- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 6, 2005

Saturday’s private Latin-Arab soiree at the Colombian Embassy residence was as spontaneous as it ever gets in buttoned-down Washington. All the credit goes to two diplomat wives, Gabriela Moreno, married to longtime Colombian ambassador Luis Alberto Moreno, and Luma Kawar, spouse of Jordanian envoy Karim Kawar, who met during their college days in Boston and soon figured their diverse backgrounds might make for a socially explosive mix.

And when girls just want to have fun, watch out. With the stage set by Grupo Latino Continental playing cumbia and salsa numbers loud and long in between sets of Cairo disco, the dance floor in the ottoman- and divan-filled ballroom was crowded with 150 of the ladies’ “nearest and dearest” in-crowd pals well past the bump and grind of the belly dancer’s show. A conga line even formed at one point.

Many of the men — husbands, partners, dates — got into the swing of things after making selections from the kebabs, hummus and empanadas on the buffet. The dress code was “either/or,” a choice that led to some curious sights. Businessman Mel Estrin went all out in his Moroccan caftan and burnoose. (“I collect costumes wherever I go,” was his explanation.) Meridian House International chief Walter Cutler, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, was equally a la mode, telling everyone proudly how his Palestinian kaffiyeh (headdress) was coming back in style and that his gold-trimmed robe represented the potential democratic spirit of a land where the men “all wear the same thing.” Not so his wife, Didi, glamorous in a four-piece custom-made ensemble from one of Saudi Arabia’s leading designers.

Developer Morton Bender’s straw hat and white jacket was straight out of Meyer Lansky-era Havana, while his wife Grace did the Latin theme to a turn, complete with a flower behind her ear.

“I’m Hamid Karzai,” noted Maximo Flugelman sporting a lavish silk Kuwaiti robe — but minus the Afghan leader’s trademark cap. “What are you, Arab or Latino?” Mr. Estrin asked Vernon Jordan after the raffish lawyer made a late entrance in bespoke pinstripes set off by a floppy silk foulard. “Neither,” another guest quipped. “He’s Saville Row.”

Somehow Mr. Moreno got away with no costume at all, explaining that the “Latin look” simply meant taking off a tie and opening up the shirt collar.

Proving, perhaps, that Washingtonians — or the men, anyway — still have a way to go to before they can really let loose at night.

— Ann Geracimos

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