Monday, October 4, 2010

Washington Social Diary

"Groom" Matt Harvey takes a break at “The Unison Driving & Debating Society Annual Fall Drive."
by Carol Joynt

In the lexicon of equestrian pursuits, what’s best known to most people are racing, riding, jumping, hunting and eventing. I don’t participate in any of those except as an observer, but last week, thanks to “The Unison Driving & Debating Society Annual Fall Drive,” I went carriage riding for the first time. I climbed into the passenger seat of a handsome “coach and four” and got an exhilarating ride that beats just about anything Disney has to offer.

Each time my host Douglas Kammerer was ready for his four chestnut thoroughbreds to move forward he gently tugged on the reins and quietly said, “Walk on.” With that the horses stepped lively and the carriage began to roll along yet another back road of the Virginia hunt country. In every direction the views were beautiful, with an early autumn hint of the changing colors to come. The requisite Dalmatian “coach dogs” raced ahead or kept pace beside us. Sometimes they broke away to chase squirrels or jump in ponds.
Getting ready to go at the Unison, Va., home of Douglas and Queenie Kemmerer.
The iced champagne is loaded in the back.
Just in case, but fortunately the umbrellas won't be needed. Rules of the road, handed out to "passengers" upon boarding.
Queenie and Douglas Kammerer, both of whom are "whips."
Visually we were a painting. But the clomping sound of hooves and the crunch of gravel under wheels conjured historic/Hollywood fantasies of the Wild West as much as England and Europe in the 18th Century. In fantasy, I was riding with the Royals from one palace to another, or we were pioneers crossing the Great Plains, and in another it was Marie Antoinette, et al, escaping into the night. You don’t have to be a “horse person” to enjoy the thrill of the ride. It connects on so many levels to where we come from and who we are as an evolving society.

Once upon a time, this was how people got around, ranging from horseback to every kind of coach, carriage and wagon. On a relative basis Douglas Kammerer’s custom-made coach, known as a “roof seat brake,” like the other vehicles in our caravan, would have been considered the Lamborghini or Ferrari of its time. My eyes feasted on exquisite details of paint and lacquer, antique lamps, varnished wood picnic “coolers,” and so many forms of leather: gloves, reins, seats, bridles.
Stopping for an important sniff.
The "unicorn" belonging to Sandy Lerner of Ayrshire Farm. Unicorn refers to the three rather than four horses.
Charles Matheson and his wife, Julie Martin, with guests and groom.
Doug Kammerer keeps a gloved hand on the reins at all times.
Riding beside Douglas was his wife, Queenie, who is as much an expert “whip” as her husband, having, as he points out, “driven at the National Horse Show, Madison Square Garden and the annual coaching drive in Saratoga Springs.” He adds: “Her uncle was Walter Hurdman, one of the sports most active whips.”  Doug and Queenie’s romance bloomed over coaching. They pursue it as hobby and sport from April to October, going out as much as four to five times a week. When it snows, they take out the sleigh.

On this particular Saturday drive we were seven altogether, with roles and etiquette to follow. Up front were Douglas and Queenie. Sally Hosta, Kim Hart and I were in the middle, as passengers. In the back were “Coachman” Baker Johnson and “Groom” Matt Harvey. Baker and Matt were up and down from the carriage, tending to the horses, every time we stopped or even paused.
Possibly the best way to enjoy bubbly, during a mid-morning stop while coaching in Virginia. This is "Coachman" Baker Johnson. "Passenger" Kim Hart.
Cell phones are not allowed, but rules do get broken.
"Whip" Douglas Kammerer, dressed impeccably. Charles Matheson.
"Coachman" Baker Johnson and "Groom" Matt Harvey, riding in the "back seat."
I was told to wear a hat, which I did, and when I climbed up in my seat I was asked to cover my lap with a blanket, which I did, and then Doug handed me a little book with additional rules of proper carriage etiquette.

For example, “If you are driving in company with another who holds the reins, you should most carefully abstain from even the slightest interference by word or act with the province of the driver.” And, “If there be any point of imminent danger where you think his conduct wrong, you may suggest a change but it must be done with great delicacy and must be prefaced by an apology.”

So, I sat back, held on, tried to keep my mouth shut, took pictures and enjoyed the fantasies and the reality.
Rounding the corner on a back road.
Look who's leading the way? Ready for their close up during the lunch break.
Queenie and the ham biscuits.
Queenie organizing lunch. Baker Johnson and the cookies.
Another rule is that you stop from time to time – mostly to eat and drink and the drink of choice is well-chilled champagne, though a flask of good Bourbon would not be inappropriate. An hour into the journey we drove into an open field where all the carriages lined up and parked. The horses did what horses do, while the dogs rested under a carriage. Ham biscuits, shrimp salad, cookies and champagne were passed from carriage to carriage. Since it is called the “Driving & Debating Society, this was where the debate occurred, as in, “how much longer for lunch?” and “how soon after lunch should we take a cocktail break?”

