Monday, June 14, 2010

Washington Social Diary

The view of the Smithsonian's big 100th anniversary party as it began.
by Carol Joynt

To hear about it from those who know about this sort of thing, last week in Washington was historic – and it had nothing to do with politics. It was all about one young man and baseball. On Tuesday, June 8, throughout the city, people stopped what they were doing to either be there or watch on television as pitcher Stephen Strasburg made his major league debut. The 21-year-old’s appearance on the mound not only packed Washington Nationals stadium, it prompted The Washington Post to create a poster commemorating the occasion.

Washington Nationals President Stan Kasten, delivering on promises.
Stephen Strasburg, courtesy of NY Daily News.
Strasburg threw 94 pitches against Pittsburgh, the fastest achieving 101 mph of speed, scored 14 strikeouts, and had the sold out stadium jumping and rocking for most of the 7 innings he played. Sportscasters and sportswriters couldn’t find enough superlative words to apply to him during and after the game, which Washington won. For Strasburg it was a blur. “The only thing I really remember is the first pitch,” he said. “I was like, ‘you know what? I’m just going to go out there and have fun.’”

When Stan Kasten became President of the Nationals four years ago he asked Washington for patience, that he planned to build the team slowly, but that he would build a remarkable team. Strasburg went to the Nats as first pick in last year’s draft, landing a record $15.1 contract. At the time Sports Illustrated called him the “most hyped pitching prospect in the history of baseball.”

In addition to Strasburg’s MLB debut, last week also had the MLB draft, and because they had the league’s worst record last year, the Nats again had the top pick. They chose another hot prospect, catcher/outfielder/ third basemen Bryce Harper.

Is Kasten’s promise coming true? Baseball blogger Dan Picca wrote, “Strasburg and Harper are simply the best thing to happen to this franchise since major league baseball returned to DC. Will they replace Barack and Michelle Obama as the Capitol’s next power couple?” If ticket sales become an indication, possibly so.

A Nats game is unequivocally one of the best outdoor shows in town, and its in town, not somewhere out in the suburbs. Don’t be surprised to see the President checking out Strasburg before long, phenom to phenom.
The National Museum of Natural History, celebrating its 100th anniversary.

Years ago there was a Kevin Costner film called “No Way Out.” In addition to a memorable tutorial on how to best use the back seat of a stretch limo, it also included scenes that portrayed what can only be called the Big Washington Party. Costner appeared hunked up in a Naval officer’s dress uniform while Sean Young sashayed onscreen as Hollywood’s idea of what a Washington mistress would look like. (They don’t look like that).

An officer and a mistress, Costner and Young in "No Way Out."
The Big Washington Party scene was a political gala that included actors as top dogs, but also lots of extras as Washington party goers. The casting director got it right.

What Ilene Starger nailed is the often-overwhelming ordinariness of The Big Washington Party. Even in real life, at big soirees packed with the genuine article, their jobs may carry impressive titles but the people of this city look like so many extras. And that’s the way they want it. When it comes to Washington and social life, beige is glamour.

I thought of this the other night at a very “glamorous” Big Party hosted by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History for its 100th anniversary. It started with a VIP reception in the stunning Harry Winston Gallery, which folded into an even larger gathering in the museum’s four-story rotunda and under its signature feature, the Great African Bush Elephant. There was a big band playing American standards, elaborate lighting, lavish catering – an oyster bar as long as a boat, never-ending champagne – and the lengthy guest list was dense with Washington’s classic social stew: politicians, dignitaries, diplomats, lobbyists, agency people and, this being the Museum of Natural History, lots of scientists.
Come see the world's most famous blue diamonds! Cristián Samper, director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.
It looked exactly like a Hollywood rendering of a Big Washington Party, but aggressively minus the kinds of glittery celebs typically associated with big bang events.

The museum’s director, Cristián Samper is, however, right out of Central Casting. Both Colombian and American, dapper, with just enough accent to make you listen closer, he is a biologist known for his expertise in environmental policy. Along with Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough – who always looks like he just got back from an exotic expedition – Samper warmly greeted the guests at the VIP reception, including Sen. Patrick Leahy, Rep. Doris Matsui, Carlyle Group director David M. Rubenstein, Alan Spoon of Polaris, and philanthropists Robert and Eileen Kogod and Roger Sant.
The Hope Diamond in its display case. Found in India, 45.52 carats. A gift to the Smithsonian from Harry Winston.
The Wittelsbach-Graff diamond, on loan from Laurence Graff, shown publicly for the first time in 50 years.
In particular Samper recognized Henri Barguirdjian, president and CEO of Graff Jewelers, who underwrote the party and made it possible for the museum to currently have on display the renowned Wittelsbach-Graff diamond, a 31.06 karat deep blue knockout with a history that dates back to the 17th century. It is exhibited only steps away from its rival, the Hope Diamond, which is similar in appearance but larger and part of the Smithsonian’s permanent collection. These two diamonds have their own room, and it is adjacent to the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall, also a feast for the eyes; case after case after case of emeralds, rubies, sapphires and other diamonds of every hue, plus fascinating stones and minerals.

Maybe humans can’t help but appear as extras when they gather in the same room with rocks of such stunning proportions and legend.
Cristián Samper with Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Henri Barguirdjian, CEO of Graff, standing beside their prize, the Wittelsbach-Graff diamond.
Guests at the VIP reception, mostly donors, officials and friends, listen to Samper's remarks.
The VIP reception at its height.
The bar at the reception in the Winston gallery.
“We opened our doors to the public on March 17, 1910,” Samper said, “and during our first year we hosted 151,000 visitors. Last year we hosted 7.6 million. Over the course of our first century we have welcomed 293 million visitors.” He said the founding collections for the museum came from the United States Exploring Expedition in the 1830s.

“Science is at the heart of our work, feeding our curiosity to understand the world around us .... Many things have changed since this Museum opened. We now know that Earth is 4.6 billion years old, that there are hundreds of planets in other solar systems and that the universe is expanding.” One statistic Samper cited, which is not necessarily comforting, is that “in 1910 the world’s population was 1.7 billion. We are now almost 7 billion people.”

As Samper pointed out, “only a few hundred” of them were downstairs in the Rotunda, waiting for the VIPs to join the centennial celebration.
Admiring a rare ruby and sapphire bracelet in the Hooker gallery.
A plague honoring Janet Annenberg Hooker, for whom the National Gem Collection Gallery is named.
Precious stones and minerals.
A view of the Hooker Gallery.
This exhibition recreates what its like to go into a mine.
Varieties of quartz. A rare natural sandstone formation from Fountainebleau, France.
Dioptase, an uncommon mineral related to copper, that is found in Namibia, Kazakhstan and deserts of the southwest U.S.
A crystal as big as the Ritz, found in Brazil. The Greeks believed crystal was water frozen so hard it couldn't melt and so they named it cyrstallos, the Greek word for ice. Admiring the Hope Diamond is a two-fisted effort.
The hundreds included: Vicki Funk, Amb. Gilles Noghes, Aaron Goldberg, John Kress, Harold Robinson, Polly Penhale, Clyde Roper, Klaus Ruetzler, Scott Borg, Roy S. Clarke, Bill Melson, Julie Piraino, Amb. Andreas Kakouris, Mary Rice, Russell Feather, Pam Henson, Heather Ewing, Kanji Ishii, Kaoru Khan, Satomi Kote, Fumie Matsubara, Akira Nozawa, Christine Webb, Jere Broh-Kahn, Cesar Caceres, Stanley J. Kuliczkowski, Dean Edmonds, John Hoskinson, Ana Fabregas, James Lyons, Jerald Sachs, Dwight Smith, Marilyn Suzuki, Patricia Swaney, John Fahey, Jeff Minear, Robin Lawrence, David Pawson, Porter Kier, Christopher Addison, Sylvia Ripley, Rosemary Ripley, Paul Grubstein, Ford Bell, Francesca Craig, James Gentile, Alan Leshner, David O’Connell, Robert Fri, Ruth Selig, Jo Storey, Giuseppe Cecchi, Richard Thompson, Carol Miller, William Konze, Ada Kugajevsky, Unnur Thorgeirsson, Edward Rice, Paula Apsell, Robin Martin, Adrienne Mars, Susan Mars, Marshall Turner, Jocelyn White, Susan Fruchter, C. Wolcott Henry, Libby O’Connell, George Papadopoulos, Arthur Pelberg, Joy Wilson, Jaylee Mead, Jonathan Coddington, Bruno Frolich, Ann Woods Hawks, Adriana Casas, Douglas Norton, Amb. Dato Yusoff Abd Hamid, Scott Burns, William Crocker, Peg O’Connor, Melvyn Estrin, Doug Owsley, Don Dixon, G. Peyton Kelley, Angela Roberts-Reeder, Lyman Pang, Jeffrey Post, Deena Copeland, Anne Van Camp, Henry Simmeth, Carey Heiden, Meghan Malik, David Royle, Bruce Cohen and Wassane Zailachi, Marianne Lafiteau, Danielle Rossi.
The big party in the museum's rotunda under the African elephant.
The big band.
Wayne Clough chats with guests.
The big table of fresh shucked oysters. Partying under an elephant.
The buffet which included duck, pork, fish, salad, stuffed mushrooms and more.

Its that time of year when young men and women across the land approach an ending and start a new beginning. In other words: graduation. So please allow me a brief indulgent moment to publicly say to my darling boy, Spencer Joynt, who just graduated high school, congratulations for a job well done and for making me so very proud. I love you. Mom.
Spencer Joynt, graduate, wearing his late father's suit, shirt and tie. Spencer Joynt with friend Katie.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C.

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