Monday, July 12, 2010

Washington Social Diary

Hot, steamy, sleepy, empty Washington in summer - here along the C&O Canal in Georgetown.
by Carol Joynt

It’s full on summer here. Hot, steamy, quiet, empty. On cable news it may look like the town is busy, but it's not. At least not last week, or at least not in public view. A crushing heat wave compromised air conditioning and human vitality. Mid-week the temp hit 105. More than anything we wanted a steady rain, which we got on Saturday, seemingly only moments before his doubters blamed even the heat wave and drought on President Obama.

Here’s one way to beat the heat in Washington: lunch with a friend in the shade on the terrace of Café Milano, enjoying lobster salad and a glass of rose. A friend and I shared one of the few bottles of Domaine Tempier Bandol Rose 2009 allocated to the Washington market. I swear, if you can’t languor on the terrace of the Hotel du Cap d’Antibes, this wine is the Hotel du Cap in a glass. It also makes the air seem about fifteen degrees cooler.
A prized bottle of Domaine Tempier Bandol Rose. Domaine Tempier Bandol Rose, aka Hotel du Cap in glass.
Clockwise from top: Cafe Milano's Lobster Salad with Hearts of Palm and Avocado; At Cafe Milano, grating the cheese on the Veal Risotto; Cafe Milano's salad of Tomato and Mozzarella.
And then there was the midsummer’s spy scandal. People from outside the Beltway wanted to know what the reaction was among people who live in Washington. Apart from the expected front-page headlines and hasty diplomatic maneuvering to get them booted back to the (former) USSR it was essentially “ho hum.” In a town where spies and spying are parts of the fabric of life it lacked a certain “A” list intrigue. It seemed the cast of characters were to real spying what the “Real Housewives of Washington” are to, well, real housewives of Washington.

?We take spies for granted here. At least our own spies. They live around the corner, down the street. They are at cocktail parties and dinners. They hide in plain sight. If you move to Virginia’s Rappahannock County practically every other neighbor will be former CIA, including all the way up to the head of the agency.

Valerie Plame Wilson.
In her book “Fair Game,” former CIA covert operative Valerie Plame Wilson wrote eloquently about living her “cover” as a wife and mother in Washington, at least until her cover got sensationally blown. That story will be on theater screens at some point this year, after a promising premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

Unfortunately for Bravo – and all media, for that matter – the Russian spies are off limits. In their deportation plea agreements they signed away the right to sell their stories. That’s too bad. They had just enough meat and faux meat to make for juicy reality TV. You know, “Real Spies of America and Russia,” as if produced by Borat.

Anna Chapman, for example, aka Anna Kushchenko, would be typecasting as the requisite big-haired femme fatal bad girl; Tracey Lee Ann Foley (Elena Vavilova) as the real estate agent, because there’s always a real estate agent in the mix, and her husband, Donald Howard Heathfield/Andrey Bezrukov, with the mixed-used mystery “consulting” job. Travel agents play well in reality TV, and this saga can provide that, too, in the form of Mikhail Semenko of the Travel All Russia agency based in Arlington, VA. Also in Arlington were the “smiling, attractive” couple and parents of a toddler, Patricia Mills and Michael Zottoli, who in their off (or is it “on”) hours are Natalia Pereverzeva and Mikhail Kutsik.

The government apparently had been on to them for years but their actual value or threat is debatable. According to The Washington Post, it remained “unclear if they did any harm to the U.S. government.” Meaning they may well have been spies “lite” rather than deeply scary, like those others of recent vintage, Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames. They were Americans, not Russians, and the damage they did was severe and dangerous and costly. Both are serving life terms.
The spy events of the week were a good excuse to meet a friend for a drink at Russia House, notorious in Washington for a mysterious back room, the possible presence of Chechen mobsters out of “Eastern Promises,” and martinis so powerful it would be easy to break cover and spill state secrets. Oh, and its fun.

The bartender, Eugene, from Kashikistan, gave a helpful tutorial on the relative merits of “Elite” Stolichnaya versus the everyday Stoli, and then mixed, shook and poured with bravura. Asked if business had picked up courtesy of the Russian spy scandal, his reaction was first to laugh and then to shrug.
Outside Russia House restaurant and lounge. The Vodka menu at Washington's Russia House.
The caviar menu at Russia House.
Inside Russia House restaurant and lounge.
Eugene the bartender, working his martini magic. At Russia House, the Stoli Elite Martini made by Eugene.
Three martinis up at Russia House.
Just some of the vodka selection at Washington's Russia House restaurant and lounge.
Russia House at the cocktail hour in the main bar.
Russia House has several cocktail lounges. This is just one.
She didn't want to be identified: a bartender at Russia House.

The French Ambassador, just about the busiest host in town, last Friday tossed a festive farewell reception for the Embassy’s popular Press Counselor, Emmanuel Lenain. Like his boss, Emmanuel has a bond with America, her politics in particular, and during his years in Washington made it a point to witness the political process first hand. He attended the presidential nominating conventions, among many other events. He also created the popular “Kalorama Lecture” series that takes place at the residence on a monthly basis. But duty calls. He’s been named French Consul General for Shanghai, and will be off. At the reception his good friend Joseph Findaro, however, said he expects to see Emmanuel back in Washington before too long, “but when he comes back it will be as Ambassador.”
Emmanuel Lenain, about to be off to Shanghai, pays compliment to his boss, French Ambassador Pierre Vimont.
Emmanuel Lenain talks about his years in Washington.
The hands of an ambassador.
Le buffet.
Joe Findaro, lobbyist with Native American tribes, with his good friend Emmanuel Lenain.
Emmanual Lenain, right, with friends at the French Ambassador's residence.
A convivial moment at Emmanuel Lenain's farewell party.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C.

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