As it happened, lunch was about 45 minutes, then back on the carriages, and the cocktail break happened about a half hour later. Then another hour of driving, a stop to pick up some new passengers, and more cocktails and more driving. Because the top speed is about 7 miles an hour, and the horses are sober, drinking and driving is not an issue, it’s practically a cause.
Sally Hosta offers napkins and shrimp salad.
The pause before carrying on with the journey.
A man, his carriage and his dog. .Matt Harvey.
Enjoying a well-earned rest.
Douglas and Queenie Kammerer go carriage driving in the night as well as the day. Out in the Middleburg area they are famous for their “moonlight” carriage rides, which also include champagne and dinner by candle light under the open sky.

The Kammerers live to coach and they make it fun. Their other vehicle, according to Doug, “carries twelve on top and four inside and was built in 1882 as a Staff Coach for England's Royal Artillery officers.” Initially a sailing buff, who called San Francisco his homeport, Doug was introduced to “two in hand” coaching by a friend and the bug bit him. He mastered driving two horses and then took up “four in hand” and soon enough traded in sheets for reins and switched from a marina to a stable. Sails or horses, its still about weather, form, challenge and adventure.

The other “whips” who participated in the drive were Carl Cox, Ann Denison, James Hundley, Eric Jensen, Sandy Lerner, Paul Tyrrell, Leo Rocca, William Staples and Charles Matheson, plus assorted friends, coachmen and grooms.
Finishing up lunch.
Moving again, after lunch. Next stop is for cocktails.
Douglas Kammerer, Kim Hart and Sally Hosta at the cocktail stop.
The "debating" part of the "Unison Driving & Debating Society."
Sally Hosta. Sir Axle, the coach dog.
Leo and Chris Rocca.
Carl Cox. William Staples.

The Meridian International Center has a lofty title and a lofty mandate: “strengthening international understanding through the exchange of people, ideas and culture.” Here’s something else they do that’s not so lofty: they give one of the best parties of the year, their annual ball, this year bigger than ever because it marked the organization’s 50th Anniversary.

The table setting.
However, the celebration began the night before with a dinner at the State Department hosted by the board chairman, James Blanchard, a former governor of Michigan, and Meridian president and CEO, Stuart Holliday. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke, as did Assistant Secretary Ann Stock, while honors were bestowed upon Elizabeth Bagley, the department’s Special Representative for Global Partnership’s, and to French Ambassador Pierre Vimont, whose days in Washington sadly are numbered as they count down to a new assignment.

It was an evening dense with titles, which is a Washington specialty. The guest list included friends, patrons, corporate big shots and many members of the diplomatic corps. The food, from Occasions Caterers, was delicious and just right for a night of monsoon rains and early autumn chill: Squash soup, rack of lamb, and “50th Anniversary Chocolate and Mocha Terrine.”

The Benjamin Franklin Room, where the dinner was held, is one of the capital’s most handsome venues for any kind of event, but particularly a dinner under the crystal chandeliers, historic paintings on the walls, candle light, thick carpets, and with views toward the cloud-shrouded monuments and Capitol. The sky at twilight was a burly gray and blue.
One of the several large and handsome chandeliers in the Benjamin Franklin Room.
The ceiling in the Benjamin Franklin Room of the State Department.
The view from the State Department roof at the end of a heavy tropical rains.
Roasted Hubbard Squash Soup from Occasions caterers.
Rack of Loin of Lamb with Quince.
50th Anniversary Chocolate and Mocha Terrine.
Secretary Clinton did not stay for dinner. She appeared in every way to be coming directly from and returning directly to her desk. But she did graciously welcome the guests and commend Meridian for its service to the country. “I want to really express the appreciation of the administration for all you do to present the values of the United States to others. Nothing substitutes for the building of personal relationships.”

Bagley was introduced by Scott as the person who has “redefined public diplomacy.” Midway through her “thank you” speech, Bagley had a cell phone interruption at the podium, but it was her own phone. She explained that she had someplace else to be. “I have to catch a 10 p.m. flight at Dulles.”
Shortly before dinner began.
Jake Stafford, Communications Director for the Meridian International Center. Meridian Trustee Marie Royce (one last call before the speeches).
Hillary Clinton, left, waiting to speak.
Asst Secrerary of State Ann Stock studies her notes before going to the podium. Meridian Board Chairman James Blanchard introduces Hillary Clinton.
Stuart Holliday and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Hillary Clinton: "Nothing substitutes for building personal relationships."
Elizabeth Bagley with her Public Diplomacy Award from the Meridian International Center.
Soon to be outgoing French Ambassador Pierre Vimont, accepting "special recognition" on behalf of President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C.

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