They Came, They Saw, They Nodded

By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 2, 2005

NEW YORK, Nov. 1 -- On the first day of their first visit to America, Prince Charles and his princess consort, Camilla, started with a somber visit to Ground Zero and survivors' families and ended with a festive champagne reception at the Museum of Modern Art, where they were toasted by the likes of Sting and Joan Collins. In between, the prince visited with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, his motorcade of black Suburbans and police cruisers rushed about the city, and ordinary New Yorkers either yawned or expressed mild curiosity.

Under warm sunshine and safely sequestered behind rows of barriers, the royal couple paused at different parts of the immense canyon where the World Trade Center towers once stood, then traveled three blocks away to dedicate a stone in a garden devoted to the memory of 67 Britons killed in the 9/11 attacks, more than from any other foreign country. Wednesday the pair hits Washington for three days. President and Mrs. Bush will host them for lunch and a formal dinner at the White House.

Commissioned by the city's Anglo-American community, the British Memorial Garden here is under construction and not expected to open until next year, so a fake garden was created on what is essentially still a construction site in a corner of Hanover Square in Lower Manhattan.

"This is just for the prince," explained Peggy Brown, the press officer for the gardens. The grass was phony. The curved "stone" bench rimmed by boxwood was actually made of wood. And the potted ivy standing sentinel throughout the open space appeared to be made of vinyl.

Topiaries were positioned about the triangular plot, their black plastic buckets barely concealed beneath mounds of wood chips. The back perimeter of the garden -- the end farthest from the phalanx of cameras -- was covered in a nearly 20-foot-long poster of a hedge. (Thankfully, someone had scooped up the very real mound of poop deposited amid the wood chips by Bonan the bomb-sniffing dog.) The guests, mostly British expatriates, had been pre-positioned in small conversational clusters. And for more than an hour, the gentlemen from the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation obsessed over which American and British flags -- they seemed to have a cache of dozens -- would be planted amid the wood chips and weighed down against a merciless wind with black sandbags.

When the prince and Camilla stepped from their car to the garden, they were greeted by about 200 passersby, tourists and natives who cheered and applauded. The prince looked dapper in a navy pinstripe double-breasted suit, pale blue shirt and navy striped tie. A pouf of navy silk protruded from his breast pocket.

The duchess -- the former Camilla Parker Bowles -- was dressed in a raspberry pink suit, the jacket of which had a contrasting pocket and collar of pink velvet. She accessorized her ensemble with a choker of pearls and gemstones. Her hair was clipped a bit shorter than it has been in recent photographs and her makeup, with the subtle lipstick and the smoky eyeshadow, had seemingly been applied with all of those cameras in mind. She wore kitten heel black pumps and carried a small black envelope-style handbag.

Camilla was presented with a bouquet of flowers -- mostly roses, hydrangeas, peonies and calla lilies, all in various shades of pink and red -- by 5-year-old Katherine Beaumont, whose father is British and whose mother is American. She skipped a day of kindergarten for the occasion and with only a few moments of practice before the royal arrival, performed her ceremonial duties without incident.

In the manner of an old married couple, the Prince of Wales walked slightly ahead of his wife as he quietly inspected the half-finished stonework and the temporary topiaries. He looked utterly captivated -- by the garden, not his wife, whom he never once publicly touched.

In response to an inquiry shouted from the press scrum, His Royal Highness noted that "it was really moving." Her Royal Highness did not respond.

When the heavy green drapery was drawn back from the stone to be dedicated, he made no remarks. Afterward, in a private reception for the garden's reporters, the prince said, "Both our nations have been united by grief and strengthened by the support we have given each other."

Even in her absolute silence, Camilla seemed to compel the crowd.

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