"How remarkable it is to go to a party where you know not only the hosts, but the guests," said omni-historian Daniel Boorstin, looking around the room in amazement the other day at that rare event, a non-corporately sponsored, non-catered dinner in a private house.
The profundity of this statement is even greater coming from Boorstin, librarian of Congress emeritus, currently writing the forthcoming "The Creators," a sequel to his book "The Discoverers." He and the poet and editor Ruth Boorstin have been invited to almost every event worth attending in Washington for the last few decades.
Even those who could recite the Green Book from cover to cover often find themselves hastily consulting the invitation to find out the name of the host as they go up the steps to the party. On the embassy circuit, at least a subscription to the quarterly Dip List (more formally, "Diplomatic List") put out by the State Department is some help -- provided some hapless ambassador hasn't been recalled in a sudden snit by his government. Still it is of little help in pronouncing the name in an unknown tongue.
Once you're inside, these days it's not always easy to find mine host or hostess -- even after you've vigilantly located the piano and looked at all the full-color photographs of the host grinning with the president. The decline of the formal receiving line, the location of the elusive host, the necessity for the thirsty host to be given a few minutes away for the sustenance of a drink, make it often a hunt-and-seek operation. But since the chief reason for going to a Washington party is to fix your face in the host's mind, and vice versa, one must persevere.
Egyptian Ambassador El Sayed Abdel Raouf El Reedy solved the problem the other day on the occasion of the 38th anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution, in the magnificent embassy with its high ceiling and ornate plaster -- one of those mansions that gave Massachusetts Avenue the name "Embassy Row." He stood right by the front door to greet his guests.
Well, that solved that problem, for the few attending who didn't know the delightful diplomat.
However, at that rare event, a non-corporately sponsored, non-catered dinner in a private house, not an official residence, the problem can still persist. And often the remedy is difficult to come by. Consider the case of the dinner/tea/pool party given by a couple, their names and faces obscure, who nevertheless wish to honor some friend who has just hit the bestseller list (or had a 50th wedding anniversary, or announced an engagement, and so forth). The guest list is obviously made up by the honorees, who do have at least some passing acquaintance with those to be invited.
So the unsuspecting guests come to the door where the 5-year-old son answers the door, gravely takes the guests' umbrellas and directs them into the drawing room. The guests look around in panic. Who are the hosts?
Right off, if you've ever given a party like that, you know the right kind of husband and host is out in the kitchen, trying to remember who wanted Diet Pepsi with caffeine and who wanted single malt Scotch etc. The honoree is likely completely surrounded by those who got there first, all of whom are dying to ask about her latest triumph, unable to break out of the ring to greet the new arrivals.
The hostess, is, no doubt, in the dining room trying to rearrange the place cards now that two people have called to say their house has been destroyed by lightning and they have gone to a shelter.
The only thing to do is to engage in conversation with the 5-year-old as to just who are mommy and daddy, until he has to answer the door again. At which time, you can hope the next guest will talk to you. Perhaps the new guest will even recognize the hosts, when, if ever, they are able to come out and perform their duties of going around, introducing themselves and acknowledging that they do remember your name and why the honoree wished to invite you, and for what you are famous.
The Chronicler, who cares deeply about all of this, has rejected her husband's suggestion that everyone have their name and identification tattooed on their forehead. But she does suggest the ploy once used by the designers Ray Eames and her husband, Charles.
The Eameses, who weren't, to put it mildly, word people, often carried a Polaroid camera. The ensuing picture they would have autographed by the subject. Thereby, with one click and pull, they obtained both visage and name. At one crowded February Smithsonian party, where it wasn't really necessary to know who summoned you or with whom you were summoned, the Eameses carried bags of those candy hearts with love messages on them. Instead of saying "Hello, Mr. Jones," they would proffer the candy.
See, if you're creative, you can manage.