"Welcome!" called out Vice President Bush to Italian Prime Minister Amintore Fanfani last night. "Ready for Williamsburg?"

"Ready!" said Fanfani.

"The president is looking forward to your views," said Bush.

And the cameras clicked at the Italian Embassy as Washington's power class assembled to greet Fanfani on the eve of the Williamsburg economic summit.

"You must come to Italy on holiday," said Maria Pia Fanfani.

"We'd like to," said Bush, "but we don't get holidays in this job."

The vice president was in fine form, working the crowd in a style usually reserved for Democratic shaker Bob Strauss. Who also happened to be there.

"You better watch this guy," Bush said to Strauss, gesturing to Agriculture Secretary John R. Block. "He's starting to rival you on TV appearances. Block appeared on a special last Sunday, where he sang country songs from his Illinois farm. And it didn't cost the agency a penny."

"He doesn't rival me," said Strauss. "I'm over the hill."

Fanfani, the only summit participant to bring his spouse, arrived here yesterday to prepare for the weekend conference, where the leaders of industrial nations will convene to review world economic issues. It was convenient grist for the cocktail prattle. Consensus: President Reagan will survive the weekend session, where he will meet with just the leaders, without the help of his vast briefing staff.

"Oh, he can handle himself," said Block. "The president's a cool guy. He's not shielded from the issues of the day despite what is said."

"He's not in my party so I don't have the intimate details of how well he knows the issues," said Rep. Frank Annunzio (D-Ill). "But I think it'll be a good forum for the president at this time. His economic programs are meeting with success and I think he'll come out of the meeting much more respected by the world's leaders."

"These issues he knows very well," said Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Charles Percy (R-Ill). "He's always done well with smaller groups. He'll be a smashing success."

Among those present were Secretary of State George Shultz, Chief Justice Warren Burger, Attorney General William French Smith, Chief of Protocol Selwa Roosevelt, Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (D-N.Y.), and U.S. Ambassador to Italy Max Rabb.

The dinner was held in a tent that tended to get a bit chilly later on.

"The wind is getting up and this tent could turn into a sail," said Bush. "We could end up in Williamsburg prematurely."

In the end, Fanfani and Bush raised their champagne glasses and toasted friendship between the two nations. Tomorrow, Fanfani will meet with the president and then go on to Williamsburg. But not Maria Fanfani. Nor will she join Nancy Reagan, who will be the only spouse at a Williamsburg dinner Monday night.

"The women weren't invited," she said. "This time it's only for the men."

Except for Margaret Thatcher, of course.