ONE OF THE ADVANTAGES of the supercheap weekend world tour is that you don't have to bother with visas and other red tape. But it's good to know where some of the embassies are anyway.
Embassies really come in two parts: chanceries, which are embassy offices, and residences, where the ambassador lives; although in some cases one building does double duty. To get inside, you really have to have some sort of official business or an invitation -- except on the annual Goodwill Industries embassy tour, which comes this year on Saturday, May 11. For right now, however, just walk by -- or drive by slowly. Here are some high spots on the Embassy Row tour.
Massachusetts Avenue is the big street for embassies, so start your tour at Scott Circle. On the northwest side of the circle, at 1601 Massachusetts Avenue NW stands the modern Australian Embassy chancery, notable mainly for a stylized bronze sculpture of the national seal out front. On it you can find some of the animals Australia is noted for, including the kangaroo, the emu and the magpie. Sorry, no koala.
The Canadian Embassy chancery, at 1746 Massachusetts Avenue, is a Beaux Art palace built for a coal-mine magnate named Clarence Moore. Moore made money and married money (Mabelle Swift of the meat-packing Swifts) and was master of the hounds at the Chevy Chase Hunt Club. He went to England in 1912 and bought a hundred foxhounds for the club, then set off for home on the Titanic. The foxhounds were scheduled to sail with him but, happily, missed the boat. The Canadians plan to abandon ship here in about 1986 and consolidate their operations in a new chancery soon to be under construction on Pennsylvania Avenue, virgin territory for embassies.
West of Dupont Circle, at 2020 Massachusetts Avenue, stands the Indonesian Embassy, the former home of Evalyn Walsh McLean who had the Hope Diamond and all the legendary bad luck that went with it. There's a slab of gold ore built into the front stoop, a reminder of Evalyn's father, who struck it rich in Colorado. The only thing about the mansion that looks like Indonesia are the statues of potbellied Balinese demons on the porch. The five-foot-high statues are carved from the soft volcanic rock of the island of Bali.
The Turkish Embassy, on Sheridan Circle at 1606 23rd Street NW, looks something like a villa overlooking the Bosporus, but that's sort of a coincidence. It was designed by Washington's quintessentially eclectic architect, George Oakley Totten, just after Totten returned from an extended stay working in Turkey. He designed this house for Edward H. Everett, who made his millions by producing crimped metal caps for Coca- Cola bottles. The bottle-top king's widow later sold the house to the government of Turkey.
The Embassy of Zambia chancery, at 2419 Massachusetts Avenue NW, was once home to mystery writer Mary Roberts Rhinehart. She wrote many of her mysteries, including "The Circular Staircase," while living here between 1910 and 1938. (No, there's no circular staircase in the house, according to embassy sources.)
A commercial arm of the Indian Embassy, the India Supply Mission at 2536 Massachusetts Avenue is loaded with exotic trappings. On the front steps stand two marble elephants in regalia fit for the beasts of a maharajah. On the building itself are Hindu symbols: the lotus, which stands for peace and tranquility, and the wheel, which connotes the endless cycle of life.
Every now and then a taxi stops for the statue of Winston Churchill in front of the British Embassy at 3100 Massachusetts Avenue NW, but actually the P.M. isn't hailing a cab but giving the V for Victory sign. Symbolically, one of Churchill's feet rests on the British soil of the embassy while the other is planted on the American soil of his maternal ancestry. Beneath the granite base is buried some soil from Blenheim Palace, where Churchill was born; some dirt from his rose garden at Chartwell; and some earth from his mother's old home in Brooklyn. There's also a time capsule buried there which will be opened in 2063 for those of you who'll be around.
The embassy itself is a large complex with the chancery in front and the residence set back behind it, sheltered from the street. It was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1931 in the tradition of a grand country house. Note the lions and unicorns on the pilasters facing the street. On the top of the residence, visible from higher up Massachusetts Avenue, sit two Art Deco lions (stream-lions, if you will).
Practically across the street, at 3005 Massachusetts Avenue, is the now-abandoned Embassy of Iran, with its large blue- tiled dome. In the heyday of the shah, it was the site of elegant parties, and later some bitter demonstrations.
The area to the north of Massachusetts Avenue is known as Kalorama, which is Greek for beautiful view. Joel Barlow, a poet and diplomat, gave that name to the house he built in 1807 in the area where 23rd and Bancroft streets are now. It was demolished in 1889 by the real estate developers who built the posh houses in what is now known as Kalorama, a neighborhood that holds many embassies. The ambassador of Mali lives in the house once occupied by Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, at 2131 R Street NW. FDR's uncle, Frederic Delano, built a house just up the Spanish steps, at 2244 S Street NW, which is now the residence of the ambassador of the Republic of Ireland. The house at 2300 S Street, now the Embassy of Burma chancery, was the home of Herbert Hoover from 1928 until he moved into the White House.
The residence of the French ambassador, at 2221 Kalorama Road NW, looks like a Norman chateau but was actually built for a lead millionaire in 1910. When Charles de Gaulle stayed here in 1963 while attending the funeral of President Kennedy, he is said to have gone out onto the back terrace and, gazing on what he saw, pronounced, "It is fitting that the French embassy should have such beautiful grounds."
No one had the nerve to tell him that he was looking at Rock Creek Park.