This may be the age of computer banking, but the de' Medici clan would have felt at home on the Mall Saturday night as the Banco di Roma celebrated its centennial anniversary with 600 of the presidents and directors of the world's largest, most influential, banks.
The talk was money -- who's got it (the banks), who wants it (guess), and who can afford to pay for it (wait and see).
"We had a party in Roma but this is quite different," said host Giovanni Guidi, president of the Banco di Roma. He shot a disparaging glance at the Lester Lanin orchestra, momentarily decible-mad, and shouted, "Here there is everyone one needs to know."
The 35th annual meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Washington this week was the ostensible honey for the moneybees at the party, who were mainly private bank executives, not officers of the IMF. t
As is the case with many Washington parties, this one was work from the moment the ice cubes hit the glass.
Among those meeting and greeting under the yellow and white striped tent off Jefferson Drive were U.S. Ambassador to Italy Richard Gardner; Italian Ambassador Paolo Cedronio; Rep. Henry Reuss (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs; and Alesandro Alessandrini, a managing director of the Banco.
"Anthony! Hallo!" cried a man, waving his tumnbler above his head. "I say, are you still chairman?"
"Yes, yes, chairman for another year . . . I'm in London most of the time.
And in Hampshire."
"That," said William Finlay, himself a governor of the Bank of Ireland, "is Sir Anthony Tuke, chairman of Barclay's ."
And off went Finlay to meet his wife.
"The Swiss franc and the German mark are the dominant currencies," a banker from Zimbabwe said, as Lester Lanin's tireless band played "Tomorrow Never Comes." The tent walls shook.
"But the Americans -- well, just look at their balance sheets! Quite incredible, really. They don't know you from a bloody bar of soap and they've let you have $1.4 million." A flick of the cigarette. "Of course, you've still got to pay it back.
"Zimbabwe joins the IMF on Tuesday after 15 years of U.N sanctions. Fifteen years. Imagine that.
"It's the first time in years that we've been allowed at these meetings, legally that is," he said. "Now the Iranians are coming after us to find out how we managed it."
Nearby, Albert Dondelinger, the chief executive of the Banque Internationale a Luxembourg, was being well-met by Wolfgang Feuchtmuller, a managing director of the Osterreische Landerbank.
"We are mostly private bankers here tonight," said Feuchtmuller, turning to greet a man and a woman walking toward him. The woman was the wife of an American banker, and as Feuchtmuller bent low to kiss her hand, she smiled, blushed perceptibly, her cheeks turning the color of the scarlet sequins on her gown. She glanced down and straightened her nearly full glass in the nick of time, thereby averting a potential international incident.
"And so we may not vote in the decisions taken by the IMF," Feutchmuller continued. "But it is very helpful for us to come to attend these meetings. And at a party such as this, so much work can be done. And not just for the banks of rich countries.
"I met on the plane coming here a man from the Maldives. The Republic of the Maldvies, which is about 1,000 islands south of India. They have a small population, about 140,000.
"'And are you going to Washington for the IMF meetings?' he asked me.
"'So are we,' he said.
"'And what would your bank be?'
"'We have no bank yet, but we hope to in a few years. And then the friends we have made here will be so very helpful to us.'"
By 9, the last black limousine had arrived, and the guests settled at their places. "This is French service, madame, the best," said an elderly waiter, his eyes glowing with pride. "Two waiters for each table." Two waiters each for 60 tables -- a veritable battalion.
The five-course feast was wheeled out with military precision. The talk of interest rates and gold and millions and billions continued amidst some not-always-successful attempts at conversation.
"Parlez-vous francais ?" the elegant gentlemen inquired hopefully of the woman seated beside him.
"Ahh, yes, I mean, oui. Je , um, I suis americaine ."
Oui ," came the response. And then, a touch wearily, "Je sais -- I know.