Not many people -- say about 322, plus President Ronald Reagan and a few stray visitors to the National Air & Space Museum -- know that King Olaf of Norway came to town just before Mikhail Gorbachev.
No motorcycles screeched ahead of him, Massachusetts Avenue wasn't closed in front of the Norwegian Embassy, the world's journalists didn't engage in gang warfare to get his picture or capture every word, and his discussions with the president were not revealed to the evening news.
King Olaf, like all heads of state on private visits to Washington, received what Timothy Towell, U.S. deputy chief of protocol, calls "the courtesy of the port," which means he doesn't go through customs or immigration.
Titled personages on a private visit don't get a state dinner. But they can, depending on their interests, see the president, look in on their embassy and/or go shopping. Towell, about to leave his office to wave goodbye to the Soviets at the airport, declined to stop and count the exact number of private visits by heads of state in the past year. "Dozens," he said.
But if you didn't see King Olaf on cable television, it doesn't mean the right people didn't see and talk to him -- just that it was all accomplished with no pomp and just the right circumstance.
He came Sunday afternoon two weeks ago, on a chartered plane, though he'd flown on a regularly scheduled plane from Norway to Canada, where he made a state visit. Towell met him at the airport. That night at the Norwegian Embassy, Ambassador Kjell Eliassen and his wife Astrid gave a party for 300 people in his honor.
It may be that all the other guests were really Secret Service agents and the hall was full of cameras made to look like vases and machine guns implanted in the balustrades, but you certainly couldn't tell it. There was no metal-detector frame to walk through at the door, no barricades in front. Heck, no one even asked to see my invitation.
Up the stairs, to the piano nobile (the main floor), came Secretary of State George Shultz and his wife Helena, and their granddaughter and grandson (brought along because their father is Norwegian); Patrick Daly of Protocol; preservationists Joseph and Gene Prendergast of Oak Hill, James Monroe's old plantation; a few military men with medals across their chests; and 290 Norwegians, Norwegian Americans and such.
European-style, the king didn't stand in line to shake hands. Instead, he received in state in the embassy library. The Shultzes seemed to have a lot to talk about with him. After they left, Ambassador Eliassen would go into the grand salon from time to time and come back with someone like Prendergast, who had gone to school with King Olaf, and bring him in to shake hands and talk about old times.
King Olaf, with a cane he hardly ever leaned on, stood to speak to guests. At 85, he is a great deal sprier than most. He bristled at the suggestion that he might not make it up to the ski slopes this winter. "A most famous picture, during the oil crisis a few years back," Eliassen explained, "showed him putting his fare in the box for the tram to the ski runs."
Thor S. Johansen, embassy secretary, stood by the library door and regaled visitors waiting in hopes of a royal audience with stories about the king, a World War II hero. He won an Olympic gold medal in 1923 as a sailor, and he still competes in sailing. Johansen said the king also popped into the new Norwegian chancery while he was in town, and approved the Kitt Mjoen tapestry and the Knut Steen marble statue.
He spent that night in the $2,000-per-day presidential suite at the Willard -- a canopied king-size bed ("we have to have that for a king," said J.T. Kuhlman, the general manager), an extra bedroom, two full baths, two half-baths, a sitting room and a dining room.
The next morning he went off to the National Air and Space Museum to tour the building with the director, Martin Harwit. "He seemed very knowledgeable, but it's hard to say about those people who have learned to nod their head to encourage you to say the next thing ... Bobbe Dyke, our volunteer docent, showed him our display on polar explorations, which Norway joined in. We didn't close the museum or cordon any exhibit off. Lots of people saw him and took pictures. He didn't seem to mind."
Afterward, King Olaf paid his call on President Reagan and then went back to the embassy for lunch. He welcomed 20 Americans, including Vice President Bush and Barbara Bush, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan and Chief of Protocol Selwa Roosevelt (who said, after seeing him off at the airport that afternoon, "He's a charming man of the old school, wonderfully unassuming").
To an American who admired the king's elegant simplicity and his bravery at traveling without a great deal of security, Ambassador Eliassen said: "He's called the people's king. And he once said, when asked why he didn't have a bigger personal security force, 'I have 4 million.' That's the population of Norway."