Monday, June 16, 2014

Washington Social Diary

Soon-to-be Ambassador to the United Nations Francois Delattre, with his wife Sophie.
French Ambassador Francois Delattre Is Reassigned to the United Nations
by Carol Joynt

Ambassadors to Washington come and go and, apart from the formal welcoming ceremony at the White House, there’s not much fanfare. The function of diplomatic relations has changed in a world where technology makes country-to-country communications fast, easy and personal. One thing doesn't change: America has dollars, defense and a big stick.

In the heyday of Embassy Row, ambassadors had two principal roles: to be a key conduit with the White House, the State Department and Congress, and an active social host. It’s still a prime, even career-capping post, but the social responsibilities — luncheons, cocktail parties, dinners, handing out medals — now rest a lot on lobbying and match or exceed opportunities for serious, old-school diplomacy. Often, an embassy's spending on entertaining is on a par with the host country's reliance on our $$$$ and our defense industry — government and private.
The entrance to La Maison Française the French diplomatic compound on Reservoir Road just outside Georgetown in northwest Washington.
It's worthy of note, though, when France makes a change at the Maison Française, their contemporary-style embassy on Reservoir Road. After months of whispers and rumors, a change of command was announced last week. The Elysée Palace confirmed that Francois Delattre, the French ambassador to the United States since 2011, would become Ambassador to the United Nations. It’s expected he and Sophie, and their two (college age and high school age) children, will pack up and move to New York after Bastille Day. Delattre had previously been posted to New York as Consul General and later to Canada as ambassador.

The new assignment is regarded here, in New York, and in Paris as a good fit and comes with a wave of musical chairs among appointees of the administration of French president Francois Hollande, who is midway through his term.
At the recent Hillwood gala, where Ambassador Delattre and Sophie were the guests of honor, here he is with Ellen Charles and Adrienne Arsht.
Sophie Delattre at the 2013 Hillwood Gala with Amy Bondurant and David Dunn.
Delattre was a low key but popular emissary and it’s clear he will be missed in Washington. Jim Hoagland, the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist and a regular at French embassy events, sent a message from Venice: “I can't pretend to be objective about Francois Delattre. The qualities that make him a good friend also made him a highly effective ambassador. He is an enthusiastic, warm, tireless and honest representative of his country, which has raised diplomacy to a high art.” Hoagland concurred that he will be missed, “but at least he will be nearby.”

Writer Michael Mosettig, the former foreign affairs senior producer for the NewsHour on PBS, is also a Delattre admirer. He said he would “miss a good pal here since his days as press counselor.” Noting Delattre’s modesty, Mosettig said, “he would not take credit for this — circumstances were critically important — but he has been a key player in elevating Franco-American relations over his career.”
At the Wolf Trap Ball the Delattres were patrons. Here, on stage, Delattre, second from left, is being introduced by Arvind Manocha.
At The Wolf Trap Ball, left to right, Deborah Warren, Karen Schaufeld and Sophie Delattre.
The French ambassador oversees one of the largest embassy staffs, including ranking representatives of the military, the French treasury, other economic, commercial and political counselors, and media and culture departments. It’s not a coincidence that International Monetary Fund director Christine Legarde, who is French, is a regular dinner guest.

Making the French Embassy popular in Washington has never been a hard task, even back in the controversial moment of “freedom fries.” Embassies in Washington attract groupies and the French always have the biggest flock, (though Italy is gaining on them due to the popularity of Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero and wife Laura Denise.) But France is France — the food, the fashion, the manners, the style, the history - and the diplo groupies crave invitations to the ambassador’s residence on Kalorama Road, though currently it is closed and under renovation.
The Italian ambassador, Claudio Bisogniero raises a glass – the dinner parties he hosts with his wife, Laura, are stand outs.
In the interim, the Delattre family moved to a leased home on Foxhall Road and entertained there, but it doesn’t compare to the grand circa 1910 estate, which is described as Tudor and Jacobean and has been home to every French ambassador since 1936. It’s a draw all on its own. The appeal is the look of the public rooms, among them a sumptuous parlor with rose silk walls bearing the Napoleonic bee, and a dining room of such a lovely pale green it feels like a sanctuary, an entry-making grand staircase. There’s a contemporary sunroom, and out the back French doors a vast terrace, overlooking a lawn that includes a swimming pool and mature trees.

When Vanity Fair hosted its annual  White House Correspondents Association party there they painted the trees with light and to great effect. When France hosted the Opera Ball the spirit of the “city of light” was transported to Kalorama, including chandeliers hanging from the trees. It was a sight to see.
The French ambassador's residence on Kalorama Road, before renovation work began.
The rose parlor.
The French ambassador's dining room, here, several years ago, at a luncheon hosted by then-Ambassador Pierre Vimont.
During a Dior fashion show at the French ambassador's a model makes good use of the entry-making grand staircase.
Robert Higdon, Bob Colacello and David Deckelbaum on the driveway at the French ambassador's residence.
Out back, the scene on the terraces of the residence during the Vanity Fair party.
What about Delattre’s possible replacement? Again, the rumor mill. What’s been said since the beginning of the year was that it would be the current French Ambassador to the U.N., Gérard Araud, a native of Marseille, a former director general in the minister of foreign affairs, one time first secretary at the embassy in Tel Aviv, and also once posted to Washington as the counselor for Middle East issues. He’s openly gay and lives with his partner, who we were told is an interior designer. What’s also said is that if he gets the post, Araud wants to wait and move to Washington only after the Kalorama residence is complete, which could be fall or the end of the year.
All smiles: Marie-Monique Steckel and Gérard Araud.
Whether the new ambassador is Araud or someone else, here’s hoping a decision is made to re-instate the popular Kalorama Lecture series that was begun by Delattre’s predecessor, Ambassador Pierre Vimont, who is now in Brussels with the EU as Secretary-General of the European External Action Service. In a town that loves the sound of its own voice, the dinners were a stand-out, featuring remarks and a Q&A with a visiting French notable followed by a seated dinner. They occurred every other month or so, were more intellectual than social, but social just enough, and spread goodwill.
Francois Delattre with his predecessor, Ambassador Pierre Vimont. Who will be next?
Photographs by Carol Joynt.

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