- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2007

Friends of Anne Bujon were disappointed to discover the popular wife of former French Ambassador Francois Bujon de l’Estang would not be present for the annual dinner benefiting a local Alliance Francaise program she founded before departing Washington in 2002.

“Family reasons” for her absence were cited by the couple’s successors, French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte and his wife, Marie-Cecile, as guests filled their warmly inviting art- and antiques-filled Kalorama residence Wednesday night. “Ann probably wouldn’t have been able to make it anyway due to the weather,” Mrs. Levitte said after noting that she and her husband had barely made it in time themselves after spending much of the day returning to the capital via a delayed train from New York.

Most of the 90-plus guests managed to turn up despite the snow and ice. Who, after all, wanted to miss the torchons de foie gras canapes and Mumm champagne, not to mention dinner, a Cordon Bleu offering of panache de langoustines, artfully sliced duck and creme anglaise caramel cake accompanied by a 2002 Prosper Mafoux Chablis, a fine 2002 Chateau Maucaillou and yes, even more champagne?

The event raised most of the Bujon Educational Initiative’s annual $60,000 budget, which supports French cultural enrichment activities for 300 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders attending District public schools.

“The key thing the program does is get these kids out of their ZIP codes,” Mr. Levitte told a reporter before dinner. “It probably is not going to teach them fluent French, but we may be able to open their eyes to a larger world.”

Throughout the evening, Alliance Francaise staff delighted guests with tales of introducing the students to French actors and a playwright, Arctic explorer, jazz singer and caricaturist. Most wonderful of all: the day 100 children got to go to Les Halles for a special French menu that included steak-frites and a special brownie (no doubt smothered in frothy creme chantilly).

“Most of them had never been in a real restaurant before — much less a French one — so they were a little intimidated at first,” recalled Sylvain Cornevaux, deputy director of Alliance Francaise’s Washington chapter. Needless to relate, the youngsters were thrilled, as were the Alliance staff and volunteers who participated.

“It was my best experience in the U.S. since I arrived,” Mr. Cornevaux said.

Mr. Levitte didn’t dissemble when asked if his country’s world-famous cuisine might be part of a plot to turn American youth into Francophiles.

“To give them the irresistible desire to speak French, you have to seduce them,” he said with a laugh.

Among the stalwart supporters thanked by Alliance President Trudi Rishikof were Mary Weinmann (whose father, the late French diplomat Count Andre Chanu de Limur, founded the Washington chapter in 1948), Eric Weinmann, Philip and Nina Pillsbury, Bernard and Joan Carl, Charles and Evelyn DiBona, Joe Martyak, Willee Lewis, Gerson Nordlinger and Mike and Pamela Peabody.

Kevin Chaffee

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