted by United Arab Emirates Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba and Leo Daly, who is the godfather of one of the film’s producers, Taran Davies. The director is Bruce Neibaur.

“Journey to Mecca” is dedicated to Shemseddine Zinoune, a Casablanca born dancer and actor who portrayed Ibn Battuta. Soon after the film was completed he was killed in a car accident at the age of 28.
Franco Nuschese and Prince Turki al Faisal. (Photo: Tony Powell).
Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal al Saud thanks the audience for attending the screening of
"Journey to Mecca."
Prince Turki al Faisal. (Photo: Tony Powell). Prince Turki al Faisal and Jim Kimsey. (Photo: Tony Powell).
A scene from "Journey to Mecca."
The caravan to Mecca.
The Hajj as depicted to "Journey to Mecca."
While the screening party was attended by a who’s who of Arab world ambassadors, and Washington notables – Colin Powell, Michael Chertoff, Jane Stanton Hitchcock and James Hoagland, Ina Ginsburg, Leslie and Andrew Cockburn, Michael and Mariella Trager – the star of the party was Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal al Saud, son of the late King Faisal, nephew of King Abdullah, and a former Ambassador to the U.S. Guests flocked to him, fawned over him, posed for photos with him, as he moved through the vast rotunda of the Natural History Museum in his flowing robes.

Quite a site, and a remarkable contrast to the next day, when he lunched unnoticed at Café Milano. But then, he was in a light gray pin striped business suit and his security was discreet.
Upon arriving at the post-screening party guests got their hands washed in rose water.
The after-party at the screening "Journey to Mecca"
Todd Hathaway and Nora Maccoby Hathaway. James Hoagland and Jane Stanton Hitchcock at the "Journey to Mecca" screening.
Kimball Stroud and Mariella Trager. Kuwait's Ambassador, Salem Al-Sabah, with Kay Kendall and Jack Davies.
Colin and Alma Powell with Michael and Meryl Chertoff. (Photo: Tony Powell).
No alcohol was served but the fruit juice cocktails were popular. As was the spread.
Among many treats on the Middle Eastern buffet was flat bread.
Lamb kebab.
Earlier Thursday evening, we stopped briefly at the West End Ritz Carlton Hotel, where they poured Veuve Clicquot and passed lobster salad canapés in celebration of the hotel’s 10th anniversary.

Ritz executive Elizabeth Mullins and the chain’s Director of Public Relations, Colleen Evans, welcomed dozens of guests, including Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who’d just been named Washington’s “Secretary of Love and Relationships.” Lest you think she’s a new member of Late Night Shots, the title is honorary and has to do with “stimulating” tourism.
Celebrating ten years in Washington's West End, the Ritz Carlton.
President Barack Obama's signature in the Ritz Carlton's guest book.
The Ritz Carlton's Audrey Slade Little bites of lobster to go with flowing Veuve Clicquot ..
An Oscar de la Renta dress on exhibition at the Ritz Carlton party. Presumably what one should where while in residence. Gwendolyn Russell and Kevin Chaffee.
The lobby of the West End Ritz Carlton.
Washington's new "Secretary of Love,"
Dr. Ruth Westheimer.
Pat Skantze.
Guests enjoy the Ritz Carlton's 10th Anniversary party.
Luis, who has been with the Ritz, West End and elsewhere, for decades. The swag: an M&M bar.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C. Visit her at: