Monday, July 29, 2013

Washington Social Diary

Guests mingle on the terrace of the British Embassy.
By Carol Joynt

There’s a reason why humans seek sun and surf in the warm weather months, finding bliss on a towel or a chaise, slathered with goo and half asleep under a trashy novel: we need to turn our brains off. It’s the best possible antidote to the work week or work year or the constant beaming into our subconscious of reminders that we live at the seemingly controlled edge of mayhem.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with their newborn son, Prince George Alexander Louis.
At the top of the grand stairs at the British Embassy, a large poster portrait of Kate, William and baby George.
But then there’s England, that bastion of “keep calm and carry on.” Occasionally they remind us of what that phrase means, as recently as last week with the birth of Prince George Alexander Louis.

In its most relatable peace time form the phrase is about a young father, Prince William, calmly carrying his day-old son out of the hospital, locking his car seat safely in place, getting behind the wheel and driving his family home – carrying on, so to speak – with the whole world watching. The planet tuned in because it’s the Royal Family, a reliable, ongoing, frequently televised mini-series.

Still, props to any new father who can pull that off without breaking a sweat, regardless of whether he’s an heir to the throne and driving the family home to a palace. When the time comes, how will Prince Harry top that?

For many women, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, certified her status as a superstar bellwether when she left the hospital in a clingy crepe de chine frock, unabashedly displaying that lingering tummy bulge all new mothers know very well. It’s normal, natural and nothing to hide. Still, refreshing.

Here in Washington,
the royal birth gave the British Embassy a perfectly reasonable excuse to have an upbeat summer party, and surprisingly, given the time of year, a good supply of all the usual suspects were on hand for the fete in honor of the infant prince.

The grand British manse was done up with patriotic party flare – streams of Union Jacks, national colors in the planters, flags in the food, too, and many video screens showing happy royals, especially Prince William and Kate, as well as framed photos on just about every flat surface.
The party was held inside and outside the British residence, where there were plenty of full bars.
In celebration of the birth of Prince George, the Embassy strung up the flag, many times over.
No decorating opportunity was missed.
The party could well have been the first official social event for the little Prince here on this side of the Atlantic. Starting with the Ambassador, Peter Westmacott, and his wife, Susie, it galvanized the embassy staff in a pleasant show of team spirit that matched the marketing message on the posters and the gift bags: “GREAT Britain.”

Courtesy of head chef Craig Harnden and his team, the menu was also spirited, a range of uniquely Brit party foods, including fish and chips, cucumber sandwiches, salmon on toast points, sausage rolls, mini-Yorkshire puddings with roast beef and, best of all, a gorgeous two-tiered cake, iced with white and baby blue fondant, celebrating the royal birth. There was endless sparkling wine, but also Pimm’s Cup, good scotch and all the other premium brands.

Before Andy Warhol's portrait of the Queen, British Ambassador Peter Westmacott praised the monarchy.
At the podium, Westmacott, cheerful as a new father, welcomed his guests, noted the sweet occasion and, especially, praised the monarchy, the Queen – in three years the longest serving monarch – and gave a positive report on the younger generation of royals, who he said are ideally suited for the 21st and 22nd centuries. Correctly, he noted, “Royals always make a splash here.” That they do. With one sentence he managed to age most everyone at the party: “The news we celebrate tonight leaves me with a strange feeling, because the Prince William I remember best is a 10-year-old, rushing around Kensington Palace.”

Before inviting all to join him in raising a glass to the baby, Westmacott noted “the arrival of Prince George is a genuinely historic event.” That’s because it is the first time since the Victorian era that the monarch and three direct heirs to the throne have been alive at the same time. He also said that all in all, with the royal birth and the British economy showing some strong numbers, it had been a “good week” for the United Kingdom.

