Monday, September 19, 2011

Washington Social Diary

Tareq and Michaele Salahi interviewed by Carol Joynt on "The Q&A Cafe" program.
by Carol Joynt

It’s been a challenge to figure out where to begin this column because it covers a week that has been almost too diverse. It began with sadness, then moved on to absurd and silly, then refreshing and diverting with a sudden trip to New York, along the way a couple of good parties, and then back to Washington and more sadness.

Howard Stern, explaining why he sampled some reality TV at the beginning of the week, said he needed “something stupid” after the somber and moving television marathon that marked the 10th anniversary of the 9.11 terrorist attacks. All Howard needed to do was look to Washington, and for a change not Capitol Hill or the White House. What we offered instead was a return of the Salahis, Michaele and Tareq, the so-called “White House gatecrashers,” and stars of the ill-fated reality show Real Housewives of Washington, DC. Pop culture commentator Tony Kornheiser called them, “the gift that keeps on giving.” True that.
Michaele and Tareq Salahi in happier times. Michaele and Tareq Salahi at the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown hotel after their Q&A Cafe interview.
The media scrum that surrounded the Salahis after their Q&A Cafe interview.
You had to be on Mars to miss the news – and maybe it even got to Mars – but Tareq reportedly called TMZ and the FBI (because that is the logical order of things) to alert them that his wife may have been “kidnapped.” At the same time Michaele called authorities to assure them she was fine. The truth was she’d bolted. According to all kinds of sources, including a publicist for the band, she’d run off to Memphis to be with her musician lover, guitarist Neal Schon of the 80's rock band Journey. Tareq in turn made another logical move – he went out on the town with Michael Lohan, Lindsay’s dad and a reality TV veteran, having appeared in the last season of “Celeberity Rehab.”

Tareq and Michael did exactly what “on the town” means in Washington: they dropped by a Capitol Hill reception followed by dinner at a high profile restaurant, Art & Soul, owned by Top Chef star Art Smith, making for a reality TV trifecta.
‪Michaele Salahi and Tareq Salahi interviewed by Carol Joynt, Pt 1.
‪Michaele Salahi and Tareq Salahi interview, Pt 2.
‪Michaele Salahi and Tareq Salahi interview, Pt 3.
The assumption was this was a publicity stunt to promote the court-ordered bankruptcy auction of trucks, barrels, old wine and gear from the Salahi family’s defunct Oasis Winery in Hume, Va. The auction was yesterday.

I visited over the weekend to check out the scene, mostly because Tareq said his long-term plan was to re-open the winery with a gala affair. Was that possible? From what I saw he would first need to bring the vines back from the dead. I encountered his mother, who was friendly enough but took off like a speeding bullet when I asked if I could take her picture. You get the feeling with Mrs. Salahi that if she could she would spank her son and send him to his room without dinner.
‪Michaele Salahi and Tareq Salahi interview, Pt 4.
‪Michaele Salahi and Tareq Salahi interview, Pt 5.
While the winery itself has had better days the land is still beautiful, but the land was not for sale. Only the stuff. On the winery building was this odd sign, which I quote verbatim:

“This venue is being recorded and may be aired on Television for drama or promotional activities in any matter we are associated or involved in, including any Television Network Broadcast company worldwide that may be filming any programming or associated or affiliated to the events associated with us.”

One nearby resident speculated that if a crowd showed for the auction it would be made up mostly of media and curiosity-seekers rather than serious bidders. The local Fauquier Democrat newspaper, who did the most thorough reporting on the winery drama, quoted winemaker Brian Roeder of Barrel Oak Winery: “I’m not going to waste my time. My understanding is that it’s totally in disrepair. The equipment’s a mess. The wine’s terrible. They’ve [the Salahis] destroyed it. There’s nothing there worth owning, at any price.”
The front gate at Oasis Winery in Hume, Va.
The vines at Oasis.
The warning sign.
So, that’s the latest from the Salahis. People complain when they are written about, but every time I’ve mentioned them on my site the traffic spikes. At the time of Real Housewives they appeared on my interview program, The Q&A Café, and of more than 300 programs taped over a decade it was the most heavily attended (we included the clips above).

The Salahis were the absurd part of the week. An interesting part of the week was a book party for baseball coach Augie Garrido of the University of Texas, a legendary coach, the most winning in his NCAA division, whose friends include Kevin Costner, former President George W. Bush and a roster of Longhorn fans. His book is Life Is Yours to Win. The party was hosted by former Texas Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes, a UT alum, and big “D” Democrat, at Hill Country restaurant, where the walls are adorned with Texas Monthly covers, including a coy Gov. Rick Perry, bringing a little bit of Austin to Washington. Barbecue, margaritas and Shiner Bock beer were passed without let up while everybody talked about Augie and Texas.
Ben Barnes, Coach Augie Garrido, and Lyndon Boozer.
Coach Garrido with his book, Life Is Yours
To Win.
Shiner Bock, a Texas tradition.
Behind the bar at Hill Country - booze and boots.
Lined up to get the coach's autograph.
The Walls of Hill Country restaurant are adorned with Texas Monthly covers, including this vintage one that asks, "Will We Learn to Love Rick Perry?"
Swag with the UT logo.
Coach Garrido with a fan: "hook 'em, 'Horns."
Unexpectedly, at the end of the week, I had to go to New York, but it turned out to be a wonderful 24 hours. I arrived with virtual autumn, meaning as I stepped out of Penn Station onto 8th Avenue the clouds rolled in with rain and wind and plummeting temperatures.

Traffic was so insane the cab ride to the Andaz Wall Street Hotel took an hour (yes, an hour), but when I arrived the rain was gone and the sky had turned a palette of gold, red and lavender, reflected brilliantly in the half built Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center site. Given how the week began, that vista was particularly moving.
The Freedom Tower at sunset.
The Financial District at day's end, with Trinity Church in the distance.
Incredible security everywhere in FiDi.
The Andaz was a treat. The lobby was contemporary and cosmopolitan without being pretentious, and thankfully no deejay. Instead a gracious staff checked me in, upgraded me to a suite, and sent me up the elevator with a glass of good wine.

The room was lovely, sleek but comfortable. In addition to a good bed, good towels, and good television, the Andaz offered one of the most civilized perks a hotel can offer: free Internet.
Outside the Andaz Wall Street Hotel.
The lobby of the Andaz Wall Street Hotel -- cool without being pretentious.
A suite at the Andaz.
The bedroom, with wrap around windows, and a rotating TV that is flat panel on one side and a mirror on the other.
The sitting room that adjoins the bedroom.
An Andaz bathroom with square deep tub.
Room service offers "make your own entree" and "make your own sundae," plus all the traditional needs like coffee, tea, sandwiches, eggs, etc.
A centerpiece of the Andaz dining room: oysters and charcuterie.
The Andaz dining room, "Wall and Water," is sleek like the hotel.
The Financial District was a revelation; calmer than midtown, charming bistros and restaurants, and hyper-security everywhere. I imagine the (street) crime rate is low in that neighborhood.
The financial district in the morning is a feast for the eyes: The British Garden at Hanover Square.
The expected skyscrapers. The unexpected European charm of Pearl Street.
India House.
Mill Lane.
I headed to Soho to meet Lloyd Grove at the Housing Works bookstore for a wine and cheese party for “Deadline Artists,” a collection of columns by, among others, H.L. Mencken, Ernie Pyle, Murray Kempton, Jimmy Breslin, Mike Royko, Langston Hughes, Hunter S. Thompson, David Brooks, Tom Friendman and Carl Hiaasen. The book’s co-authors are John Avlon, Jesse Angelo and Errol Louis. Housing Works is everything an indie book store should be, meaning full of interesting books and open, but it also has the added ambience of old wood.
Read columns by your favorite columnists in Deadline Artists.
Lloyd Grove, Mike Barnicle, and author John Avlon.
Even in that intellectual environment the talk turned to the Salahis and the question of whether the Real Housewives franchise had jumped the shark. Well, yes. It will probably roll along for another season or two or three, but its cultural relevance has peaked. A fellow scribe mentioned the wholesale firings at the Real Housewives of New York franchise – Jill Zarin, Alex McCord, Kelly Bensimon and Cindy Barshop, wondering what kind of desperation it represented. Alex’s husband, Simon van Kempen, posted online, “While I am sad we've been given the boot it's happened and there's no going back. I am a great believer in fate and we'll survive and more importantly thrive.”

The New York cast was among the first and had the distinction of being a slice of the Manhattan-Hamptons good life rather than a bitch fest of hair-pulling, sobbing, table-turning and out and out brawls, but the bad behavior is what gets what ratings there are to get. To me the shows are occasionally amusing but essentially about hating women. To each their own.

Kara Kennedy in April 2010.
I had a lovely morning walking FiDi in the bracing air, and then a chatty and happy lunch with DPC and JH at Café Luxembourg, before hopping the train home. Note to New Yorkers: DPC has a new and fancy Nikon camera. Be prepared.

What I have to mention next should probably be a separate column, bordered in black, but it is how the week ended up back in sadness, and that was the shocking news on Saturday of the death of Kara Kennedy, the 51-year-old daughter of Teddy and Joan, older sister of Teddy Jr. and Patrick, mother of 15-year-old Max and 17-year-old Grace, who had been through so much tumult in her life, who had fought and beaten cancer, and who managed through it all to keep a sweet and upbeat disposition.

What stood out about Kara was her shyness, but it wasn’t reticent. She was never off-putting. She was simply shy, but still strong and resolute. She bore her many challenges with modesty and no self-pity.

What also came across was her deep love of her family and friends. They were her fuel. She was not a social animal, but she showed up for causes that mattered to her, like Refugees International and anything to do with Special Olympics.

Kara and I met through Mariella Trager. Theirs was a friendship so tight they seemed like sisters. Yesterday Mariella wrote, “I’m devastated. Every bone in my body aches ... this is the saddest loss I have had besides my father. I will miss her so very much. She was a beautiful strong person inside and out.”
Michael Trager, Matt Dillon, Kara Kennedy, and Mariella Trager.
It was just a week ago that Kara and I were sunbathing side by side at the pool (we shared a passion for swimming laps), and had a lazy, sunny review of our summer experiences. She was tan and rested, munching on potato chips, sipping a soda, and recalled happy times on the Cape. “My brother took my father’s boat out of storage and we went sailing. That was wonderful,” she said, and in her eyes I saw her love of the experience and how it reconnected her to her father.

Her brother Patrick, confirming she had died of a heart attack, said, “Her heart gave out. She’s with dad.”
Carol Joynt's new memoir, Innocent Spouse, can be ordered from Amazon, HERE.