Throwing a ball is no party. It takes planning and a clear head, so if you're thinking of staging one, consider studying a classic like the Meridian House Ball, held last night, to see how it's done.

A checklist of necessities

* A Good Cause and a goodly sum of money.

About 500 people paid $200 each to attend the ball and a dinner at one of 28 embassies. The Coca-Cola Co. underwrote the evening and the resulting money (at least $160,000) will go to support Meridian House, a cultural exchange institution for people interested in world affairs.

* People to organize for the Good Cause.

"The women of America," British Ambassador Sir Oliver Wright said in a toast at the dinner he hosted, "and the corporations of America . . ." He was complimenting the people who do things like the Meridian House Ball, and they're the people you need.

* People willing to give their all for the Good Cause.

"Between the chopsticks and trying to understand his accent, I can feel it all here," said one woman, massaging her neck, which had tensed up during dinner at the Chinese ambassador's. "But he's delightful."

Devotion is especially important at a party like the Meridian Ball, where unfamiliar eating utensils and accents are not the only potential problems. Even the most polite guest can get cranky if assigned to an embassy that is lacking that certain cachet. Feathers must be unruffled and reminders made of the goodness of the Cause.

* Food that is inventive without being intimidating.

"That's raspberry mousse on sponge, and of course the chocolate-covered strawberries go on top," said Linda Galgay of Ridgewell's Caterers, surveying tray after tray after tray of confection in a back room of Meridian House. "There's the shortbread. White chocolate mousse in chocolate cups with candied violets. Sugar sculptures."

Sugar sculptures -- violets and roses and orchids, as delicate and fragile as the real thing, translucent as porcelain, and made of sugar.

* The Right Atmosphere.

"This strikes me as pure party," said Corcoran director Michael Botwinick, standing in the garden underneath trees strung with white lights. "Usually in Washington, people are working at these things. I have not overheard anyone working tonight. Oh, a few jokes or references to politics, but no real work."

Botwinick had eaten at the French ambassador's.

"Yes," he said. "I'm feeling no pain."

* The Basics.

*Someplace for women to leave their purses. At the Meridian, small tables were scattered around the building and garden, each labeled with the name of a country so you could remember where you dropped the beaded bag. "Where is it? Oh, yes -- Sri Lanka."

*Food for the chauffeurs to eat while they wait -- a Ridgwell's truck was provided at a reasonable distance from the entrance to the house.

*Good weather. When it rains on the night of the Meridian Ball, a lot of people just go home after dinner at the embassies.


Standing in the garden amidst the glow of silks and satins, the gleam of the lighted trees, the splashing of a fountain, the soft dark sky beyond the a balcony, Nancy Shipley, a member of the ball's advisory committee, said, "It's just the nicest party that ever was."