daily preciousness

Thursday, January 04, 2001

new year's eve

New Year's Eve started late for me. I left the house at 8:30 p.m. It was a cool night, around 29 degrees. But the wind was not howling around as it had been during the last few days, so it was pleasant enough. At my busstop, I hesitated before plopping myself down on the bench to wait. I realized that I could simply walk the 3 miles to the party. It was a safe enough neighborhood and I knew that the police would be careful about people walking around it at night. The road to the party was Washington DC's Embassy Row.

It's located on Massachusettes Avenue between Wisconsin and Dupont Circle. Dotted along the street of distinguished, ivy-walled buildings were scores of embassies and consulates. Behind their security gates and privacy fences stood the offices and residences of diplomats, beaurocrats and countless others. Walking in this area at night put me in the mood of a Le Carre novel. Among the shadow-dappled streets, countless dangers plagued me. Was that man trailing me? Why was that car passing by at such a suspiciously slow pace? Did I just hear the whir of a surveillance camera tracking my every move? My imagination got the better of me and I nervously hummed my way through to a better lighted area. The official theme song for 2000 for me had to have been "Chanson." So I sang/hummed it half a dozen times.

Before long, I came across a crowd of people. Just off Observatory Court, where the old star-gazers building stood on a small hill, was the Navy Court area. This is where the vice-president's home is located. And right outside his gates, I saw the guests for his New Year's Eve party. The line was long and snaked down the block around the far corner. For a few moments, I considered crashing the festivities, then I eyed the tent and mini-garrison that the Secret Service set up. I prudently vetoed that idea.

A few more moments and I passed the garish Japanese consulate. The old office is fairly hideous and doesn't really endure the viewer to this example of Japanese corporate "style." (I use the term loosely.) Behind it, beyond a little court, is the Ambassador's house. I wonder if they're busy observing the same new year's rituals that I used to enjoy. Roasting mochi over a fire, sipping gold-leaf sake and nibbling fresh hothouse strawberry ricecakes. Such exotic tastes. I wonder if I'll experience them again in 2001? (Who knows?)

Right before I cross Sheridan Circle, I veer to the left and walk up R Street. This is where the party is located. Along this slightly less fashionable neighborhood of businesses and homes, the visitor can find the second- and third-tier embassies. States without the benefit of big bucks (or pesos or pesetas) have to snag these low-rent buildings so that they can at least maintain some sort of presence in Washington.

A few of them observe the holidays with simple wreaths or trimmings. But most have nothing. Several have year-round decorations celebrating the works of their famous artists. One of my favorites is a small park with the words and bust of Kahlil Gibran. His beautiful words grace the backs of stone park benches and face a small fountain with an arab design encircling it. It's a delightful, pastoral spot located near the Rock Creek parkway.

Before long, I find myself in the Neighborhood of Dupont. This is arguably one of the most interesting areas of DC. And it's where my party was located.

I step up to an impressive brownstone with an etched glass door. The host that I don't know, David, buzzes me in and welcomes me. The other host, Alex, a friend of an acquaintance, is busy dressing. I quickly see Maurizio, my ice skating pupil from the other day, munching down on snacks. He's animated as usual and gives me a warm hug hello.

The apartment is amazing. It's grandly but tastefully appointed. Very smart artwork on the walls - but nothing is gauche or overdone. "Restrained elegance" is how I would describe it. David is a restauranteur. Apparently, he's a successful one. His personality is very direct. Pointedly so. But he's a good host and doesn't skewer me with anything more than a few (relatively gentle) accusations. (He totally clocked me, pointing out that I didn't seem as shy as I claimed I was. I get that a lot. Not sure why. I guess I'm outgoing enough to hide the fact that I'm basically a wallflower.)

There were dozens of really friendly, really intelligent people (guys, mostly) there. It was a pleasure just to sit and talk with them. I was glad to have actual conversations with people, instead of the usual chitchat that passes for conversation at parties these days. Had I been desperate enough to sink to chitchat, the amazing food and drink or the gorgeous surroundings would have provided ample fodder for it.

The atmosphere was friendly. I talked with Doug, a Clint Eastwood type who works at the Congress. He's connected to the National Forest System somehow. The buzz is that he might be appointed by George W. as the next #2 at the Department of Agriculture. The previous night, I spent an evening at his rustic home in Capitol Heights. He's neighbors with senators and other Congressional workers. Great neighborhood. He and I made a warm, crackling fire together for the previous night's get together. Pleasant guy, Doug. I enjoyed making him laugh and I suspect we have a very similar sense of humor.

