Monday, September 30, 2013

Washington Social Diary

Twilight at Mount Vernon where a gala dinner dance was held to celebrate the opening of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington.
by Carol Joynt

It could all change within 24 hours, but as I write this we’re at the precipice of a possible federal government shutdown, which would have an impact throughout the country and international outposts, but especially in Washington. This threat happens periodically and is usually averted at the 11th hour. On Sunday, at least, the tide moved more in favor of an actual shutdown. But off the live cameras of C-Span, the city parties on.

The Gingrich /Clinton showdown 17 years ago.
The last time the lights went out, 17 years ago, when President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich had a showdown and an impasse, an almost month-long shutdown followed. At the time I was a producer for Larry King Live at CNN. My office was on the other side of town from home, and my daily commute was through the heart of the federal compound to the edge of Capitol Hill.

This usually congested vast area was a ghost town, something out of “On The Beach.” Few cars, few people. The government buildings were closed; museums and other federal public attractions were closed. Businesses that served that population also closed. It was eerie and unsettling, and while I loved the ease of driving to work without gridlock, I was happy when everybody came back to work.

Saturday night while the House floor debate drama played out on C-Span and in other media, the city did roll along, at least at the upper echelons. In fact, at an exclusive and entertaining dinner for 140 hosted by Kevin Spacey for The Kevin Spacey Foundation, both House majority whip Kevin McCarthy of California (the job Spacey has as Francis Underwood in “House of Cards”) and House minority whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, were among the handful of government officials at the round tables set with gold cloths and adorned with lilies.
Kevin Spacey on stage at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, where he sang songs, did impressions, got off some good jokes, and raised money for The Kevin Spacey Foundation.
The location, the Mandarin Oriental hotel, is only minutes from the Capitol, and the two leaders were able to slip away from the House action, enjoy the dinner party and return to work. But still. That’s a good example of how this city goes about the people’s business. And maybe it’s also that one just doesn't say “no” to Kevin Spacey.

For his part, from the stage, Spacey got off a good one between pleasantly crooning a slew of standards backed by a band of local high school – and one middle school – musicians. “You all just missed a very important moment,” he said. “Because, as you know, I’ve been trying to bring together the two houses. Kevin McCarthy was here and just as he left Steny Hoyer showed up. It seems that part of the problem is they’re not quite in the same room at the same time.”
Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Majority Whip (in the blue tie), during the cocktail reception before The Kevin Spacey Foundation dinner. On the left is his son, Connor, a sophomore at Georgetown University. In the background is pollster and republican strategist Frank Luntz. On the right is TV reporter Major Garrett.
Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House Minority Whip, during his drop by at Kevin Spacey's dinner. Over his shoulder is Christine Taylor, communications director for Ron Perelman's MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings.
Spacey with singer Peter Cincott, who also performed, and Chris Lemmon, son of Jack Lemmon, who Spacey paid tribute to at the dinner.
The Kevin Spacey Foundation exclusive and intimate dinner at the Mandarin Oriental -- about as small as a big DC dinner can get.

The media can’t be bought, or so they claim, but they can certainly be wined and dined. If it weren’t for the boondoggle potential, the relatively innocent circumstances of a lavish dinner last week – on a parked Boeing 777, no less – would be set aside so I could declare: wow, what a party. And it was, from the first sips of not one but two chilled Champagnes, through an elegant meal, and then out the door, delivered back into reality without ever taking off.

Qatar Airways hosted the fete in the first class section (called business class in the U.S., but still up front) of the jet parked at Dulles Airport. The guests were ferried from the city to the airport by chartered town cars – not just for the ease, and to avoid the risk of people driving after sampling several wines, but the airline needed everyone to arrive and depart on time because after dinner the same jet was scheduled to fly to Doha.
Qatar Airways flight attention Claire at the door to greet dinner guests.
You better fasten your seat belts, because your pilot is ready for take-off
In every way – short of taking off and flying for almost 14 hours at 35,000 feet – we had the same dining experience that is offered to regular Qatar Airways passengers who book the $11,076.19 round-trip business class fare between Washington and Doha.

The invitation was undeniably intriguing and appealing, mostly because it was outside the routine. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, though assumed the other “passengers” could be people in Washington who are regular Qatar Airways clientele. The friend I brought with me, Shane Harris of Foreign Policy Magazine, thought the same thing, plus the possible inclusion of some diplomats.
The first class cabin of a Qatar Airways Boeing 777, but it's called business class in the U.S.
No kidding, we're just sitting here on the tarmac and having a two hour sumptuous dinner.
Once at Dulles we learned the other couple dozen guests were not high rollers being given a “thank you” dinner, but people from the media, some of whom had even earlier enjoyed courtesy flights on Qatar Airways. The purpose was to woo. Hmmm, we wondered. Had we walked into a hard pitch?

There’s no question it was a seduction – a lusciously low-lit cabin, shades drawn, soft music, vintage wines, a menu prepared by celebrity chefs – but our hosts did not do a hard sell. There were no pitches on the glories of Qatar.  The airline’s sommelier, James Cluer, gave a frankly interesting talk about the challenges of buying, storing and serving fine wines for an airline. Who knew a pressurized cabin put demands on the palate, but it made sense. We received a similar brief talk from the executive chef, Colin Binmore.
Qatar Airways executive chef Colin Binmore and the airline's Washington-based representative, Bryan Dahn.
Wine glasses at the ready. Eight or more wines were served during the four-course dinner.
Note the note: "For Journalist Dinner Service; Not For Use During Flight." Can only wonder, but maybe that was the 1974 port.
Beyond that we were left to freshen up with scented hot towels, play with our seat buttons, chill, choose between cod and minted pea soup and seafood salad and poached chicken breast or filet of beef, cheese plates, desserts. The wines were lovely, and in particular the New Zealand Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc and the McWilliams Mount Pleasant 2006 Semillon. Reluctantly I passed on the Bordeaux, the Pomerol, the Amarone and the 1974 port; it was a “school night,” there was work in the morning and another gala the next night. But it was fun, different and relaxing. We were graciously attended to by a quartet of flight attendants who clearly have received the most expert training.

Even with all the other indulgences, the high point for me was when a member of the staff said, “yes,” I was welcomed to visit the cockpit and “yes,” I could sit in the pilot’s seat and “yes,” she would happily take my photo. For this fearful flier that was a memorable perk.
Trained for expert service, Qatar Airways flight attendants: Amy, Aikatereini, Claire, and Viraq.
Aikatereini brings glasses for Billecart-Salmon and Bollinger champagnes. Wine master James Cluer said choosing wines for a pressurized cabin can be a challenge.
One guest's table top midway through dinner.
This poached chicken breast, created by Tom Aikens, is immersed in lemon confit and lemongrass sauce.
A cod dish created by Nobu Matsuhisa.
Forced to accompany his friend CJ to the Qatar Airways dinner, Shane Harris gives up.

We may be called the Metro Area but for a person who lives in Washington a party in Virginia can be a haul.  In the last week there were two that were worth the haul, however, and both brought rewards.

The Wolf Trap Ball is held literally on the stage and backstage of the Filene Center, one of the area’s most renowned arts and entertainment venues. The night was rain-soaked night but the stage was warm and bright and cheerful, even with half the room exposed to the damp open-air seats and hillside beyond. The theme was Joie de Vivre, and with scenic murals and an Eiffel Tower we were transported to Paris, and to make it complete the patrons were the French Ambassador and his wife, François Delattre and his wife, Sophie L’Hélias-Delattre.
Arriving at the Wolf Trap Ball in a pouring rain, but this was the only damp part of the evening.
What a show -- the Wolf Trap Ball, center stage.
The Wolf Trap Ball is literally on the stage. In the background the Filene Center's open air seats and popular hillside … in the rain.
The stage and backstage of the Filene Center were set to create a mood of Joie de Vivre. The Eiffel Tower was reclaimed from a production of La Traviata.
Lush was the tone with French murals and dramatic bouquets from Karin's Florist of Vienna, Virginia.
“I was never much worried about the weather,” said Kimberly Stewart, who was a ball co-chair along with Karen Schaufeld and Sean O’Keefe. “I knew we had it covered.” She said the real challenge was to sample several menus and come up with the one that tasted the best and best represented France. They settled on canapés of fig with foie gras, quail eggs with caviar, a cocktail buffet of savory crepes, and a dinner menu that included sea scallops with duck confit and an entrée of beef Rossini.

For Arvind Manocha, the new head of the Wolf Trap Foundation, this was a debut of sorts, and his first ball, after coming east in January from California where he had a similar job with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Hollywood Bowl.

“For some of you it’s probably your first Wolf Trap ball as well, so we can all be new together,” he said as he welcomed the 800 guests. “I’m sure I won’t forget this anytime soon. They say you always remember your first time, and I’m sure that’s true in this case as well.  I have to say, after all the hype through the year nothing could prepare me for walking in here tonight and seeing the grandeur of this stage.”
On a Saturday date night, but also the ball's principal patrons, Sophie L'Hélias-Delattre and her husband, French Ambassador Francois Delattre.
The Indian ambassador, Nirupama Rao, and Wolf Trap's new head, Arvind Manocha. Gina Adams of FedEx with husband Eugene Adams, DC's deputy attorney general.
John C. Lee IV, Bobbie Kilberg, and Albert and Tina Small.
Virginia Congressman Jim Moran. John C. Lee IV and his wife, Cindy.
Wolf Trap board member Deborah Warren, Wolf Trap Ball co-chair Karen Schaufeld, and Sophie L'Hélias Delattre.
Arvind Manocha and Wolf Trap Foundation board chairman John C. Lee IV.
Jeanne and David Gentry.
The ball paused for only brief speeches, including from CEO Arvind Manocha, Amb. Delattre and the co-chairs, and then moved on to dancing.
The distance from DC to Wolf Trap is about the same as the distance from DC to Mount Vernon estate –  45 minutes, give or take 15 minutes of unexpected rush hour traffic. Both drives are beautiful, however, the drive to Mount Vernon wins because the George Washington Parkway skirts the Potomac River for much of the way.
Marquise, the band, began with romantic standards.
The Wolf Trap Ball dancing started with the first song.
The reason for the trip to Mount Vernon was a gala dinner dance to celebrate the opening of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington and to thank the folks who had contributed more than $106 million to the capital campaign – beginning with the $38 million from Smith, who is the chairman of the Las Vegas-based Donald W. Reynolds Foundation. 

If you look up Fred W. Smith online, by the way, you get Frederick W. Smith, the founder of FedEx. They are not one and the same. There are, believe it or not, two Fred Smith’s who have the means to be profoundly generous. (I’m sure the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, owners and protectors of the estate and library, would love to get them both together).
Anyone who loves history and history books will want to visit George Washington's presidential library.
The reading room at the new George Washington library, watched over by clay busts of the Founding Fathers.
The interior of the library is soothing and warm with splendid use of sandstone and American sycamore.
It's nickname is the "vault," but this inner sanctum of the library holds the most rare and precious archival materials that belonged to George Washington, including his papers. The centerpiece is his book plate.
Inside the "vault."
Guests were first given a tour of the handsome 45,000 square foot library, which is made from limestone and American sycamore, and holds the papers and books of Washington, Martha Washington, and other relevant archival material of the 18th century. It is to be a sanctuary for historians, scholars, government officials and corporate executives. Baltimore-based Ayers Saint Gross Architects and Planners designed the building. MFM Design of Bethesda did the interior design.
It was a beautiful late September evening as guests arrived at Mount Vernon after touring the new Fred W. Smith Library for the Study of George Washington.
After the tours, guests boarded shuttle buses that delivered them the short distance to the front drive of George Washington’s home. The Fife and Drum corps played as we entered the house, which was wide open for wandering, a treat that is one of the principal reasons to accept an invitation to a Mount Vernon soirée. Cocktails were on the lawn and included, due to beautiful weather, the still relatively unchanged panoramic view of the Potomac River that was familiar to Washington.  It’s been kept wild across the way in Maryland on purpose.

There was dinner, speeches, entertainment, readings, fireworks and dancing. In all, 7,000 individuals, foundations and corporations have made contributions to the library, which is funded entirely with private money. Among the principal contributors are Richard and Helen DeVos, John and Adrienne Mars, and David Rubenstein, who gave gifts of $10 million each.
A proper Fife & Drum welcome.
For the occasion, George Washington's home was wide open for wandering. Here is the center hall.
Taking a tour of Mount Vernon is always an inspiration.
Cocktails on George Washington's lawn ...
... and enjoying George Washington's view.
Among the many guests, Mary Kaye Huntsman and former GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman.
The Fife & Drum corps got around. Here they play us into dinner.
The dinner menu featured Chesapeake crab and beef tenderloin.
The Mount Vernon Ladies Association owns, preserves and protects Mount Vernon. This is its regent, Ann Bookout of Texas.
The evening's entertainment, chosen by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, were husband and wife musicians duo Amy Grant and Vince Gill.
There was a lot of this being poured at George Washington's estate, in honor of the opening of his presidential library.
A serene view of Mount Vernon after the dinner guests have moved on. Is this when his ghost comes out?
Keeping watch in the lantern-lit shadows, two of Mount Vernon's expert re-enactors.
Photographs by Carol Joynt.

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