Monday, October 24, 2011

Washington Social Diary

The building known as "Watergate," shrouded in fog in an October morning.
by Carol Joynt

The week began in raucous Austin, ended in lush Greenwich, with a delicious pit stop in Manhattan in between, making it a very good week indeed. Getting out of Washington is good for the soul. Returning to Washington is good, too, because October here is special. The autumn color is moody and beguiling, especially along the Potomac River.

The reason for the trip to Austin was a football game. Former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes and his wife, Melanie, invited us to join them in their box at the Darrell K. Royal Stadium. The University of Texas would be playing Oklahoma State University. For me it would be a first – a big state university football game – and, given that it was Texas, it was big in every way. While it was unfortunate that the Longhorns lost, it didn’t diminish the spectacle in the least. Every one of the stadium’s 100,000 seats was filled, and since UT’s colors are burnt orange, and OSU’s are bright orange, it made a sea of orange.
After an early morning flight, Spencer Joynt and CJ at the 1886 Cafe in Austin.
In the lobby Intercontinental's lobby on game day, everyone is dressed in UT's burnt orange colors.
Parked outside The Four Seasons, a tricked out game truck.
Just hours before the football game, "Occupy Austin" protesters march toward the State Capitol on Congress Street. The procession ran for blocks and was peaceful.
Marchers were all ages.
Ben has an ideal life: he commutes between Washington and Austin. The cities are similar in that both are liberal and also capitals, but quite different in that one is coat-and-tie and subdued and the other is boots-and-hats and vivacious. Here’s an interesting observation about Ben and his consulting firm, made in a profile this week in National Journal: “The Ben Barnes Group has already assembled an eclectic roster of clients—and routinely stands up to Big Oil.” In Texas, especially, that requires mettle. He also raises a great amount of money for the Democratic Party, which requires a lot of personality.

On the football field at the UT stadium it was more than a three-ring show. The game seemed almost incidental. There were male and female cheerleaders, who performed stunning gymnastics; pom-pom girls, popular for their dancing and beauty; a flag crew tore across the field brandishing giant letters that spelled T-E-X-A-S, and there was the remarkable Longhorn Band, known as the “Showband of the West.” It has 350 members. At halftime, after playing Beatles tunes, they marched into formations of the state of Texas, the Longhorn logo and the symbolic five-point lone star of the state flag – playing music and many of them marching backwards.
Pre-game at "The Champions Club" in the Bass Performing Arts Center. The Center is adorned with art that Mercedes Bass apparently arranged to have loaned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
More game-day burnt orange: Lyndon Boozer, Joe Batson, Spencer Joynt, Alan Nicholson, and Jean Banks.
Spencer Joynt and Ben Barnes. Spencer and Jean study the game program.
"Hook 'em, Horns." Our view from the private box of Ben and Melanie Barnes.
The UT stadium holds 100,000.
A sea of burnt orange.
At the beginning of the half.
The UT Marching Band does its thing, splendidly.
Inside the Barnes family's box.
Watching the game. Everyone enjoyed the action, but were disappointed UT lost to Oklahoma State University.
The view in the box next door. (pssst: they were from Oklahoma).
Another guest of Ben’s was Lyndon Boozer, who was on my same flight from Washington. While born in Washington, when his mother, Yolanda Boozer, was President Lyndon Johnson’s personal secretary at the White House, Lyndon is still of and from Texas, lived there as a teenager, and has many friends in Austin. He’s also connected to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, where he invited my son, Spencer, and me to come by for an after-hours, behind the scenes tour, given to us by Anne Wheeler. The library is on the UT campus.

There are a dozen Presidential libraries in the nation, beginning chronologically with the Herbert Hoover Library in West Branch, IA, and ending with the William J. Clinton Library in Little Rock, AR. The LBJ Library, the only one with free admission, was dedicated in May 1971, less than a year before his death. He did spend time there, though, and made use of a special “presidential suite,” where he and his wife, Lady Byrd, could relax and entertain before and during events. It has a secret side door that connects to a replica of LBJ’s Oval Office, meaning he could slip in and sit at his old White House desk. I mean, why not?
Inside the LBJ Museum. The red binders hold his presidential papers.
Lyndon Boozer contemplates an animatronic Lyndon Baines Johnson.
President Johnson's White House Oval Office, virtually as it was.
Behind the scenes at his presidential museum, and adjacent to the "Oval Office," the private suite LBJ and Lady Byrd Johnson used when they were at the museum for functions.
A board/dining table is part of the suite; LBJ's seat was at the head, of course.
Just outside the suite, a desk where LBJ could watch a bank of affiliate stations, with buttons above where he could instantly contact radio and TV station program directors of stations the Johnson family owned.
Untouched since LBJ used them.
Lady Byrd Johnson, who died in July 2007, kept and used an office at the Library and it is preserved as it was. The furnishings in the private family areas of the museum are accurate to the '60s – in other words, very “Mad Men.” The architects of the building were Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.

