- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 12, 2006

THE EVENT: The Women’s Committee of the Washington National Opera’s “Midwinter Gala in the Ancient City of Edo” (as Tokyo was known until 1867).

THE SCENE: “Nobody can say you are fair-weather friends,” gala chairwoman Frances Norris chirped to opera stalwarts as the Japanese-themed extravaganza got under way Saturday night. So what if snow and sleet were blowing outside? There was plenty of time to enjoy the party before the heavy stuff really piled up later. And who wanted to miss the spectacle of throbbing Taiko drummers and koto (zither) players welcoming guests to the Mellon Auditorium’s warm confines, to say nothing of sake and heaping trays of sushi and tempura at the ready? Japanese cultural demonstrations — calligraphy, origami (paper folding) and a performance by two dancing Sony robots — proved diverting distractions as well, along with a Japanese feast (grilled cod with miso, mushroom dashi, braised duck), dancing to a live rock band and the inevitable silent and live auctions.

DIPLOMATS GATHER: Japan’s Ryozo Kato was first among equals in a sizeable contingent of ambassadors, many of whom voiced concerns about recent violence related to cartoon depictions of the prophet Muhammad in the Western press.

“Hamid Karzai, our president, has pointed out that Muhammad is too large a personality to be insulted by a cartoon,” Afghan Ambassador Said Jawad said after noting that the Taliban was behind civil unrest in his country. Asked why Morocco has had relatively few disturbances, Moroccan Ambassador Aziz Mekouar’s reply was notably concise: “We don’t allow it,” he said.

PARTY DOLLS: The invitation specified “black-tie or national dress,” which ensured utmost costumed finery from stalwart supporters. Nina Pillsbury was striking in red Hanae Mori couture, Toni Gore incomparable in a magnificently embroidered uchikake wedding robe. (“My husband is telling everyone it’s worth a million dollars and that he’s my security guard,” she said with a laugh.)

“I’m his geisha, he’s my samurai,” kimono-clad Rebecca Burton teased as her husband, Larry, showed off a warrior’s bandanna on his forehead.

BESTDRESSED: Patricia Oxley, who required the services of a professional dresser to correctly don her elaborate uchikake, kimono and bunkin takashimada (wig) ensemble.

“I got them all on E-Bay,” Mrs. Oxley enthused. Later, her husband, Rep. Michael G. Oxley, revealed that she had nixed his plan to come as a sumo wrestler — the first time the powerful House Financial Services Committee chairman has been overruled in recent memory.

— Kevin Chaffee

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