That’s apparently what happened a couple of months ago during a meeting where the heads of fundraising at the Kennedy Center were brainstorming how to make the wife of the Gabonese Ambassador feel welcome at the annual Spring Gala. The Embassy of Gabon was a major supporter of the event, and the Ambassador and his wife were planning to attend, but language barriers risked leaving Madame out of the social patter that would accompany the dinner.
Solution? Moi. En smoking. Evidemment.
Of course I was flattered and accepted the invitation. I planned to spend the following weeks reading up on Gabon (West Africa, major nature reserve, lots of offshore oil, regional commercial hub) and the Ambassador (six kids!) — and I promise did spend about half an hour Googling all of that before the event — but the real fun lay in updating my eveningwear wardrobe. Because wearing a tuxedo is one talent that I have every intention of developing in this lifetime…
The evening started with a reception on the terrace overlooking the Potomac River. Not knowing when the Embassy party would arrive, I got there early and enjoyed milling about amongst the finery and the plastic surgery — and there was a lot of both. It would have been more fun to have had a date to share it with, but at least I knew many of the Kennedy Center folks and was able to chat with them periodically as they mingled with donors.
|Me and Nicole, who looked fantastic in that mint-green dress
(the photo really doesn’t do it justice)
From the reception we went upstairs to dinner in the rooftop atrium. Seen at any other time, the atrium strikes most people as a boring waste of space — but add a few lights and flowers and crystal chandeliers, and voila! you’ve got a glamorous formal dinner for a couple hundred guests.
|The view from the Ambassador’s table|
|They hire professional calligraphers to write the place cards|
|First course: butter lettuce salad with English cheddar,
blackberries, walnuts and honey vinaigrette
The food at these events is usually decent but, given the challenges of feeding so many, it’s rarely outstanding — and this night was no different. You go for the socializing and the clothes and the concert, not the food.
Speaking of socializing, it didn’t go quite as planned. The Ambassador and his wife never came! Not surprising, perhaps, given that this is the party season and I’m sure they’ve got gala fatigue like everyone else (new personal goal: get to the point where I can claim to have “gala fatigue”). But that didn’t mean I ate alone. Also at my table were a Congressman who is the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs (who affably introduced himself and then, upon realizing that I wasn’t important, tried to ignore me the rest of the night), a businesswoman who is the senior director of international affairs at a major French company and on the board of the Alliance Francaise (who eagerly gave me her business card and invited me to get involved), the director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, and his wife who is an accountant (both of whom recently moved to DC from New York and were still adjusting — we bonded over the Met Opera), and the executive vice president of the Kennedy Center (who handles all administrative and operations matters). So while I didn’t spend the evening conversing in French about the place of Gabon in the world, there was still plenty of interesting talk to go around.
Dinner was followed by a concert performance of My Fair Lady. By happy coincidence I was seated in the same box as the Marriotts. Ron and Debbie weren’t there (off in Kenya, I hear) but it was still fun to catch up with Bill and Donna and Donna’s sister (whose name I’ve forgotten, but whose daughter married one of my mission companions). The performance itself was spotty but charming — you could tell it hadn’t been rigorously rehearsed, but the blips and foibles actually made it more fun, keeping the audience on its toes. It’s amazing to see how a musical as well known as My Fair Lady can still delight an audience and generate fresh laughter after so many years. It’s a testament to the strength of the show and the place it occupies in popular culture.
After the performance we headed back upstairs for the “Midnight Party” on the roof. There were fountains and flowers and towers of desserts; a silhouette of the London skyline projected on the wall. A DJ played music at one end of the hall, which had been cleared for dancing; there was an open bar on the other end. I circulated for a while, saying hello to folks I hadn’t caught up with during the reception earlier, but I didn’t stay long. After all, it was a Sunday night, and unlike the wealthy and the retired, I needed to get up early in the morning for work (and Crossfit).
So I bid my fond farewells, grabbed my Boeing/Estee Lauder goodie bag, and headed back to my apartment and the plain old ordinariness of regular life.
|The goodies were perfect, by the way:
An umbrella from Boeing with a discrete logo on the inside,
and some sort of eye cream from Estee Lauder that claims to ensure
my continued hotness for years to come.