King Juan Carlos of Spain has a traveling decorator, a man who arrives days ahead of His Majesty to make sure the tablecloths match the napkins. For parties, lunches, dinners and receptions, he brings centerpieces, placemats, lace -- and in less civilized lands, a good vacuum sweeper.
He is Carlos Manzano, Hannibal of Protocol. He crosses the Alps.
He took a tour of his work at the Spanish ambassador's house yesterday, moments before the king was due for lunch.
The dining room came first. Waiters jumped to check Barbara Walters' place setting, then over to David Rockefeller's and back to George Will's. The decorator stopped at the first table.
"I have chosen the rose color," said Manzano, a burly, courtly 52. "The tablecloth, of course, is from Madrid. The napkins you see done with 'Juan Carlos the First.' Then we have as well the mantillas, the Spanish lace. That matches very well with the red and the rose. The placemats were done here, this week. We have the flowers. I thought the roses, red and pink and white, will match very well with the pink and the red tablecloths. Hmmmmm?"
Manzano has been here since Oct. 5, consulting Ridgewell's, the caterer, and Angelo Bonita, the florist. "Here I am terribly happy," he said. "I have found so many collaborators."
Second stop was the indoor patio, complete with fountain and Spanish tile. A week ago, there were a few chairs spread around. Yesterday there was a garden of flowers, white wicker furniture from Georgetown, Spanish Impressionists on the walls, even lilies in the fountain. Manzano works fast.
But then, America is easy. When the king travels to Spanish Guinea . . .
"It was an island completely destroyed by the dictator, you know?" said Manzano. "I went a month before. The most severe problem? To bring all the food, all the furniture, everything, even the implements for cleaning. Vacuum sweepers. All the things you need. What do you call it in America? Ajax. Everything. We were in the forest. It was a kind of safari."
Third stop was a sitting room off the main dining room. Manzano hadn't done anything special here, but the couch was plump. He settled in, squishing the cushion.
"We want the Americans to perceive that we have made an effort," he said. "That we are very happy. We want to give our best in warmth and quality, and to bring some Spanish touch to the visit. That's why we emphasize details. It's not because our king always goes abroad with a decorator. No, no."
A television camera crew wandered by. Some embassy employes ran past.
"In fact," said Manzano, "it's not more expensive. I am a member of the diplomatic corps and not contracted as a decorator."
Manzano's title is minister. He is a career diplomat, raised in Madrid. Besides decorating before the path of the king, he also does the foreign embassies of Spain. His current projects are redecorating embassies in Tanzania and Mauritania, and decorating a new one in Tunisia.
"I love it," he said.
Then he rose from his couch. Lunch time.