The Meridian Ball, a Diplomatic High Point

There was genteel head-shaking and tut-tutting at Friday night's Meridian Ball: The Senate's rejection of the nuclear test ban treaty Wednesday left the black-tie international crowd perplexed and dismayed. "Not our finest hour," said one distinguished guest, who diplomatically declined to discuss the matter for the record.

But in an odd way, the timing of the vote underscored the raison d'etre of the Meridian International Center: a place for statesmen from all countries to educate and assist each other. "It really helps to promote international understanding," said Marcelle Leahy--wife of Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy--who co-chaired the 31st annual ball with Lilibet Hagel, wife of Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel.

The annual event is one of the oldest in Washington and the center's biggest fund-raiser. Embassies throughout the city host private dinners for guests before they go on to dessert and dancing at the historic old mansion off 16th Street. "We beg, borrow and almost steal to keep going," said Meridian's president, Walter Cutler.

The ball always attracts an impressive mix of politicians, ambassadors and businessmen. This year protocol chief Mary Mel French represented the Clinton administration, and FBI Director Louis Freeh represented cute guys who love to dance with their wives. ("Good party," he said approvingly.)

But organizers knew the ball needed a face lift or two, so this year the grand but chilly gardens had, for the first time, a warm tent--donated by Sheikh Abdulaziz A. Al-Sulaiman of Saudi Arabia, who's a Meridian board member. And the party this year included a group of under-40 types, which brought the average age to . . . oh, never mind. "We decided to spruce up this event by bringing in young people," Cutler said.

And not just any young people. The Young Benefactors Committee included Capitals co-owner Jonathan Ledecky and MicroStrategy's 34-year-old billionaire CEO, Michael Saylor, who dined at Meridian's adjacent White-Meyer House before the dance.

At 1 a.m., the dance floor was still full--a lovely way, we think, to promote international relations.

Win, Place or . . . Just Show Up

There was only one problem at Saturday's 62nd International Gold Cup--some really unfortunate hats. We are sad to report that most Virginians have lost the art of wearing stylish hats to horse races. Otherwise, the fall steeplechase at Great Meadow in the Plains was perfect: flawless weather and tailgate parties replete with champagne and gourmet goodies. The crowd could best be described as "horse money": that delicious mix of blue blood, new blood and horse sense. Marlene Cooke was on hand with her new Swedish fiance, Anders Ulle, right. Virginia Warner, the senator's daughter, left, looked sleek in sunglasses and designer suede pants, and actor Robert Duvall was his captivating self, that charming devil. No wonder folks could barely tear themselves away to watch the races.

Foundation for Success

Thursday's dinner for the "I Have a Dream" Foundation at the National Museum for Women in the Arts proved, once again, that dreams can come true. Entrepreneur Mario Morino was honored for his work with the foundation, which provides at-risk students with scholarships and tutoring through college. Strayer University sophomore Daunte Richmond, with mentor Elouise Chase, right, came out of what he called "the baddest neighborhood in Southeast." He told the crowd, "I am very proud, because out of all of my friends I grew up with, they are still on the street corner selling drugs, and I'm successful and going to college."

CAPTION: Clockwise from left: the receiving line Friday night; Lilibet and Sen. Chuck Hagel; and Lisa Pappas with Michael Saylor.