PARIS, NOV. 19 -- While George Bush was witnessing history in the making today, Barbara Bush reviewed history from the past.
His front-row seat came at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe where he and other world leaders signed an agreement to end aggression in Europe. She found hers at the Louvre, which Napoleon's spoils of aggression made the richest museum in the world.
At the museum, Mrs. Bush's first stop in a day of sightseeing, Director Michel LaClotte took her below ground to see foundations of the 12th-century Louvre fortress, which kept out the invading Normans. The stacked stones were unexpectedly uncovered during recent excavations. She also saw a 1989 addition to the museum -- I.M. Pei's soaring glass pyramid that defines the new entrance.
Later, near Parc Monceau, she toured the little-known Nissim de Camondo Museum, a reconstruction of an 18th-century town house modeled after the Petit Trianon at Versailles. The house was built in 1910 after its predecessor was torn down by the Count de Camondo, who wanted a perfect residence for his collection of 18th-century furniture, paintings, china, bronzes and other decorative arts. Mrs. Bush's escort told her that the mansion was given to France in 1936 in memory of Camondo's son Nissim, who died in World War I. He added that the count's daughter and grandchildren died at Auschwitz in 1945.
"Oh, dear," said Mrs. Bush. "That's a horrible story. I've been through Auschwitz."
Strolling through the elegant Louis XVI paneled salons, Mrs. Bush saw Sevres and Meissen china, Beauvais tapestries, Savonnerie carpets and an oval library that might have made George Bush envious. "He'd be tasteless if he didn't love it," she said, making small talk as she went along.
And she heard Henri Samuel, one of France's foremost authorities on the decorative arts, explain the ongoing restoration, which to date has cost 80 million francs (about $16 million), some of it gifts from American benefactors. The French government restored the outside of the building.
The First Lady was enthusiastic about everything and would pause to study some of the intricate chests and tables, seeming almost hesitant to touch them. In one salon she saw a small writing desk of inlaid wood standing virtually in the middle of the room. "Look at this lovely thing," she said. "You just have to put it in the center of the room."
When she saw the Buffon service of Sevres porcelain, famous because each plate features a different hand-painted bird, and another set of equally intricate Meissen, she shook her head and said she didn't know which she would prefer more. "It would be hard for me to choose."
Mrs. Bush's expertise at needlepoint has provided her with the kind of eye it took to appreciate the elaborate tapestries and carpets found everywhere.
At one point she seemed so impressed by the mansion's collection that she turned to her companions, Susan Baker, wife of the secretary of state, and Mary Curley, wife of the U.S. ambassador, and asked, "Isn't this the darnedest place you ever saw?"
She seemed reluctant to leave after the tour was over. When Samuel took her out into the garden to say goodbye, she told him, "We want to start all over again."
Still more history awaited Mrs. Bush at Versailles' Grand Trianon, where Danielle Mitterrand gave a luncheon for the wives of the visiting world leaders. There, Mrs. Bush and her 31 companions saw what French kings built to get away from Versailles, which they built to get away from Paris.
Mrs. Mitterrand formally welcomed her guests, who formally responded. Except for Mrs. Bush -- she gave Mrs. Mitterrand a kiss on each cheek.
For a while it looked as if Raisa Gorbachev would be a no-show. Then, suddenly, there she was, rushing along the long hall on her spike-heel pumps in a blue and white pin-stripe suit that would have done Wall Street proud.
Skirt lengths proved to be unreliable barometers of what lies ahead in fashion. Mrs. Mitterrand's serviceable mid-calf blue suit was dangerously close to dowdy pitted against the chic Chanel of bare-kneed Michele Rocard, wife of the French prime minister.
Barbara Bush held her own in an unidentified (even her staff didn't know who designed it) black-and-white houndstooth suit with a front-pleated skirt that ended at mid-knee. With it she wore a bright red-and-black paisley blouse and her ever-present pearl choker.
The only damper on the party occurred after the guests sat down and photographers were permitted to take a final round of pictures. At Mrs. Mitterrand's table, Hannelore Kohl was struck by a camera as it fell from a photographer's shoulder.
The photographer said later that he was unaware of the accident until he was pulled aside by an Elysee Palace official who described Mrs. Kohl as being "in pain." She reportedly left before lunch was served.