Monday, July 14, 2014

Washington Social Diary

"Oh Shenandoah."
COUNTRY MOUSE, CITY MOUSE
by Carol Joynt

In the last week I was fortunate to have the best of two worlds, to be a “city” mouse and a “country” mouse, each for one memorable night. There was very urban Manhattan, high in a tower at the Mandarin New York, overlooking an unmatched bold landscape, and very rural Millwood, Virginia, ground level in a stone guest house, horses grazing outside my window, quiet and calm at hand. 

While some of the locals prefer Route 7, I drive to the Virginia hunt country and Blue Ridge Mountain foothills on Route 50, also known as the John Mosby Highway. I’m a road tripper and I love roads with history. Not that Route 7 doesn’t also have history – after all, it goes through Leesburg – but Route 50 was carved by Native Americans and made into a main road in the 18th century by settlers and tradesmen traveling from the ports of Alexandria and Georgetown to Winchester. Later it was a major Civil War thoroughfare, and all along it are markers identifying important battles.
A dock on the Shenandoah River.
The first leg out of the city is the Dulles Access Road for the pleasure of passing by the iconic Eero Saarinen designed Dulles International Airport terminal, still stunning at age 52. After that it’s a short hop to the two lane black top that ambles through the towns of Aldie, Middleburg, Upperville, and Virginia’s own Paris.  Then up and over the rise of Ashby Gap, followed by a smooth descent to a singular “exhale moment” – crossing the Shenandoah River. 

While crossing the bridge it’s a challenge to keep eyes on the road ahead and also catch a glimpse of the river. I’ve crossed it so many times over the years and it never fails to prompt awe and peace. It’s a solid, sturdy river that, at least in this section, rolls with tranquility. It lives up to its graceful folk song, “Oh Shenandoah.” The lyrics are about love, journey and yearning. “Oh, Shenandoah, I long to hear you, away you rollin’ river. Oh Shenandoah, I long to hear you, away, I’m bound away, ‘cross the wide Missouri.” Over hundreds of years the song has been embraced by sailors and southerners. To me, quite simply, it means I’ve crossed into one of the prettiest parts of Virginia: Clarke County.
Driving along the Shenandoah River near Clay Hill.
Clarke County, Virginia.
This is where Elizabeth Locke and her husband, John Staelin, have their home, Clay Hill, near the Shenandoah and just outside the towns of Millwood and Boyce, where they also have the headquarters for their global company, Elizabeth Locke Jewels. You know her baubles. They appear routinely in editorial features in Vogue, Town & Country, Veranda, Departures, and other high style glossies. If you’re lucky you own at least a few pieces, too. If you’re especially lucky your significant other is one of the several men who call to order everything on an ad page. It happens. Elizabeth says, “usually after he’s also bought himself something big.”
Welcome to Clay Hill.
A beautiful Saturday afternoon at Clay Hill.
Chauncey, there to greet me at the manor house upon arrival at Clay Hill.
As I began to write this diary I visited the company’s website. I was struck by this passage because even though its about jewels it has the descriptive impact of a yummy restaurant menu: “Elizabeth tirelessly travels the world in pursuit of the uncommon elements that make up her designs: coins from classical Greece and Rome or from forgotten empires; richly colored Venetian glass intaglios made from 17th-century molds; antique carnelian and sardonyx seals; luminous South Sea pearls; cabochon stones of vibrant hues; minutely intricate 19th-century micro-mosaics from Italy; and 18th-century gambling counters carved in mother-of-pearl.” 

I’d been to a party once before at Elizabeth and John’s, when they celebrated their home’s renovation (NYSD 9.7.10) and also recently gave a shout out to her pretty caftans. We also went together to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts exhibition opening of Picasso (NYSD 2.2.11). But those were big events and this would be a small and intimate gathering.
Looking across the field to the windmill.
Early evening summer moon, which would later in the week become the "super moon."
Taking in the farm sights during a before dinner walk.
Inside the stable.
The stable cat.
The guest house.
The guest house cat.
I arrived at Clay Hill early to have time to chat in the kitchen with Elizabeth and John, take a walk around the property, get settled in the guest house and read a little before the other guests arrived for dinner. My room had a handsome four poster that I had to climb into, a TV, skylight, big windows a selection of magazines that included a favorite, Garden & Gun, plus two small jars with the note “Jam for you!” Peach and blueberry, made by Elizabeth.
Inside the guest house, with good reading, and jams, at the foot of the bed.
We were 10 for dinner, but many more if you count the dog, Chauncey, and the cats – Phoebe and Conway Kitty – and the barn cat and the guesthouse cat and the horses. Those last names I didn’t get. The humans were all former and current city mice who have homes in Clarke or Loudoun, the next over county. Howard and Candy Means of Millwood, Bill and Walker Thomas of Berryville, Gordon Beall of Upperville, Sisi Gallagher and Michael Williams of Millwood.
The bar set-up before dinner.
It was a dreamy summer evening, dry, not to warm, as we gathered on the lawn to have cocktails, nibble on nuts and olives, and talk about nothing in particular and a lot in general: towns, homes, food, who do we know in common, lilies, rural development, chickens, and dogs and cats, of course.
Looking through the porch door to cocktails on the lawn.
Howard Means and John Staelin with the Clay Hill main house in the background.
Cocktails and olives and Chauncey stays near.
Conway Kitty.
Conway is not intimidated by Chauncey.
Elizabeth Locke and her day lilies.
Just one stem of blooms from Clay Hill's large lily garden.
It was a porch dinner. Two tables of five. The menu authentically farm to table – salad and vegetables from the Clay Hill gardens, local beef as the entree and local berries for dessert. Walker and I were the other women at Elizabeth’s table, with Howard on my left and Gordon on my right. We didn’t only discuss social media, but we talked about social media a lot – the relevance of Twitter over Facebook, the seeming uselessness of Linkedin, the art of smartphone photos (we had Gordon, an expert), and interesting and useful new apps.
MIchael Williams, Sisi Gallagher (hidden), Walker Thomas and Elizabeth Locke return from the chicken coop.
Ancient stone walls run through the property.
Walker Thomas. Bill Thomas, Sisi Gallgagher, and Chauncey.
Howard Means and Michael Williams.
The porch where dinner was served.
The view from the porch toward the kitchen.
Grill master Bill Staelin with the meat fresh off the fire. Elizabeth preps the salad that is fresh from the Clay Hill gardens.
Inside the porch, two tables of five.
Walker and Elizabeth at dinner, talking social media and apps.
Farm to table dinner at Clay Hill.
Walker helps herself to grilled beef and squash soufflé.
Gordon, an acclaimed architectural photographer – you have seen his work in AD, Veranda, House Beautiful – talked about his current project, a book about The Inn at Little Washington that is being guided by the chef and owner, Patrick O’Connell. Gordon spends days and nights there. Needless to say, he’s been eating very well.
Like the Shenandoah, dinner took its time, rolling on until conversation wound down and the little and big hands moved to midnight.
Chauncey after dinner.
In the morning Elizabeth and I visited the chickens (she sent me home with a carton of their fresh eggs) and also the pool house, and by pool house I mean it is a house with a pool inside. It also has John’s office, where he operates as CFO for the jewelry company when not wearing his hat as a member of the Clarke County board of supervisors.

The drive home would have been glum except I knew a New York trip was on the horizon.
Elizabeth says "hello" to her chickens.
Pretty chickens who produce delicious eggs.
The pool house.
The indoor pool with John Staelin's office high up in the distance.
On Tuesday the 9 a.m. Acela was my ride to New York to do a little business but also to have lunch at Michael’s with DPC and JH. I call Michael’s the NYSD “clubhouse.” David has the “A” table and manager Steve Millington stops by often to dote and dish. Right away I ordered the restaurant’s perfectly browned and crisped pommes frites. It’s a packed house of bold facers. Coming from Washington, which has no comparable restaurant, the lunch experience at Michael’s is always entertaining. David and Jeff are colleagues and friends, two quintessential New York men who make me laugh, boost my ego and are never boring.
Aboard the Acela to New York.
Browned and crisped to perfection, the French fries at Michael's. They come with a ramekin of mayo (darned to the cholesterol!)
There’s also always the ritual part of the lunch, at the end, where we each pick up our cameras (readers of this website know we three are constant photographers) to take selfies and to employ Steve as court photographer, too. It’s not serious. It’s fun. I re-enter the world on 55th Street smiling.
Steve Millington, keeping an eye on DPC. CJ's portrait of JH.
JH's portrait of CJ.
The three Musketeers!
Before heading downtown to Daniel Boulud’s 5th anniversary party at his DBGB on the Bowery I walked around midtown and made time to have a swim in the sky-high pool at the Mandarin. It was empty and apart from the piped-in music, relaxing. Pools don’t need music. Water is music. And often it’s good to hear only the lyrics of our own brains.
Swimming, sky high at the Mandarin.
Room 3810 at the Mandarin New York.
An unparalleled view, from the Mandarin.
The Mandarin's dining room. How's this for a breakfast, lunch or dinner view?
Daniel’s party was a food feast, of course, and wonderful. It was possible to eat more in that night than most humans eat in a whole week. You name the French delicacy and it was on a buffet table, creating a pate-seafood-carved meat-fromage-crudité-Canelé road map of Daniel’s culinary journey, including New York hot dogs with all the fixins. Lloyd Grove met me there – we, and our children, go way back – tucked into an alcove table, where we sipped lots of delicious Miraval rosé, ate everything and caught up.
At the DBGB 5th anniversary party a combo performs French songs.
A whole lot of Daniel Boulud's chefs post for a "team" photo.
Nothing if not a food feast at DBGB.
She went from table to table, shucking oysters. Ode to the cochon.
Alcove view of the DBGB 5th anniversary party. (Note the ketchup bottle in the foreground, ready for the hot dogs).
The next day it was breakfast with Tiffani Cailor at the Four Seasons Hotel, including a delicious green power drink she recommended, a brief walk up and down Madison, where the sales were impressive, and lunch with Daniel and his right hand, Evyn Block, at db Bistro Moderne, on 44th tucked in between the Alqonquin Hotel and the Harvard Club.  I had Champagne, lightly fried Hen of the Woods mushrooms in Aioli, gazpacho and lobster salad.
Bistro Moderne before the lunch rush.
Lunch at db Bistro Moderne.
Daniel Boulud and Evyn Block.
After that, the train back home, me fat and happy, Cinderella back in her pumpkin, already missing New York as the train rolled out of Penn Station.

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt