Monday, January 12, 2015

Washington Social Diary

After the terrorist attacks, President Obama signed a condolence book at the French Embassy as Ambassador Gerard Araud stood by.
“Je Suis Charlie”
by Carol Joynt

This past week in Washington was no different than anywhere else; all focus was on Paris and the horrific terrorist attack at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, and the ensuing manhunt and other mayhem. There was other news, of course, including the start of the new Congress, but none of it had the urgency or consequence of the senseless shooting deaths of 12 people in and around the satirical newspaper’s office, as well as a policewoman in a nearby suburb, and four hostages at a kosher market.

Among the dead was a male police officer, wounded in the initial massacre, caught helpless on the sidewalk outside the newspaper, his hands in the air, as one of the gunmen approached, aimed, fired and killed him. Credit goes to the The New York Times for running a front page photo of the seconds before the cold-blooded fatal shot, without smudging the image to make it more palatable. Why soften the face of terrorism?
Solidarity in Paris.
The Washington Antiques Show

Without diminishing the importance of events in Paris, a welcomed diversion for those who attended it was the opening night party of the 60th Washington Antiques Show, which also is known as the Washington Winter Show. The show had a nautical theme this year, Ports of Call, appropriate for a party that is essentially a raft up of fine old collectibles and fine old friends and fine gossip. It is one of the social Stations of the Cross of the city’s cave dwellers, a group that exists in an opposite universe from all other tribes.

It’s also an annual Girls Night Out for a posse of friends – Leslie Buhler, Ellen Charles, Kate Markert, Myra Moffett and myself. As we arrived at the Katzen Arts Center, Ellen noted, “everybody you know is here and yet nobody can remember anybody’s name.”  Sadly sometimes true, as the brain becomes an antique, too. That doesn’t slow the hugs, the kisses, the clinking of glasses, the catching up and the occasional consideration of an actual antique. Touring the show with Ellen, though, you are aware she knows everyone, and they all know her.
Arrival with jib sail set.
Some of the stalwarts who made an appearance despite a depressing week and freezing weather included one of its guiding hands, board member Hannah Cox, as well as this year’s chairs, Blair Bourne and Leslie Jones. The diplomatic chair was Ambassador John Earnest Beale of Barbardos. The guest list is made up of many lawyers and business elite; also designers, trust funders, grand dames, future grand dames, gays, some actual collectors, young fogeys, few media and, at best, only a handful of office holders or government officials.

The night’s cocktail was a Barbados rum punch – made with Mount Gay, of course – which not only was a splash of tropical sunshine but also reminded me of quenching my thirst at the Barbados International Airport with one of the best rum punches ever.
Blair Bourne, Jonathan Willen and Leslie Jones (photo courtesy of the Washington Winter Show).
Leslie Buhler, Ellen Charles, John Suval, Kate Markert and Myra Moffett.
The antiques show preview party is really not about the antiques. No offense. The dealers know that. It’s about emerging from the month-long winter holidays, talking about those holidays, dishing the hot dish, noting who got some beach or ski slope sun, who got some work done, who’s cheating, who’s on the down-low, while having a cocktail or two or three, with the lovely collectibles as a handsome backdrop. The dedicated supporters tend to buy something, as a courtesy. Ellen, for example, ritually starts the evening with a visit to porcelain dealer John Suval of Phillip Suval, Inc.

There are three floors of show and party. Some guests work their way up the stairs; others take the elevator to the third floor and drift down. Eventually they see every thing and every one and there are many reminders of how the capital is a small yet connected world.
The show, which occupies three floors, benefits several charities, including the Bishop John T. Walker School for Boys, THEARC, and The Founders of St. John's. Betsy Naulty-Simmons with the actual "America's Cup," among the attractions at the nautical theme Washington Antiques Show.
Not the America's Cup, but silver yachting trophies for sale.
Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan, literally just in from California, was spotted with his wife Genny, happily chatting with friends. Spotted nearby was Robert Higdon, circulating with Buffy Cafritz and David Deckelbaum. Ryan and Higdon are among Nancy Reagan’s closest confidantes and advisors. Ryan is also CEO and Chairman of the Board of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation. Higdon was also a dear friend and is executor of the estate of Joan Rivers. Nancy Reagan and Joan Rivers were long-time good friends. Higdon, an interior designer, is doing Fred and Genny’s new Georgetown home.
Chatting with friends, Fred Ryan, on the left.
All these connected dots make my point: it’s tight, it’s cozy, a good example of the kind of history and friendship that brings people together at this party. Call it insidery if you wish but in a city of lots of faux friendship this is real.

The gossip at this party gets real, too. Outsiders may think Washingtonians gossip about what Senator Blowhard said to Senator Milquetoast. Maybe the media do, but for the city’s permanent elite, the gossip is much richer, and usually connects to money and squabbles.
Robert Hidgon, Buffy Cafritz and David Deckelbaum. Elizabeth Powell and Hannah Cox.
Kate Market, executive director of the Hillwood Museum, and Shane Harris, intelligence and national security correspondent for The Daily Beast.
Nan King and her daughter, Jennifer King.
Right now real estate gossip is at its most savage and delicious. Houses are being sold and bought for millions of dollars, crazy millions. And yet, the Bunny Mellon estate is still waiting for a buyer and while an NFL owner and a Brazilian billionaire are among those who have kicked the tires, no one has stepped up to plunk down the $70 million to buy the whole package of land, manor house, outbuildings, dairy, stables, gardens, tractors and jet landing strip. The gossip is that if the whole lot isn’t sold soon it will be broken up into parcels, albeit sizable parcels.  That may be  “hunt country” gossip, but it made its way to the antiques show.

Georgetown, which is having a Camelot-like renaissance, is also a hot topic. It’s an epicenter of everything that’s right and wrong with the big money real estate boom. The money is mostly new but not exclusively new. Either way, rich people want houses to suit their net worth, which can translate as surburban McMansion shoehorned into an expensive but relatively compact Georgetown address. If there was ever a square peg in a round hole, this is it.
On the right, realtor Ed McAllister.
Kay  Brown and Anne Bowen. "We didn't plan this," they said of their complementary attire. Myra Moffett and Maria Walker.
Susan Harreld, Sherman Moore, Debbie Jessiman, and Michael Harreld (photo courtesy of The Washington Winter Show).
Myra Moffett photo bomb at the booth of her friend, dealer Sumpter Priddy, III.
At the booth of Sumpter Priddy III.
The buyers tend to come from more spacious environs in Virginia or Maryland and, to make their urban dream house come true, dig out a whole floor under the three-story federal, creating a parallel universe with space for the modern must haves of gym, media room, wine cellar, playroom, craft room, and, in some instances, a pool. Is it nuts? Of course its nuts, but that is the privilege of privilege.

The renovation revolution, while good for contractors, has caused a proliferation of ugly refuse dumpsters parked on the quaint Georgetown streets – in some instances for months and months on end – co-opting precious parking spaces, attracting rats and pissing off the residents. This is how that gossip ends: “Why don’t they just buy a bigger house in Potomac or McLean?”
The antiques show dealers know their audience. 
Bill Beck of Beck's Antiques of Fredericksburg, VA., makes a sale.
Under consideration. Catching up.
Friends catching up with friends.
Ellen Charles is shown a pair of earrings at Sallea Antiques.
Joe de Feo and Myra Moffett.
Perhaps the juiciest gossip centers on the Katharine Graham house and a home renovation dispute that pits new money against newer money. The former, developers Jane and Calvin Cafritz, live next door to the Graham house and they like everything just the way it is, including the shared driveway and the peace and quiet of an empty house next door. Only the newer money who bought it several years ago, private equity entrepreneur Mark Ein, now that he’s married, wants to update the formality of the residence, and move in and start a family. He wants to make it more family-friendly.

Mark has a good case, and there’s plenty of acreage for his plans, but the Cafritzes don’t agree. They’ve taken their opposition to the approvals level, The Commission of Fine Arts and its Old Georgetown Board, butting up against Ein on architectural point after point. Both sides are dug in, and have their teams of experts, but with tears and recriminations.
Emerging from the holidays for fine antiques and fine gossip.
Some people come to the antiques show preview party for the antiques, but most wait for the next day to shop and haggle.
The Graham house is perched at the top of Georgetown and has a view of the Potomac in one direction and, in the other, of Oak Hill Cemetery, where Katharine Graham is buried. To the ghosts of Oak Hill, with their special perspective, not to mention to the world itself, this battle is of silly rich people with silly rich people problems. There’s no reason to believe the Cafritzes will back down, or that Mark will throw in the towel, but if he does maybe he should donate the house as a school for pre-K to 3rd.

People at the antiques show gabbed lustily about that kerfuffle as they nibbled on the nautical-themed cuisine prepared by Susan Gage Caterers, including a raw bar, “sailor’s beef stew,” hush puppies and a trio of chowders that made me want to drop anchor, close the hatch and cuddle up down below.  
Susan Gage Caterers created several nautical themed buffets, including this table of hot chowders.
Fine cuisine among the fine collectibles.
But just as satisfying was to end the evening as we often do – Myra, Ellen, Leslie and me taking a table, this year joined by the vivacious Betsy Kleeblatt – with bottles of wine, plates of food, and even richer gossip that I don’t dare share here. There are times when one must close ranks.
While there was a lot to see at the show, how about this elevator ceiling at the show's venue, The Katzen Arts Center.
Not nautical but still wow. "The Leopards," a circa 1860s hooked rug, yours for $94,000 at James Wm Lowery Antiques of Baldwinsville, NY.
Decoy, in flight.
Among collectors of marine art, Antonio Jacobsen is prized.
A Paul Hogarth oil on canvas advertising proof for $12,500 at Robert Lloyd.
Photographs by Carol Joynt.

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt