Monday, October 7, 2013

Washington Social Diary

At the Washington National Symphony ball: Maestro Christoph Eschenbach leads the National Symphony Orchestra in a rousing national anthem.
by Carol Joynt

Here’s what you need to know about Washington right now.
We’re in a shutdown and it’s apparent in tangible ways, but its most important impact is what’s felt by a lot of people who would rather be at work and getting a paycheck. It’s some comfort that they’ll be paid retroactively – once this nonsense ends – but that can be cold comfort for a homeowner who has to pay a mortgage this week and is a week’s pay short of the mark.

It’s worth saying, though, that DC itself is not the city it was 17 years ago, when the last big federal shutdown happened. The nation’s capital, to the delight of everyone who lives here, has changed substantially since 1995. In that shutdown, it was a showdown between House Speaker Newt Gingrich in one corner, the Congressional corner, and President Bill Clinton, in the other corner, the Administration’s corner.

Despite their differences, they worked it out, though it took almost a month. There was historical fall-out. Gingrich never recovered the power he had before the shutdown and Clinton, well, he had a new friend named Monica Lewinsky.

Also in 1995 the District of Columbia was at perhaps the lowest point in its history. It was considered the murder capital of America, people were fleeing the city for the suburbs, and the office of then Mayor Marion Barry was under the thumb of the Federal Control Board. Today, according to people who track these things, 1,000 new residents move to the city each month. The private sector has added thousands of jobs, too. The federal sector still matters, of course, but it’s not the same dominant force it was before the turn of the century.

While it’s painful and wrong to have so many area-based workers on furlough, and to have barriers up or “closed” signs at the national monuments and the parks and the museums, we are stronger and we are coping. There’s even some visible rebellion, as tourists and residents have moved or climbed over barriers and visited the monuments they feel they have every right to visit.

With the gates closed to Gravelly Point park, drivers still came to hang out near the river and the airport but parked on the side of the George Washington Parkway. Safe? Sorta but not really.
The cars parked along the road went on for quite a distance. Note the Washington Monument on the horizon.
This weekend, at Gravelly Point Park on the George Washington Parkway between Reagan Airport and the city, there was open rebellion. People love to go to this park to watch the planes land and take-off, or to put boats in the river. But it's closed, with barriers at the entrance. Instead, people parked along the side of the Parkway and for a long distance. Right on, I say – take back your parks, take back your jobs.

In the near term, there are some perks.

Entertainment venues, restaurants and bars have offered freebies or discounts to people who can show a federal I.D. Some of the deals are available to all. At Clyde’s in Georgetown, for example, there are premium “Shutdown” cocktails and glasses of wine for $5. If it goes on into this week, though, expect the fun to quickly fade into a more pronounced frustration (and rebellion).

A few signs of normalcy. The Washington National Symphony ball went on as planned, even though the next day, when the shutdown began, it meant the Kennedy Center would be closed for tours and open only for performances. The ball was reliably lovely, drawing the crowd who enjoy getting dressed up on a Sunday night to hear beautiful music and dance till midnight.

The co-chairs were Sydney and Jay Johnson. Sydney – known to many of us here and in New York as “Nini” – is a belle of the city’s many charitable balls. She was a fixture on the scene before her marriage, but now as Sydney Sydney married lady she owns the scene, and at the Kennedy Center, in her tall drink of water white evening gown and silver-hued French twist, she maintained a tone of uncommon sophistication for Washington.
Cocktails before the concert and ball were served on the Kennedy Center's terrace overlooking the Potomac River.
Speaking of flare and hair, a shout out to keyboardist Cameron Carpenter, with his retro shaved high-top fade, who during the concert part of the evening made a party out of Saint-Saëns on the Rubenstein Family Organ, and to cellist Yo-Yo Ma who played with phenomenal musical joy, to Kennedy Center Chairman David Rubenstein, who in his shy but purposeful way knows how to speak to Washington, to maestro Christoph Eschenbach (what vitamins does he take?) and to the Kennedy Center itself, which got the Concert Hall repainted and ready for show time just before the shutdown.
Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser greets a guest.
Washington National Symphony supporter Sachiko Kuno, head of the S&R Foundation, with Canadian pianist Ryo Yanagitani. 
The cocktail du jour for the ball was a Manhattan.
The audience at the National Symphony Orchestra ball, in the freshly painted Concert Hall.
The Rubenstein Family Organ before the concert began. It was a 40th anniversary gift to the Kennedy Center from board chairman David Rubenstein.
The dinner party that followed the concert was painted with the colors of a cutting garden and made intimate with candlelight. The menu included fig salad and lamb tenderloin. At my table the hosts were Gabonese ambassador Michael Moussa-Adamo and his wife, Bridgette, who were among the ball’s leading patrons. Unlike everyone at the table I departed early, before my carriage turned into a pumpkin, because we party girls need our sleep (and to catch the last quarter of Sunday Night Football).
2013 Symphony Ball co-chairs, Sydney (aka "Nini") and Jay Johnson. Keyboardist Cameron Carpenter with philanthropist Adrienne Arsht.
Ambassador Michael Moussa-Adamo of Gabon with his wife, Bridgette, and Kennedy Center chairman David Rubenstein.
A wall of the Kennedy Center was painted with a mosaic of colored lights. The same colors were in the flowers on the tables.
The colorful table settings at the Washington National Symphony ball.
Dinner before dancing.
The dancing started late and went late.
Midweek Tom Hanks and director Paul Greengrass came to town to host a screening at the Newseum of their new film “Captain Phillips.” The audience was big at 400, but some tickets got transferred from one person to another when the business of the shutdown caused members of Congress and the media to work late.

Hanks, though, sparkled with good cheer. He arrived outside to the routine promotional moment with the media but then moved on toward the building’s entrance, where a group of sailors patiently waited for him behind a rope line. He came to play. He took his time with them, grabbed their cameras and shot “selfies” and paid them generous and happy respect.
Those who didn't have to work late due to the shutdown, made it to the Newseum screening of Tom Hanks' new film.
When Tom Hanks saw the sailors waiting for him at the entrance, he stopped, asked for their smartphones, and shot "selfless."
The members of the Navy, in their dress whites, were delighted in their moments of posing with Tom Hanks. 
Tom Hanks stops to make sure the photo is a good one.
The next night it was another packed house at the Verizon Center for the Washington Capitals home opener, a win over the Calgary Flames. There’s no way of knowing how many of the fans were affected by the shutdown, but they had a good time and stayed late for overtime and a shootout.
The view of the Washington Capitals home opener from a second floor suite at Verizon Center.
Hockey fun as a young man takes in the Caps game.
Spencer Joynt in a suite at the Verizon Center.
We rounded out this troublesome week with a Friday afternoon drive to the C&O Canal Towpath in Great Falls, Maryland. This is an exceptional park where the canal widens to the size of a lake and nearby is a rocky path called The Billy Goat Trail, a nearly 5 mile scramble that is often challenging and always rewarding (once completed).

We thought it would be closed, but it was open. No barriers blocked the paths. We expected, too, that there would be a swarm of furloughed federal workers enjoying the scenery, but it was surprisingly desolate.  Thus, we had this gorgeous patch of Washington practically to ourselves.
The C&O Canal at Great Falls, Maryland widens to the size of a lake.
The C&O Canal towpath near where it joins the Billy Goat Trail in Great Falls, Maryland
An ancient lock along the upper C&O Canal
Photographs by Carol Joynt.

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