Next I met Lord Michael, a guy who was in town for just a few days. He was in town on vacation, but I bet he was doing something with the British Embassy. When he mentioned he went to Ogggsford (that's how he pronounced it!), I told him that I'd went there as well. He politely tried to suppress his astonishment. I waited a few beats before I admitted "…as a tourist." He gave me a bemused smile.

I talked with Donna, an aesthetician who gave great massages. I think she's the first aesthetician I've ever met who called herself that. Most the time, they call them "beauty school graduates" in the South. She was sassy and really reminded me of Karen from TV's Will & Grace. Of course, I easily got in touch with my inner sass and we got along famously.

"The other" Jeffrey from Louisiana was there. He's from Slidell (poor dear) and I thought should have been a smidgen more friendly to his fellow state escapee. Of course, he's living in DC now. Lucky jerk. He talked about American Airlines, his employer. While he was incredibly intelligent, intense and handsome, I couldn't really enjoy talking with him because it was hard to get a word in edgewise. But I told him what a funny train they have at Dallas Fort Worth - it's the transport that is sponsored by Amerian Airlines. It's called the "trAAin" and I told him it was fun to say (with an elongated "a" sound): "I'm going to catch the 'trAAin!'" Laughter, applause. What wit, Jeffrey, oh dear!

Brent, a friendly 30-something from the State Department, talked with me about cultural exchange programs. He was in charge of the high school educational and cultural exchange programs that send U.S. kids abroad all over the world. Right now, he's working with several eastern European countries. He couldn't speak any Russian or any other languages, except for Spanish. I gave him my usual little sample of Russian and he was mightily impressed. Or at least pretended to be.

The hours passed speedily and I found myself unprepared for the final seconds of 2000. Dick Clark's voice was amplified after someone picked up the remote control, drowning out the sounds of the party. The Ageless One laughed and steered us quickly into the final countdown. The last seconds came to an end and the flurry of kisses began. Like the tickertape and streamers falling onto Times Square, a storm of kisses fell upon me as I made my way around the room. It was great. I bubbly with all the smiles and kisses. A few of the people had just arrived, so I outstretched my hand, introduced myself, shook on it, then proceeded to kiss their grinning lips. It was great - the only time of year that you can get away with that sort of flirting.

Champagne corks popped. The good cheer flowed freely into our flutes and glasses. Whilst waiting for the bottle to get to my side of the thirsty circle, I made my New Year's resolutions:

1 Have more fun.

2 Be sillier in public.

3 Drink more champagne.

4 Introduce myself to strangers.

5 Be bold in business.

The hosts made toasts and we downed three bottles of the dry stuff before we knew it. (I call it the dry stuff because the next morning, after only having 3 or 4 glasses, I was so dehydrated that I could hardly open my eyes. They were nearly stuck shut!)

I talked with Brent some more about State Department matters. He said that they give him random drug tests all the time and that when he started, the bureau did extensive background checks on him, interviewing practically everybody in his family and most of his friends. ("What an inquisitve piece of furniture!" I squealed. "What were the filing cabinets like?" He laughed, slightly confused but highly amuzed.)

Soon, our hosts soon decide to go out to a bar, after a few massages are doled out by Donna the magnificent masseuse. We begin the 3-block journey before the elderly (40 years old) David announces, "I'm not gonna walk that far! It's freezing out here!" In his self-described "midlife crisis shirt," a clingy black tea that showed off his biceps, he had an expensive black leather jacket. I sat on his lap in the cab. During the quick trip, I told him what I wanted for Christmas and he pronounced me "a good little boy."

At the bar, Doug bought drinks for everyone and I felt very decadant sipping on water "with gas," as my English textbook used to call it. Refreshing.

The bar, called the Lizard Lounge, was spacious and not too terribly crowded. We mingled and talked. I think I was the only one who enjoyed the music. It was the first place I've ever heard "Discoteca," a song the Pet Shop Boys made a few years back. Great to finally hear it through big speakers. It was a pounding, thumping, joyful tune with a great Brazilian beat. Very festive. I grinned ear to ear and mouthed out the words, drag queen style. I was actin' a fool, as I'd promised that I would do in my list of resolutions.

Before long, it was time to go. I went home and got to bed around 4:30. I woke up at 2:30 the next afternoon. I joined Brent for a lunch at the Burro burrito factory. (I chose a meatless burro burrito. Pack animals tend to be so stringy.)

Although we wanted to catch "Best in Show," a hilarious dog show mockumentary, it wasn't playing for another 2 hours. So we decided to save it for another day. I went home and quickly fell asleep after reading the middle chapter of "Memoirs of a Geisha." It was a great New Year's celebration.

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