By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
TBILISI, Georgia, May 9 -- Maybe it was his wife's televised teasing about going to bed so early, but "Mr. Excitement," as Laura Bush sarcastically dubbed the president a week ago, seemed eager to live up to the nickname Monday night.
Landing here for the final stop on a five-day European trip, President Bush found himself overwhelmed by an enthusiastic welcome the likes of which he doesn't get in many countries. Between the fireworks and folk dancing, Bush got so into the spirit that he wound up throwing out his schedule, staying out late and even wiggling his hips in a decidedly un-Bush-like dance move.
"I think he really captured the Georgian soul," the country's young, pro-Western president, Mikheil Saakashvili, told reporters afterward with a giant grin. "Some dancers told me they liked his rhythm. I would never dare to dance because I'm not good at that, but he was better than I would be."
Bush proved so spontaneous that his retinue was left trying to keep up. "I think we drove Secret Service nuts -- not me, but the president did," Saakashvili said.
Bush's wild night out ended at 10 p.m. But for a president who normally turns the lights out at 9, leaving the first lady a "desperate housewife," as she joked at the White House Correspondents Association dinner a week ago, it was a striking departure from form.
After a day's activities in Moscow, the Bushes were scheduled only to take a short stroll around Tbilisi's elegant old town with Saakashvili and his wife and then retire for the night. Bush is known not to enjoy sightseeing and often finishes such events early. But Saakashvili arranged for an elaborate series of dance shows. Every time one ended, another began and the boyish 37-year-old Georgian president kept glancing over to see if Bush was enjoying himself.
It seemed he was. Bush ended up clapping enthusiastically, bobbing his head to the beat and finally gyrating his hips. He got so excited that he jumped onto the stage and posed for pictures. "Yeah! Yeah!" he yelled, cheering a 6-year-old boy who danced with furious energy.
He even let himself be talked into an impromptu dinner at a restaurant with Saakashvili and his wife, something he rarely does, stretching the 30-minute window allotted for his arrival to a full hour and 46 minutes.
"Great food," he exclaimed on leaving. "Really good food. I recommend getting a bite here."