- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 10, 2004

“Everyone is wearing black and white. They actually read the invitation for once,” pronounced Evelyn DiBona, looking rather elegant in a black Austrian dirndl and pearl and diamond choker as she surveyed guests standing in a receiving line that stretched through two salons, down a double stairway and out to the street in front of Meridian House Thursday night.

The dress code for Meridian International Center’s “Black, White & Jazz” ball was a cinch for the gents in de rigueur black-tie; more effort was required of the ladies, who may have been showing off just a bit as they swooped on the dance floor to the New Orleans Repertory Jazz Ensemble’s tunes or paraded in the garden under floodlit linden trees on a balmy and beautiful autumn night.

Toni Gore, top to toe in black Chanel, carried a matching feather-trimmed velvet opera coat designed by Ann Hand. D.C. Councilwoman Carol Schwartz drew approving glances in a white and black number she identified as vintage Pauline Trigere. Guests couldn’t resist petting Samia Farouki’s exquisitely soft black and gray chinchilla stole or Mary Ourisman’sermine-esque jacket from a recent Louis Vuitton collection.

“Everyone went out of their way to be glamorous tonight,” affirmed Mrs. Hand, who was also a standout in a black silk crepe evening gown by Vicki Tiel.

Guests paid $1,000-per couple to attend pre-ball dinners hosted by 28 ambassadors and competition was fierce to dine in style at the top embassies.

“Major countries like France, Great Britain and Italy are always a draw,” Meridian International Center Chairman James R. Jones said at Italian Ambassador Sergio Vento’s dinner before revealing that China’s burgeoning economic power no doubt explained why that country’s embassy was this year’s most sought after choice.

Although a half-dozen senators missed the festivities after being stranded in the U.S. Capitol due to late roll call votes, the missing-in-action roster would have been far worse if the event had been scheduled the following evening — the same night as the second presidential debate.

“We just got lucky,” ball co-chairwoman Jane Cafritz admitted. “The Thursday before the Columbus Day weekend, was [the committee’s] best guess to get the maximum number of people here.”

Many of the 400 patrons and 200 Linden Circle Young Benefactors (who paid $225 apiece) stayed later than usual on a “school night” to dance, drink champagne and make successive trips to the dessert buffet. Meridian President Walter Cutler reported that about $500,000 was raised for the Center’s various outreach efforts, including programs to enhance international understanding.

“Unfortunately,” he noted, “it’s becoming more important than ever these days.”

— Kevin Chaffee

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