A story published in Thursday's editions of Style incorrectly identified the champagne used in Dominique's Bastille Day celebration. Lanson champagne was used in the festivities.
There was a ground-breaking, some glass-breaking, a beheading and a lot of cork-popping (including one popped from a 9-liter bottle of Moe t) as the French around Washington celebrated their national holiday. July 14 is Bastille Day in France, and yesterday marked the 193rd anniversary of the storming and destruction of the Bastille prison, which marked the start of the French Revolution.
The French diplomatic community in Washington began celebrating the anniversary of the destruction of a building by breaking ground on a new one.
Actually, it was clear at the official ground-breaking for the $32-million French Chancery complex that ground had long since been broken. As Ambassador Bernard Vernier-Palliez, Under Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger and Sen. Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.) each tried to speak in turn, dumptrucks, bulldozers, cranes and backhoes roared, scraped and trundled in the background.
Eagleburger congratulated the French on their "audacious and auspicious" project at the oak-rimmed, eight-acre site across from the Georgetown University Hospital on Reservoir Road, "despite the fact," he said, "that it indicates the French are moving closer to Germany," a reference to the fact that the German Embassy is just 10 blocks down Reservoir Road.
After the talk, seven men took silver-handled shovels in hand and moved around a little of the red clay at their feet. Eagleburger shoveled his to the feet of Mathias.
After the picture-taking, the assembled picked their way down a steep clay and gravel road--the women's high heels sinking into the soft red mud--and whisked off to the ambassador's residence to begin celebrating in earnest.
The new French ambasssador exercised some of the democratic principles Bastille Day celebrates by continuing the tradition of his predecessors and throwing open the doors and gardens of his official residence to French nationals and feting them with food and drink.
In the backyard of the mansion on Kalorama Road, about 1,500 people of all ages languished in the gathering noon mugginess, fanning themselves with their invitations, chatting mostly in French, batting flies and bees away from platters of sandwiches, cake and pastries, bowls of Sangria and bottles of red wine.
After a speech by the ambassador, delivered largely in French, through which the guests stood sweating politely, and two run-throughs of "La Marseillaise," the corks were popped on bottles of champagne.
There seemed to be some feeling among the guests that this year's party was not as luxurious as celebrations under previous, more conservative governments. "The food is not as good as last year," said Catherine Rauch, of France, who with her husband Ronald attends the party each year.
Odette Ceniceros, who brought four of her eight American children to the party, agreed. Ceniceros, who was born in France and is married to a Mexican, said she "attends the party every year until they throw me out." Asked about the quality of the bubbly at this year's, she puckered her mouth and sputtered. "The party is fine," she said. "But it is not the refined thing we had last year. Last year they knew they were going out--and the champagne was Moet, and everything was fine."
The suspense was tantalizing and punctuated with bad jokes at a reenactment of the beheading of Marie Antoinette at Dominique's Restaurant. "M. Dominique is always behind in his business," said the emcee at Dominique's eighth annual celebration of Bastille Day, "but today he hopes to get a head."
To go with the race for waiters and waitresses he sponsors every year, Dominique D'Ermo, proprietor of Dominique's, arranged a reenactment of the beheading of the last French queen. Marie Antoinette arrived at the guillotine outside Dominique's in a horsedrawn carriage. As she knelt to put her white-wigged head in place, she said, "I think I'm going to have a headache."
The guillotine, tested on a head of cabbage for benefit of the audience, failed to work on Marie Antoinette's, much to the relief of Tracy Richwine, 19, an American University sophomore, who dressed in a pink brocade dress for her part. She claimed to have made Dominique take out a million-dollar life insurance policy with Lloyd's of London, just in case something went right with the magician's apparatus.
After the beheading, 125 waiters and waitresses from the Washington area lined up for the traditional race, a mile run from Dominique's to Lafayette Park and back while balancing two champagne glasses, two splits of champagne and a French flag on a tray.
Hundreds of spectators lined the sidewalks on Pennsylvania Avenue and peered from the windows of office buildings along the route to watch the race. "Are they on roller skates?" asked one woman who had obviously never waitressed.
Dominique popped the cork on a nine-liter bottle of Moe t to start the race, spraying its contents on the racers as they passed in front of him.
Keith Willhelm, 28, won the race--and a round-trip Concorde ticket to Paris--in 8 minutes, 21 seconds, just nine seconds off the record. Willhelm, an attorney in Williamsburg, attributed his win to "lots of thought in my room at home" and the fact that he was been waitering on and off since he was 11. Bob Gillespe, 21, finished second and won $500; Barry Greene finished third and took home $200. Martha Dunne was the first woman to finish the race, and because she was, won a round-trip ticket to London.
Dominique was so pleased with the celebration that he opened up his restaurant to the assembled masses. "Dominique's has never had 5,000 people inside. If you can get a drink, it's on the house," he said.