Soothing Strings for the Unstrung

We took our own exit poll, which said the past week in Washington was an emotional roller coaster for everyone, and so we needed a teensy break from party politics. Just wanting a party, period, we headed to the residence of Italian Ambassador Sergio Vento Friday night.

"For some to forget, and for others to celebrate," Vento told the 74 guests assembled at Villa Firenze, then added diplomatically: "I am celebrating."

The occasion was a special performance by the La Scala String Quartet, arranged by FAI, an American foundation that supports Italian cultural treasures. What made it special were the instruments loaned by the city of Cremona: A 1715 Stradivari violin, a 1734 Guarneri violin, a 1615 Amati viola and a prize-winning modern cello. The instruments are priceless, of course, but as Italian journalist Beppe Severgnini disclosed, "priceless" comes to about $50 million, which is why they travel with bodyguards.

Music lovers Clay Johnson, Lucky Roosevelt, Ina Ginsburg, Michael Sonnenreich, Lolo Sarnoff, Bill and Ann Nitze, Bill Haseltine and Gale Hayman, LaSalle and Ruth Leffall, Ricardo and Isabel Ernst, Marc and Jacqueline Leland, Calvin and Jane Cafritz, John and JoAnn Mason, and Mandy and Mary Ourisman informally dispersed in the ballroom for a concert of Brahms, Puccini and Verdi, then assembled for (gasp!) nonpolitical dinner conversation.

A night to soothe the savage breasts of Washington. As Vento explained in his toast, "Music is a uniter, not a divider."

At the Juvenile Diabetes Gala, This Kid Is Alright

We just missed a stump speech from Jesse Jackson at Saturday's Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation gala but arrived in time for the very long, loud live auction. God giveth, and He taketh away.

But let's focus on the positive, which is what more than 600 guests -- mostly parents whose children have diabetes -- do every day. Consider 17-year-old Cullen Macbeth, who was diagnosed with the disease four years ago. His folks, he told the crowd, looked on the bright side: He would never be drafted, and he would have something to write about on his college entrance applications. "And," added the St. Albans senior with a wicked grin, "I'm the only person I know who got a flu shot this year." We love this kid.

Thankfully, "A Night of Hope" was blissfully bipartisan. The party at the Mandarin Oriental hotel was chaired by Mary Kate Cary (former speechwriter for President Bush) and her husband, Rob; the evening's honoree was labor leader and Democrat Ron Richardson. VIPs also included Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, WRC-TV anchor Jim Handly and R&B singer Jeffrey Osborne.

The night raised more than $1 million, including a $20,000 winning bid for a Camp David jacket autographed by President Bush and donated by Doro Bush Koch. Four more . . . auctions! (But shorter, pretty please?)

For These Builders, A Constructive Cause

Washington's contractors, architects, engineers and designers -- many of whom had a hand in creating the new Convention Center -- had their first chance to party in the building Saturday at the 2004 Builders' Ball. "They all had a part in this," said ball chairman Al Storm. The industry soiree gathered together more than 1,200 guests and raised $160,000 for the ACE Mentor Program, Samaritan Inns, Vanguard Services Unlimited and Canstruction.

But the ongoing effort to really loosen this crowd up fell short once again. The night's theme was silent movies, and Roaring Twenties attire was "encouraged" -- but spotted only on the actors floating around the Convention Center ballroom. There were palm trees and a red carpet but nary a flapper or Gatsby to be found at the fifth biannual ball. "I'm such a stick," sighed ball founder Darrel Rippeteau, sporting a standard issue tuxedo. Gold lame hard hats next time, boys.

With Laura Thomas