In addition to researchers and authors routinely using the library to study LBJ’s presidential papers, there are many special events. This last week former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev delivered the Harry Middleton Lecture. In November, Bill Moyers will appear as the Tom Johnson Lecturer.
Lady Byrd Johnson's office, preserved as it was, including her sweater draped over the desk chair.
A piece of campaign memorabilia.
Spencer Joynt and Lyndon Boozer with a bronze LBJ bust.
Lyndon Boozer on a bench that commemorates his late mother, Yolanda Boozer, who was LBJ's personal secretary.
Lyndon Boozer also invited Spencer and me to join him and his cousins Priscilla Mosqueda and Cara Scott for an authentic Mexican dinner at the popular Fonda San Miguel restaurant, and later to meet more of his friends before and after the game, including Grover Bynum, Bill Berquist, Joe Batson, Alan Nicholson, Jean Banks.

Basically, once in Austin, Lyndon’s friends are everywhere.
The festive main dining room at Fonda San Miguel, which opened in 1975. It features "classical Mexican cuisine." Very good Margaritas, too.
At Fonda San Miguel, cousins Priscilla and Lyndon.
Camarones Al Mojo De Ajo at Fonda San Miquel.
Ceviche Las Brisas.
Chile Con Queso.
After a feast at Fonda San Miguel, Spencer Joynt, Cara Scott, Priscilla Mosqueda, CJ, and Lyndon Boozer.
In the spirit of the football game, partying in Austin is also big. A night out on the town is Texas-sized. After dinner at Fonda San Miguel, we met up with Joe Batson, who took a large group of us to Esther’s Follies, a cabaret-comedy-magic show, and then we ended up till the wee hours on the lovely second-story outdoor deck of my hotel, the Stephen J. Austin Intercontinental, which is just close enough but not too close to the nightlife on Sixth Street.

The hotel has views of the State Capitol, an indoor lap pool, a great breakfast, and the headboards of the beds are adorned with the Texas star.
Above: King-bed room with a view at the Stephen J. Austin Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Austin. Note the gold "lone star" on the headboard.

Right: Only part of the large breakfast buffet at the Intercontinental. It's complimentary for guests in the hotel's "club" rooms.

Below: The Intercontinental' basement lap pool
Unfortunately, or fortunately, I didn’t get much sack time. The next night, Saturday, a group of us dined at The Grill of the Driskill Hotel. It is one of the city’s most highly regarded restaurants, and dinner lived up to the reputation. Again, after dinner, we partied in the hotel’s handsome bar until the wee hours, a party enhanced by the Texas Rangers winning a trip to the World Series. What a scene. I remember Bourbon, Nachos, Wild Boar Mini-Corndogs, Driskill Beef Jerky, and more Bourbon.

The flight home was at 9 o’clock Sunday morning. I arrived in Washington deeply in need of recovery. It took a few days. In fact, I didn’t feel fully normal until Wednesday, when it was time to hop on the Acela and head north for a book event in Greenwich, CT. This was scheduled months ago and I looked forward to the visit. While I’d done many events for my memoir, Innocent Spouse, this would be the first time I’d be meeting with a book club whose members had read the book. For an author that is a special joy.

