- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 16, 2005

The moon shining through the linden trees at Meridian International Center on Friday cast a welcome glow on the institution’s 37th annual ball.

Staff members had prayed to the weather gods for relief from the week’s rain to show off the paper lanterns decorating the garden, which was spotlighted for dramatic effect. Flowers adorned tables and halls, and after-dinner drinks and desserts — the drawing card for the late evening’s dancing spree — were available in abundance indoors and out.

Maybe the presence of three Supreme Court Justices (Stephen G. Breyer, Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg), U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, and D.C. council member Carol Schwartz (among other notables) kept the Breathalyzer cadre at bay. It’s always useful to have law enforcement heavily represented among your guests.

As tradition dictates, guests paying $500 a ticket were invited to dinner at some 30 embassies beforehand. So-called younger-less-financially-solvent folk could pay as little as $100 and be treated to supper next door, then partake later of desserts and dancing.

A swing band kept up the rhythm in the main drawing room while the Washington Jazz Arts Institute’s ensemble performed elsewhere in a tented venue no less handsomely adorned.

Some ambassadors go to great lengths to show culinary and global awareness. Iceland’s Helgi Agustsson caught the salmon that was served up at his residence. Over champagne and a bevy of good wines, French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte, his mind very much on the recent devastation in Louisiana, announced to his guests that his country was inviting the jazz orchestra of New Orleans to tour France, “with each concert the occasion of another fundraiser” and pledged future support “for the only museum dedicated to World War II in the United States” — which just happens to be in New Orleans.

The event drew more than 600 people and raised some $300,000 for Meridian’s many pursuits promoting global understanding — the ball’s umbrella theme. It was the largest one ever.

“It gets better every year,” said eternally upbeat ball hosts Walter and Didi Cutler, while welcoming a stream of formally clad guests — the 17th one over which they have presided. (Former Ambassador Cutler by now can name just about everyone coming through the doors.). A sure sign of success, Mrs. Cutler noted, was “the fact the ambassadors all come.”

Mr. Agustsson, for one, took advantage of the occasion to cut a mean rug on the bare dance floor, twirling about with remarkable speed and dexterity.

“It certainly is a good turnout,” remarked Justice O’Connor, making her way with her husband out of the ballroom.

Mr. Gonzales, in his first appearance at a Meridian ball, demurred when asked if he, a self-described “poor boy from Texas,” intended to join in the dance fun. “I hope you don’t have a lot of expectations,” was his carefully measured response.

— Ann Geracimos

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