- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2002

As far as "old world" events in Washington go, it would be impossible to top the tradition-laden Russian New Year's Eve Ball (Julian Calendar version) that takes place every January in the Mayflower Hotel.

Always spectacular, the 32nd annual event boasted sights and sounds one rarely sees nowadays perhaps only among the remnant of old Russian emigre aristocrat colonies in London or Paris.

Prince Alexis Obolensky was there as always Friday night, dressed in his pearl-encrusted falconer's costume (similar to those worn during the era of his ancestor Ivan the Terrible), clutching a gold and ebony cane with bejeweled fingers as he presided over the festivities from a thronelike chair.

"I am a combination of a memorial and a mummy. I have been unearthed but not quite exorcised for the 32nd time," he joked.

A 35-piece balalaika ensemble (singers, dancers, musicians) warmed up with the beloved "Ochi Chornye" ("Dark Eyes") as cosmopolitan guests, after multiple hand and cheek kissing, smoothly switched from one language to another in an adjoining reception room. Prince Obolensky suavely greeted Comtesse Marc (Anita) d'Anselme in her native French, spoke in German to Austrian-born Vicomtesse (Gertrude) d'Amecourt, then pattered away in Italian to Suzanne Tolstoy-Miloslavski.

Russian Ambassador Yuri Ushakov and his wife, Svetlana, made their own statement, and just by virtue of their presence (Soviet-era envoys, of course, would never have been invited). Both appeared in decidedly capitalistic formal attire, with the ambassador in a tuxedo and Mrs. Ushakova looking glamorous in a full-length mink coat that was, she noted, definitely of Russian origin and design.

A few men added ever more elan to the affair by opting for white tie and tails. PR man Edward J. Von Kloberg III turned a few heads with his usual full monte of diplomatic orders and decorations.

"You may wear as many of the smaller medals as you can load on, but only one neck badge," he said of his colorful collier (which turned out to be a 1971 gift from the former king of Afghanistan, now very much back in the news).

Guests listened to Russian music as they dined on what one lady of title referred to as "a vague resemblance to beef stroganoff," then danced until the wee hours when a small dance band took over from the balalaika group. Prince and Princess David Chavchavadze, Baroness Constantine (Garnett) Stackelberg, Ruth Noble Groom, and Bob and Olga Ryan were among those privileged to be there.

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