My hosts were Susan Evans and her husband, Robert Sheldon Evans, chairman of the Crane Company, son of the late Thomas Mellon Evans and Betty Evans, brother of the late Edward “Ned” Evans. Like his father and brother, Shell is a renowned and gifted owner and breeder of racehorses. He has bred many stakes winners.
The home of Susan and Shell Evans.
The view at dawn from a guest room at the home of Susan and Shell Evans.
Susan and Shell, who met on Sea Island when they were children.
The view from the Evans' front porch.
The view of Long Island Sound from Belle Haven in Greenwich, CT.
The Evans’ live a pretty nice life, and they know it, with a lovely home in the waterfront Belle Haven section of Greenwich and a horse farm on the Eastern Shore, and they have the kind of marriage where it is a delight to be around them because they are comfortable with each other. They are modest about all of this, of course, which makes it more appealing.

Nobody’s life is without pain, but the secret is to counter the dark parts with endeavors that bring happiness. It was my first time meeting Susan and Shell, even though I’ve known her sister, Sally Hosta, for decades. Sally made the trip with me. It was Sally who joined me for the “pit stop” in Manhattan, which consisted of a long champagne lunch at Balthazar, which felt perfect, because outside Spring Street was a misery of rain and wind.
A morning walk in Belle Haven.
Good morning.
Beautiful autumn leaves.
Here’s what else is perfect: spending the night in the Evans’ guest room and waking to a picture window view of Long Island Sound. That could become habit-forming. Susan led Sally and me on a morning power walk with a lot of interesting detail, as in “so and so lives here” and “so and so lives here.” There are a lot of notable so-and-so’s in Belle Haven. The lawns are plush green, the houses big but generally not garish, the streets quiet. Quiet like most, but not all, of the neighborhood’s money. The only people we encountered were a woman walking her adorable dogs and men working the leaf blowers. The autumn color was brilliant.

Susan is a member of the Greenwich Book Group. They invited me to join them for lunch at the Belle Haven Club, which has the appealing blue blood taste and restraint that fuel so many Ralph Lauren fantasies. This is the real thing, however. We gathered in one of the private dining rooms, adorned with yacht club burgees and with a water view, and did a meet and greet before sitting down to lunch of soup, salad and a barrage of questions about my book, with one big exception. They also asked questions about New York Social Diary, which they read, and their friends read, and their friends’ friends read. (Note: the same thing happened in Austin).
Looking toward the Belle Haven Club.
The Belle Haven Club.
The breeze was brisk.
A look at the main dining room of the Belle Haven Club, with its commanding views of the Sound. The Belle Haven Club; one of those places where everything's done just right.
Polly McTaggart with Sally Hosta during the "meet and greet."
Greenwich Book Group members, convened in a private dining room.
Ready to discuss Innocent Spouse. Margaret Sinclair and Ann Bresnan hold up their copies of the book.
Roberta Tunick listens to Susan Evans.
CJ between two sisters: Susan Evans, Carol Joynt and Sally Hosta.
The book club members who were at the table, in addition to Susan Evans and Sally Hosta, included Ann Bresnan, Kathy Flatley, Susie Fugelsang, Pam Goergen, Polly McTaggart, Sally Neff, Margaret Sinclair, Roberta Tunick and Dee Winokur.

One of the publishing anecdotes I shared with the club was about my “Cinderella moment,” learning that Vogue magazine had bought exclusive first rights to my book, that Anna Wintour “loved” it, and how they sent a team to style, dress and photograph me for the spread that would feature a 3,000 word excerpt. It’s a good once-in-a-lifetime story and the women were entertained. Here’s a fact: being with the gracious members of the Greenwich Book Group, in their lovely club, in their lovely neighborhood, made me feel like Cinderella all over again.
The train back to to points south, and reality.

The Harman Center for the Arts held its annual gala last week and used the occasion to honor Michael Kahn for his 25 years running the Shakespeare Theatre Company. The evening began with cocktails at the Center, followed by a stage presentation that included a cavalcade of Shakespeare Theatre Company actors: René Auberjonois, Avery Brooks, Helen Carey, Jeffrey Carlson, Pat Carroll, Veanne Cox, Robert Cuccioli, Franchelle Stewart Dorn, Philip Goodwin, Adam Green, Harry Hamlin, Michael Hayden, Stacy Keach, Floyd King, Sabrina LeBeauf, Marsha Mason, Kelly McGillis, Patrick Page, Nancy Robinette, David Sabin, Miriam Silverman, Derek Smith, Patrick Stewart, Tom Story, Richard Thomas, Ted van Griethuysen, and Bradley Whitford. Also in the spotlight: Chelsea Clinton, Donald Graham, George Hearn, Lonette McKee, Terrence McNally, Lyubov Petrova, and the Joffrey Ballet.

Jane Harman and Susan Blumenthal (photo by Kevin Allen)
This evening is one of the better night’s out in Washington, not only because of the talent on stage at the Harman Center, but also the dinner after, which is held at the National Building Museum and always features clever entertainment. This year it was flapper-era dancers, dancing up a storm as the dinner guests arrived to take their seats at dozens of round and rectangular tables.

Because the evening was running so late, when people arrived the organizers’ closed the bars so that everyone would go to their seats and order drinks from the table. Ha! The nerve!

As it was, dinner wasn’t served until almost 10 o’clock. For many Washingtonians, that hour on a Monday is bedtime. It says everything about the success of the evening that most guests stayed until past 11, even though the deejay appeared lonely as he waited for them to fill the dance floor.

My dinner partners included the always-interesting Jonathan Silver, who is just leaving a two year run with the Obama Administration with plans to return to the world of venture capital, and his wife, Melissa Moss, who is on the STC’s board, and actor Avery Brooks, who talked about teaching and living in Princeton, NJ. Also at the table: Maxine Isaacs, who looked gorgeous, and Francesca Craig, wearing a big smile because she'd just landed a new, cool but unmentionable job.
The Harman Center on the night of its annual gala.
Lady Sheinwald, Michael Kahn, and British Ambassador Nigel Sheinwald (photo by Margot Schulman).
Miguel Estrada and Justice Kagan (Photo by Margot Schulman).
Chelsea Clinton and Michael Kahn (photo by Margot Schulman).
Avery Brooks, Lonette McKee, and Michael Kahn (photo by Kevin Allen).
Sen. Pat Leahy and Susan Eisenhower (photo by Kevin Allen).
Michael Kahn on stage at the Harman Center (photo by Kevin Allen).
Other gala guests, according to the Shakespeare Theatre: Jack Evans, Jane Harman, Jim Moran, Christine Varney, Claire Shipman, Sandra Day O'Connor, Adrienne Arsht, Justice Kagan, Kathleen Matthews, Judge Garland, Justice Scalia, Judge Silberman, Vicki Sant, Walter Isaacson, Patrick Leahy, Natwar Ghandi, Carol Browning, Tony Williams, Ann Nitze, John Dingell, Justice Ginsburg, Nina Tottenberg, Senator Sarbanes, Tommy Wells, Justice Alito, Ambassador Sheinwald, Jill Udall Cooper.
Gala-goers arrive for dinner.
Professional dancers in flapper-era costumes, dancing up a storm.
Juking and jiving ...
Lisa Blatt and Francesca Craig.
Melissa Moss. Jonathan Silver.
Enjoying dinner.
Dinner of lamb, potatoes and autumn vegetables.
11pm, lonely deejay, trying to get the after-dinner dancing started.

Today I begin a new role, editor-at-large for Washingtonian magazine, the city’s most popular magazine, which was founded in 1965 and has won several National Magazine Awards. The publisher is Cathy Merrill Williams and the editor is Garrett Graff.

This turn of events is bittersweet. With my book done, and after many weeks of hardcore job-hunting, I was delighted to find a job, especially one with such opportunity and prestige. However, on the other hand, it means an inevitable change in my role with New York Social Diary, where I’ve been contributing weekly columns for four years. I don’t want to leave NYSD, but darnit, I keep NOT winning the lottery, which would have subsidized eternal column writing.

It’s tough to put in a few words my deep regard for David Patrick Columbia and Jeff Hirsch, who together get this site up day after day after day, with so much work and little sleep and still very good attitudes. It has been so much fun to dish up the Washington Social Diary each Monday, with no editorial restrictions on where or how I aimed my words and camera – so long as I cut through the capital’s quantum B.S. David just let me go, never second-guessed me and always had my back. Jeff is a maestro of lay-out and administration and my photography role model. I adore them, admire them and consider them among my best friends.

Fortunately my new editor, Garrett, is open to my continuing to make occasional contributions to NYSD. I don’t know what form these will take, or how often, but I’m game. I hope that when I come knocking, David and Jeff will say, “Welcome home.”
Photographs by Carol Joynt.

Carol Joynt's memoir, Innocent Spouse, can be ordered from Amazon, HERE.