- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2007

“You are traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but also of mind, a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of the imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead. Next stop … the New Hampshire primaries.”

Ever-droll Roger Mudd didn’t fail to get a laugh from the audience before introducing the noted writers who participated in the PEN/Faulkner Foundation’s “Twilight Zone”-themed gala at the Folger Shakespeare Library last Monday night.

Of the 13 participating scribes, only thriller specialist David Baldacci’s story (about a hit man who time-travels back to 1962 to murder his own pregnant mother) might have appeared on the late Rod Serling’s famed TV show.

His colleagues focused on more esoteric tales, mostly kept to seven minutes or less in compliance with Mr. Mudd’s stern reminder that “people haven’t eaten yet.”

Amy Hempel’s dreamy disquisition about a bear cavorting under “moonbows” in her back yard — was he a reincarnation of her beloved dog? — drew murmurs of approval from the crowd, as did Walter Kirn’s strange story of an affair with the Dali Lama’s ditsy public relations woman. The self-realizations of Jenny McPhee’s morning bathroom ritual and Melissa Pritchard’s surreal game of croquet with her domineering nonagenarian mother were among other favorites, as was David Ignatius‘ gritty memories of the 1983 suicide bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, when we entered a “twilight zone” of “a new kind of war that remains to this day.”

During cocktails and dinner, guests enjoyed discussing their own twilight zones.

“Mine is thinking about my new salad dressing, Nora’s Organics. Will it sell or won’t it?” restaurateur Nora Pouillon said with a laugh.

“Wondering how do I do it again?,” master architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen noted with some ebullience.

Realtor Giselle Theberge’s “zone moment?” The sudden realization that a real estate deal had fallen through when the potential buyer nixed the deal “with a big scream” after discovering that one of the property’s former owners had kept the supposedly cursed Hope Diamond there.

Kevin Chaffee

Accompanied by court officials, security guards and diplomats, the Infanta Elena, eldest daughter of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain, made what only could be called a royal entrance at Wednesday’s opening of “Legacy: Spain and the United States in the Age of Independence: 1763-1848,” the exhibit now at the National Portrait Gallery through Feb. 10.

The tall and elegant princess, 43, addressed the guests in fluent English, which she once taught, and, asked if she was familiar with Washington, replied “I came here often when my brother [Crown Prince Felipe] was at Georgetown University.”

After some rather lengthy speeches by Smithsonian officials, she stayed on for an hour, foregoing the paella buffet to speak warmly to everyone who approached her.

Infanta Elena seemed to particularly appreciate her tour of the exhibit, a fine achievement treating Spain’s often-overlooked assistance to American independence, depicted in magnificent oil paintings and accompanying texts. Leading Americans of the period including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and John Jay, are portrayed alongside Spanish colleagues who quietly provided money, supplies and support to our revolutionary cause.

Then, after her official duties, the princess slipped out for dinner at — where else? — Cafe Milano, Washington’s international “see and be seen” destination.

Donna Shor

Count on the personable Lady Manning, wife of British Ambassador Sir David Manning, to put the right, light touch on Thursday’s reception — one of many farewells the couple hosted before their departure for Britain this week.

There were no formal remarks, just friendly one-on-one conversations for the hundred or so guests who came by the residence to wish the couple godspeed.

In an unusual touch, she had requested that hors d’oeuvres should include fish and chips in tiny newspaper cones, a salient reminder of one of merrie olde England’s favorite pickup foods. It is the same humor that she shows in witty murder mystery novels penned under the name of Elizabeth Ironside that she admitted may in the future include a few Washington scenes.

Her husband has no future plans, or none that he would confess to. “I have to reinvent myself,” he said with a slight gleam in his eye. Known as a close confidant of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, the formidable diplomat spoke of going for “a mixture of public and private” jobs. What he would miss most of all on this side, his first-ever U.S. posting, are “so many friends.”

Friends stopping by included HUD Secretary Alphonso R. Jackson; House Minority Whip Rep. Roy Blunt; former Sen. Paul Sarbanes and the new Swedish Ambassador Jonas Hafstrom and his wife, Eva; presidential candidate Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (seen in animated conversation with Justice Antonin Scalia); journalistsBill SchneiderandNorm Ornstein; and social stalwarts Aniko Gaal Schott, Avis Bohlen, Diana Prince, Nancy Bagley, Liz Stevensand Lucky Roosevelt.

Ann Geracimos

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