Forget civilized dinner parties full of saucy mots and motley sauces. Summer is a time to be outdoors, and though you might hesitate before inviting an assistant secretary of state to a wienie roast, outdoor entertainments do not always involve grown-ups sitting in a plastic pool playing with rubber duckies; sometimes they are as dignified as an elegant afternoon tea or as suavely competitive as croquet. Then again, sometimes they are not.
It is dignified to have your guests arrive all in white and serve them watercress sandwiches and bowls full of strawberries, with the silver tea service surrounded by flowers on a terrace table.
It is dignified to give a poolside luncheon, or to hold a competition on the tennis court, with gin and tonics for those who do not serve but wait.
It is very dignified to ask people to come in garden-party attire and make their way around the newly mowed croquet court, tapping balls through wire hoops.
Those without pools, without tennis courts, without lawns big enough to accommodate a croquet tournament, without even a balcony for a tropical tea still can take advantage of the summer season and entertain friends outdoors.
Give a scavenger hunt where what the guests must scavenge is five cool pleasures found within the boundaries of D.C. These can be places -- the marbled rotunda of the Library of Congress, a shady riverside spot, or things -- a hunter's vest with each pocket stuffed with frozen picnic packs, a parasol, a frozen daiquiri, a how-to-ski video, a quart of ice cream.
Not only will the party provide future getaways for a heat-struck host, if enough guests return bearing chunks of ice, it will cool things down immediately.
Give a fountain party. Washington is full of fountains and fountains are full of water. Pack individual picnic boxes for each of your guests and herd them off to the nearest watery cascade.
After everyone has eaten, unpack a final box that contains a variety of toy boats and let the race begin.
Stage a polka-in-the-park party. Armed with tape recorder and polka tapes, gather guests together and take them to a nearby park where, sustained by platters containing sausages, cheeses, cherry tomatoes and pickles, baskets full of rye bread and jars of mustard, they can hop and skip and bump about until the last tuba toots farewell.Give a thousand-clowns party. Not only will you amuse your friends but you will give pleasure to anyone else who happens to be sharing the public park. Let everyone come dressed as they please (and in a Washington summer, clowns rarely will be found in full regalia) but with bulbous noses and frowzy wigs. The humidity can turn the most perfect hairdo into a disaster anyway; this way guests can protest that they meant to look like this.
Sponsor an ice-cream promenade, selecting three good ice-cream shops and herding your guests (in leisurely fashion) from one to the next to the next. At each shop, guests give you their orders for ice-cream to go, and you, as host, pick up the tab before leading the way to the next stop. Make the stops far enough apart and people hardly will feel fat at all.
Have a polar-bear brunch. Pack a picnic basket with orange juice, iced coffee, fresh fruit, hard-boiled eggs and muffins and invite friends to join you for a Sunday morning trip to the polar-bear enclosure at the zoo. If you feel hot when the temperature soars, think how much worse it must be to be a polar bear in Washington, D.C.
Give a midsummer-night's eve outdoor theater festival, inviting friends to join you in a reading of -- what else? -- Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
The cast contains 21 named characters and assorted fairies and attendants, so the party can be a large one or, if you choose to double up the roles, small.
Titania already has dictated the food, instructing the fairies to take care of Bottom and "Feed him with apricots and dewberries, with purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries."
Why bother, you well might ask. Why not simply put on the air conditioning, put out the crudites and let the chitchat flow? Because after awhile asking the same people to come and share the same food in the same old living room gets boring.
And though some people may choose to vary the routine by finding all new friends or hiring an interior decorator to rearrange things every few months, most of us must look to less radical solutions.
Those things that happen every day lose their ability to thrill. Has anyone ever written a song to the 10th rose of summer? No, we are fickle, longing for a bit of change, a little excitement between the cheese puffs and the chocolate souffle.
And once in awhile you, the host, should stun your guests by providing it.