What did people talk about, other than Prince George? The principal topics in Washington the last several days go like this: the Snowden affair, though a certain amount of ennui is settling in; “Carlos Danger,” aka Anthony Weiner, and his wife, Huma Abedin, and prompting every kind of tasteless joke one would expect. Weiner is hopeless, but not Abedin. I’m on the side of not treating her as a victim, because my sense is she does not see herself that way. How can any of us, ever, to try to walk inside another’s marriage?
Ambassador Westmacott moments before he asked his guests to raise a glass to Prince George of Cambridge.
Also discussed: quarterback Robert Griffin III, on which the mood of Washington will rise or fall in September when we learn whether his rehabbed knee is good to go; and what to do about this nasty business of the team name, the Redskins, which increasing numbers of people view as a liability, though they also recognize the intransigence of the team owner, Dan Snyder. He vowed to “never” change the name. How many times have all of us been told, “never say never?” Hmmm. We’ll see, Dan.

Best moment of the party? A friend, book critic John Wilwol asking whether, were he alive, Christopher Hitchens would have been invited. I’d like to think yes, because this embassy is generally about inclusiveness among the British community in Washington, and the social secretary, Amanda Downes, is all about doing the right thing, but regardless the thought made me yearn for what we’ve lost: the chance to hear what Hitch would have to say in observing all the royal hoopla. It would be merciless, of course, and hilarious. (Not to mention his views on Carlos Danger).
The special cake celebrating the birth of Prince George Alexander Lous, with all his names spelled out.
At the top of the cake, blocks and a teed year.
At one of the buffet tables, the food looked just right for a party honoring a baby.
Even the traditional sausage rolls were tricked out with the Union Jack.
Fish and Chips, of course.
Baby Yorkshire puddings with roast beef and leeks. Lovely summer ice creams were served in baby-sized cones.
The ice creams were presented in ice adorned with herbs and strawberries.
Among those we talked with or spotted at the party: Ina Ginsburg, Valerie Jarrett, Howard Fineman and Amy Nathan, Kurt Schmoke, Joann and John Mason, Christine Lagarde of the IMF, Charlie Cook, Cynthia Helms, Ann and Lloyd Hand, Ed Mathias, Kevin Chaffee, Michael Elliott, David Brooks, Amb. Rudolf Bekink of Belgium, Andrew Oros, Amy Argetsinger, Judy Woodruff, Robert and Caroline Alderholt, Esther Brimmer, Anita McBride, Steve Clemons, Diana Villiers Negroponte, Sidney Blumenthal, Matt Frei, Grace Bender, Jackie Duberstein, Lucky Roosevelt, Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano, Roger Simon, Sophie Gilbert, Puneet Talwar of the National Security Council, Amb. Kenichiro Sasae of Japan and Nobuko Sasae, Al Hunt, Carmiel Arbit, Spencer Mahony, Judy Harris, John and Debbie Dingell, Robin Wright, Betsy Fischer, Jane and Calvin Cafritz, Bill Nitze, Sam Feist, Arnaud and Alexandra de Borchgrave, Michael and Meryl Chertoff, Roy and Abby Blunt, Chris Matthews, Norm Ornstein, Gail and Togo West, Sally Quinn, Renaud de Viel Castel, Craig Pascal, Victor Shargai, Major General Buster Howes, Commodore Eric Fraser, and a whole lot of other men in handsome uniforms and, beyond that, basically le tout Washington, at least the tout not plopped on a beach.
Book critic John Wilwol with his wife, arts critic Sophie Gilbert. Carmiel Arbit and Spencer Mahony, who is the embassy's East Coast regional director for trade and investment.
Bo Fraser, Maggie Titmuss, and Commodore Eric Fraser. Fred and Genevieve Ryan.
Craig Pascal and Victor Shargai.
Debbie Dingell, a consultant and wife of Rep. John Dingell, with Steve Clemons of Atlantic Media. James Adams with Ina Ginsburg.
Head chef Craig Harnden had reason to smile: he'd put out quite a spread for the occasion. As they left the party, guests were handed some gifts: a photo of Kate, William, and baby George, and a Union Jack carry-all.
Photographs by Carol Joynt.

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt