Monday, November 30, 2015

Washington Social Diary: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving in Georgetown.
by Carol Joynt

What a week and what a weekend. In many ways the Thanksgiving holiday was a respite from the anxiety of the heightened security threats prompted by the attacks in Paris. But in truth, we are a trained society, sobered by September 11th, sophisticated about phrases such as “if you see something, say something.” We think we won’t, but what if we do? Which certainly was the case for the people gathered outside the White House on Thanksgiving afternoon, when a man wrapped in the U.S. flag brazenly jumped over the newly-spiked White House fence. The news here is not that he attempted the jump, but that he succeeded during a holiday period in which there was a much greater visible presence of security throughout the city.

When it happened, President Obama and his family were inside the mansion having their Thanksgiving meal.
In images photographed by a tourist, a White House fence jumper on Thanksgiving Day.
He had a binder in his mouth, but what if …
The Secret Service took him down fast, but he had time to stand on the lawn, and raise his hands in the air ...
A White House fence jumper is not new news. But when we’re told that Americans should be on-guard everywhere, you’d think that would mean an extra-extra level of “on-guard” at the White House. Just think of the obvious “what ifs?” If in his hand, instead of a binder, he had a backpack nuke? If he had been a suicide bomber, strapped up with explosives? What if, in some bizarre level of crazed skill, he jumped the fence bearing an RPG and had the time to aim and fire?
The Secret Service, Uniformed Division.
In their "emergency response" uniforms, the Secret Service look ready for combat.
That block of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is an armed compound, inside and outside the gates. But this is nation’s capital, and people still are permitted to walk at will – supposedly closely watched – on the plaza that faces the north front and includes Lafayette Park. It also includes Blair House, known as The President’s Guest House, and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where most White House staff have their offices, including a ceremonial office for the Vice President.  Also, the Renwick Gallery. The plaza and the park are where most people gather to protest or celebrate (for example, after the Supreme Court approved marriage equality), or to remember with vigils (recently, for the Paris terror victims). 
This is a stock image of Pennsylvania Avenue today, but for years it was a major Washington thoroughfare, open to all traffic. This is looking to the west. The White House is to left. Lafayette Park to the right.
The promenade has not been without violence, and the most historically significant incident happened in November 1950, when two Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to murder President Harry Truman, who used Blair House as a temporary residence during a White House renovation, and “commuted” on foot back and forth between the two. The assassination attempt was thwarted by a policeman, who was killed. One of the gunmen was killed, the other died in prison while serving a life sentence.
A Secret Service agent stands guard outside Blair House. On the ground is Oscar Collazzo, wounded in a foiled attempt to assassinate President Truman. He died in prison.
The other would-be assassin, Griselio Torresola, was shot and killed outside Blair House.
Washingtonians (and apparently fence jumpers, too) are not daunted by the conspicuous presence of security in close proximity to the White House. (We’re accustomed to it all over town). This is the terrain of the Secret Service’s Uniformed Division. They are in guard houses, in cars, on bicycles, on foot, on the White House lawn, on the White House roof, joined by sharp shooters. They wear uniforms of white shirts and dark pants or head to toe black combat gear. They carry some very serious weaponry, too.

Nonetheless, people walk there all the time. That section of Pennsylvania Avenue was for years open to traffic (which ended during the Clinton Administration) and many of us still walk that route to get from one side of the White House to the other. There’s a view, too, from the north side, on the Ellipse, and while impressive it is from a much greater distance.
The Pennsylvania Avenue plaza in front of the White House is a popular gathering spot for protest and celebration. This is the night after the Supreme Court voted in favor or marriage equality.
A picture hanging in my living room reminds me how public access to the White House has changed drastically as time and security threats march on. It is a pencil sketch done in the mid 1800s, because it shows a front portico. But it also shows an insignificant fence, like almost anyone could walk up and knock on the door. It was like that through many presidencies.

The Secret Service was formed in the 1860s and began protecting the president in 1930, but it wasn’t until World War II that guard gates were staffed round the clock, visitors were carefully screened, and security began to compound almost annually.

Still, we know it’s not impenetrable.
This pencil sketch shows the White House in most likely the mid-1800s.
But on to happier topics …


As I mentioned above, and as you see in photos here, the Renwick Gallery is part of the Pennsylvania Avenue plaza that includes the White House. The building is at the edge of the compound. It is part of the Smithsonian and is home to its American Art Museum collection of contemporary craft. The gallery just reopened after a two-year renovation that brings it very boldly into the 21st Century. The work was done by architectural design and engineering firm Westlake Reed Leskosky, with Consigli Construction Co. Inc., as the general contractor.
The Renwick Gallery in Washington, next door to Blair House (on the far right) and just on the edge of White House promenade security perimeter.
The Renwick is to the left. The plaza area is what used to be Pennsylvania Avenue. The White House is just behind the trees. The Eisenhower Executive Office Building is on the right.
The Renwick opened a decade after the Civil War and was called the “American Louvre,” because the French art museum was an inspiration for James Renwick as he designed the building. In 1962, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy saved it from demolition, and the Smithsonian began to use it in 1972. As the photos show, the renovation was transformative.
In 1962, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy saved the Renwick from demolition. Here she examines plans for improvements. (Yes, that's the suit she wore in Dallas).
The Renwick's Grand Salon before the renovation. When you see these photos the renovation is all the more stunning.
Here is the Grand Salon after the renovation:
Be sure to bring your camera – phone or the real deal – because they encourage photography, and the installations, part of the opening WONDER exhibition, are irresistible. WONDER, featuring nine leading contemporary artists, will run for six months. Note: I hope you don’t have an aversion to (dead) insects.
The view out the front doors toward the EEOB. This is the first installation on the left, from New York artist Tara Donovan before taking the stairs up to the main gallery. 
An up close view: Donovan used styrene index cards, metal, wood, paint and glue.
The Renwick's grand staircase. The dramatic new red carpet for the Grand Staircase was designed by French architect Odile Decq
This sign is prominent at the Renwick, and for good reason. The installations are irresistible to professional and amateur photographers. And fun to shoot, too. 
Plexus A1 — from thread, wood, hooks and steel — was created by Dallas artist Gabriel Dawe. It tricks the eye on purpose.
Here's another feast for the eyes and the camera: Chapel Hill-based artist Patrick Dougherty used willow saplings to create Shindig.
Dougherty crisscrossed the world weaving sticks into marvelous architectures, says the Renwick.
John Grade of Seattle created Middle Fork (Arctic) from reclaimed old-growth western red cedar.
On same floor as the Grand Salon are several other installations, including this one by Maya Lin.
Lin, of New York, calls this Folding the Chesapeake and it is made of marbles and adhesive.
Another creation from John Grade, who calls this Middle Fork (Cascades), to commemorate the Renwick's reopening. He used a half-million segments of reclaimed cedar to create the "tree," modeled after a hemlock that is 150 years old, the same age as the Renwick.
One of the most arresting installations is from Jennifer Angus of Madison, WI. She calls it the Midnight Garden and by all means look closely: Angus used real insects, beautiful in their natural form. People do stop and stare ...and of course take photos ...
Chakaia Booker of New York City used rubber tires and stainless steel to create Anonymous Donor. It's a challenge to photograph, which makes it more fun for photographers.
High above her head is Dale Chiluly's Seafoam and Amber Tipped Chandelier, merging the old and new Renwick.

It was a friendly but subdued gathering at the French Ambassador's residence last week as Gerard Araud hosted his first social event since the Paris attacks. The occasion was a book party for Elaine Sciolino, former Paris bureau chief for The New York Times and author of The Only Street In Paris. The 120 guests nibbled on foie gras, smoked salmon, saucisson and pissaladière, sipped Champagne or cocktails, and it seemed each found a moment to tell Araud and his staff about their shock over the attacks and their affection for France and the French people.
As he welcomed his guests, French Amb. Gerard Araud had emotional words about the terrorist attacks in Paris, but also a smile in appreciation of America's caring and friendship. 
The reception fell on the eve of a rushed and important visit to Washington of French President Hollande. He was here and gone in one day. He met with President Obama in the morning, had other meetings, departed in the afternoon and eventually headed to Moscow and a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He’s a man on a mission and his performance in this moment in history reminds us how it is not peace but crisis and tragedy that define leadership. Araud is in the spotlight, too. In fact, a New York Times reporter, who is writing a profile, kept a close eye on him during the reception.
Elaine Sciolino, signing books.
When he welcomed his guests, Ambassador Araud sad, serious, resolved and affectionate. While he was emotional through his remarks, he ended with a smile.

"To all Americans, we are grateful for the outpouring of solidarity and friendship," he said. "You are quite a compassionate people and you have shown it again in this horrible attack.” Elaine, too, was emotional in her comments to the guests. "Tonight we are here in the house of France," she said. "It is a time to mourn and to honor the victims of the terror attacks of November 15. But it is also a time to celebrate a way of life – the French way of life." 
A kiss from her daughter. Sciolino greets one of the guests, most of them her Washington friends.
The embassy said the guest list was comprised of Sciolino’s family and Washington friends. Her husband flew in from Paris. Her daughters were there, too, joining Maureen Dowd, Chris Isham and Jennifer Maguire, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, Susan Rappaport, Lyndon Boozer, Stephanie Green, Kate Bennett, Melanne Verveer, Sally Quinn, Maureen Orth, Benjamin Pauker, Janet Donovan, Juleanna Glover and Christopher Reiter, Kevin Chaffee, Nina Totenberg and David Reines, Michael Elliott and Emma Oxford, Susie Westmacott, Tom Donilon, Margaret Warner, Jim and Kate Lehrer, Margaret Carlson, Roland Flamini, Renaud de Viel Castel, Nora Poullion. After the party, Araud and a small group of friends walked to dinner at the restaurant owned by Poullion, Restaurant Nora. It is nearby and is a favorite too of one of his predecessors, Pierre Vimont.
Justice Alito, David Reines, and Amb. Araud and Sciolino.
Melanne Verveer with Amb. Araud.
Photographs by Carol Joynt.

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt