The sun comes straight over the top of the Madison Hotel, shining into the faces of the crowd that has gathered to await Nelson and Winnie Mandela's departure for his meeting with President Bush. Office workers, tourists, bicycle messengers and street vendors stand shading their eyes, shifting from foot to foot, rising occasionally to tiptoe.

These folks are skillful practitioners of one of Washington's favorite pastimes: Visiting Dignitary Surveillance. Some are veterans of Mikhail Gorbachev's two sojourns at the Soviet Embassy, which is just around the corner on 16th Street. They know that the uninitiated cannot expect simply to stand on a street corner and see a foreign leader. VDS requires special talent and training.

First comes nerve. "I got a 10:30 appointment," says a man perched atop the planter that stands in front of the Korean Air office across the street from the hotel. "It's what? 10:20? You'll see me here until he shows."

Second comes cunning as evinced by the short woman who persuaded a friend to let her stand in the front row providing she knelt once she got there.

Third comes the savvy to distinguish between a Dignitary Mobilization and an extraneous flurry of Secret Service activity.

"The one thing you've got to know," says a tall man in a yellow T-shirt, "is that nothing happens until the motorcycles move. Now another thing, when they stop all this traffic coming up, this way, then you really have action."

It also helps to know what your subject looks like.

"Where is he? Did he come out?" one man barked as everyone around him broke into thunderous applause. "Where is Mandela? Oh my God. I didn't see him."

Yesterday was the least public and least celebratory day of Mandela's U.S. tour. His schedule was dominated by sessions with President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker, an afternoon press conference and a speech to the AFL-CIO. In the minds of many of Mandela's admirers, this left insufficient opportunities for adulation.

"I would have liked more time," said Gary Cook, who waited more than an hour to catch a look at Mandela as he left the White House in a black limousine. "But any glimpse is worth it."

"A parade would have been nice," said his friend Miriam Phields of Washington. "That way everybody can see him, not just the elite."

Perhaps because opportunities to see Mandela were so fleeting, the crowds that watched his comings and goings were relatively small, compared with the throngs that greeted him in New York and Boston.

"Washington, D.C., is different from every place else," said Baba Olusegun in a voice that made it clear the difference is not to his liking. Olusegun, a native of Nigeria, was working the sidewalk in front of the White House, trying to move the leather Mandela medallions that sold so well in New York. For him, Mandela's day indoors meant a substantial drop in sales.

"New York was a rally-type situation. Here it's all official. He doesn't have much chance to be with the people."

In an event that is quickly becoming routine, Mandela demonstrated his mastery of the American media once again yesterday, dominating an afternoon press conference at the Madison. His bluntness will probably seem a lot less refreshing in about a week or so. But in the meantime, it is hard not to respect a man who prefaces his answers with such statements as:

"That question is completely unnecessary if you listened to my remarks today."

"We have stated on countless occasions ... "

"That is not a question I am going to discuss with you."

And "This is a matter which you should leave entirely in our hands."

Despite those blows, some members of the press engaged in a little unprofessional applause as Mandela left the room.

Quote of the day:

"Nelson Mandela is no Martin Luther King. He is more like H. Rap Brown or Willie Horton."

The remark was made on the floor of the House by Rep. William Dannemeyer (R-Calif.), who criticized the African National Congress for its failure to renounce violence and castigated Mandela for statements supporting Yasser Arafat, Moammar Gadhafi and Fidel Castro.

Dannemeyer spokesman Paul Mero said his boss did not mean to imply that Mandela, like Horton, was a rapist.

"The way most of {the statement} is phrased has to do with the organizations or the individuals he supports," he said. "They have been one to go out and kill people and terrorize people."

Mero threatened that the congressman would speak further on the topic today.