When the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall drop by for a visit, you want to bring out the fancy china, rustle up some good grub and invite some of your most respectable friends -- you know, the ones who know which forks to use and that kind of thing.
And if you have any sense, you'll also invite your mom because if you don't you may never hear the end of it.
And that's exactly what President Bush did yesterday. He had the prince and his new wife, Camilla, over to the White House for lunch and that worked out so well that he had them come back for dinner, too.
Lunch was just a quiet little family affair -- the prez and the prince and their wives, plus the president's brother Marvin, his sister Doro and their spouses. But for dinner, Bush invited a whole slew of folks, including Nancy Reagan, Merv Griffin, Tom Brokaw, Tom Watson and Oscar de la Renta. Plus actor Kelsey Grammer, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell and Red Steagall, who's the poet laureate of Texas.
The poet laureate of Texas? How did he get in with this crowd?
"I got an invitation in the mail," he said.
This being Washington, there were also a lot of political types -- John Roberts and Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld and Bill Frist and Joe Lieberman and Condi Rice, who was escorted by ex-boyfriend Gene Washington, the former football star who is the NFL director of football operations (which is probably a far more important job than the NFL director of baseball operations).
The guest list also included two fun couples: First Daughter Jenna Bush with boyfriend Henry Hager and Second Daughter Mary Cheney with girlfriend Heather Poe. Hager, the 27-year-old son of former Virginia lieutenant governor John Hager, has been dating Jenna for more than a year, but this was the first big red-carpet night for the couple. Looks like Laura Bush was wrong earlier this year when she said Hager was not a "serious boyfriend." Poe sat in the Cheney family box at the Republican National Convention last year, but this was the couple's first major White House social event together.
As always, the names that did not appear on the guest list were at least as interesting as those that did -- no Scooter Libby, no Tom DeLay, no Karl Rove, no Harriet Miers. In other words, none of the folks who made last month so much fun made the cut.
Most of the invited had never met the prince. "But I live with a princess -- actually, two of them," said Lieberman.
A team of stylists has accompanied the duchess on this trip to present her in the best possible light. Last night she selected a black cashmere jacket embroidered with jet and a midnight silk taffeta skirt by Robinson Valentine, the British design team that created her wedding dress in April. It was perhaps not the most flattering choice, unless she was going for fabulous in a Barbara Bush kind of way. She accessorized the ensemble with a diamond serpent necklace. Laura Bush was more successful with a de la Renta gown in rust silk with taffeta flowers accented with amber beads. Rice outdazzled them in the red gown de la Renta created for her 50th birthday last year.
Perhaps it was just a coincidence but the president and the prince wore pretty much the same outfit -- black tuxedos with white shirts. And why not? They have a lot in common. The prince is a man who owes his exalted position in life entirely to the lucky accident of being born into a rich and powerful family. The president is a man who owes his exalted position in life . . . um . . . ah . . . partially to the lucky accident of being born into a rich and powerful family.
After a photo op in the Blue Room, the 130 guests moved to the State Dining Room for dinner. The tables were covered with gold silk tablecloths, the gold-banded Clinton china and white orchids in vermeil candelabras.
The first lady sat between the prince and her father-in-law; the president sat next to Camilla at the same table with his mother. Jenna was seated next to de la Renta, and the secretary of state next to Mayor Tony Williams.
"Your royal highness, it is a great honor for Laura and me to host you and the Duchess of Cornwall at the White House," Bush said, before offering a toast "to the enduring friendship between the United Kingdom and the United States." The toast was greeted with much glass clinking and murmurs of "hear, hear."
Then the prince rose to make his remarks. He recalled his first visit to the White House in 1970, when his host was President Nixon and "the media was busy trying to marry me off to Tricia Nixon." He did not mention his last visit to the White House, almost exactly 20 years ago, when Diana stole the show by dancing with John Travolta.
The prince quoted Winston Churchill and praised Rosa Parks and then proposed a toast to the president "and the people of the United States of America."
At that point, White House officials hustled reporters out the door so it's hard to say what happened next, but if all went according to plan the guests tied on the old feed bag and tucked into Celery Broth with Crispy Rock Shrimp, followed by Medallions of Buffalo Tenderloin, Wild Rice Pancakes, Roasted Corn, Glazed Parsnips and Young Carrots, followed by Mint Romaine Lettuce with Blood Red Orange Vinaigrette, Vermont Camembert Cheese and Spiced Walnuts, followed by Petits Fours Cake, Chartreuse Ice Cream and Red and Green Grape Sauce. This was the first dinner from Cristeta Comerford since she was named White House executive chef. And it was all washed down with Newton Chardonnay "Unfiltered" 2002, Peter Michael Pinot Noir "Le Moulin Rouge" 2002 and Iron Horse "Wedding Cuvee" 2002.
After dinner, the party moved to the East Room to hear cellist Yo-Yo Ma (also a guest at the 1985 dinner) and pianist Kathryn Stott. The schedule then called for guests to dance in the Grand Foyer, the site of the famous spin of Di and Travolta. A picture of that moment still hangs in the White House, and was on display as guests filed into last night's dinner.
Throughout the evening, 300 people from Washington's Ethiopian community held an orderly but loud protest outside chanting, "President Bush, where is your vision? President Bush, where is your compassion?"
But the sound never made it inside, where inquiring minds wanted to know: Would Steagall, the poet laureate of Texas, be writing a poem about this historic evening?
"Never can tell," he said.