By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
America, Facebook has sent you a confirmation request, and it's from France: How do you "know" Nicolas Sarkozy?
Well, we don't know him know him, and anyhow, the French president friended us first.
And friends are still in short supply, as are dullish White House parties in honor of them.
Last night's not-a-state-dinner dinner in the State Dining Room (got that?) for 130 or so guests was billed as an opportunity to gently fete "Sarko the American," the still-newish, hyperactive leader who seems, so far, to enjoy repeat visits to the States. He likes our big movies. He likes our 53-hour workweeks.
The story line to Sarkozy's visit asks if France and America can rekindle a little of the old magic. The answer appeared to be oui-- even with our attempts to bore him to death with an after-dinner reenactment of Gen. George Washington's historic meeting with the Marquis de Lafayette.
The freshly divorced Sarkozy arrived (solo, ladies!) at the North Portico at 7 p.m. in a limousine decorated with little French and American flags, and was warmly greeted by President and Laura Bush. Kisses, back-patting, etc.
Downstairs, the people on one of the most uninspired guest lists in White House dinner-party reporting history (we're the Style section, we should know), culled from Bush friends, Cabinet members, Americans with Frenchy names and Frenchies with even Frenchier names, made their entrances before a wan party press corps of a half-dozen so-called reporters and photographers. Everyone made lame stabs at freedom-fries-are-all-behind-us-now punch lines. The guests seemed glad to be able to officially like France again.
"The last time I went to France, I was at the cemetery for the 60th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, and you could feel the [anti-American] tension then. I don't think I'll be feeling that tonight," said Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish, La., who has met with Bush several times since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Broussard said he had "no clue" why he was on the night's guest list. ("You think it has something to do with my French heritage?") Broussard said he knows "not much" about Sarkozy, "but I'm looking forward to meeting him," and into the receiving line he and his wife, Karen, went.
Former Louisiana congressman Billy Tauzin, now CEO for PhRMA, the drug industry trade group, said he was "delighted to be here. It's good to have France back in the good graces of Americans," and not a moment too soon, he added, since his son is planning to get married next spring in a town near Paris.
"We had trouble loving France for a few years there," said Donald Hall Sr., chairman of the board of Hallmark Cards, who, with his wife, Adele, go way back with Bush pere.
Other guests on the list: Condi, Doro, Dick; Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer; in-laws-to-be John and Margaret Hager; Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.); the newly former New York Mets pitcher Tom Glavine; and corporate bigs from American Express, FedEx, the Las Vegas Sands Hotel chain, Public Storage and IBM.
Now, you ask: How was the dinner? What was it like?
Yeah, uh, contraire, frere. This clinchy White House doesn't cooperate with the free-ranging dinner party reportage of yore. We go now to the pool reports, and the Associated Press: Once the guests were all in, the president offered a toast to Sarkozy in French. For his part, Sarkozy kept his aim true: "I've come to Washington to bear a very simple, straightforward message," he said. "I wish to reconquer the heart of America. I want to reconquer the heart of America in a lasting fashion."
We can tell you what was served, and what the first lady wore, because that's what we do at these things, roped off as we are like beef on the hoof . Dinner, according to the menu, was a Maine lobster bisque soup, followed by lamb (with an heirloom tomato fondue, a ragout of green beans, chanterelles and carmelized shallots, and a sweet potato casserole), served with a 2004 Hyde de Villaine Chardonnay, from a French- and American-owned vineyard in Napa Valley. Laura Bush wore a midnight blue Oscar de la Renta gown, with Sarkozy seated at her side.
What we're less sure about is exactly why he's in Washington, other than to make Republicans swoon. Sarkozy and Bush will visit Mount Vernon today for photo ops and are expected to chat about mutual views (some more mutual than others), on such subjects as Iran's nuclear activities, Kosovo's independence from Serbia, climate change, global trade, maybe even getting France more involved with NATO.
Last night's guests seemed aware of the Sarkozy basics, having mostly just read about him in a clip file that has grown more entertaining since his election in May. We know about his good moods, his bad moods, his JFK-philia, his divorce three weeks ago from the uncooperative Cecilia, his conservative cuddliness, his un-French fondness for jogging. We've looked at his vacation snaps (shirtless in the canoe in New Hampshire, wifeless at Kennebunkport) and even the testy video clips of him cutting short an interview on "60 Minutes" last week . For certain Americans, Sarkozy is adorable-French, instead of, you know, ugh-French.
After dinner, guests moved to the East Room for a little acting out of old times -- two performers in the role of Washington and Lafayette. Sounds a little like dinner theater, or some ladies' luncheon entertainment we've sat through (like, when a historical figure comes in and starts talking to the audience?). But that part was reportedly short, followed by a performance of the Army Chorus. Guests were given souvenir Lafayette pins, and the president said they could stay and dance "if you wish."
France and the United States are now what-n'-what together, BFFs, so tight, like this.