When the life-loving media tycoon Malcolm Forbes was still with us, he led a party of corporate giants and assorted swells to his far-flung Chateau Balleroy in Normandy every year, there to go a-ballooning o’er field and stream. Since his death, his four sons, Steve, Bobby, Kip and Tim, have decided that because they’re all so busy with their various projects, once every other year’s enough for all that hot-air flying so high in the sky. So this year, for the weekend after Memorial Day, the Forbes brothers have offered Balleroy and all its services to Madam Ambassador Pamela Harriman, our lady in Paris, to do with what she chooses. Pas mal. One can have a very happy weekend in the restored rooms of the splendid chateau. Oh, and at the very same time President Clinton will be paying a visit to Normandy, arriving on an aircraft carrier. One of ours, I presume.

The civility, even benignity, of the divorce of Paula and billionaire Mexican media giant Emilio Azcarraga — he is the richest man in Mexico — has amazed all their friends and practically everybody who has ever heard of them. Emilio has been wildly generous and understanding, and that does make it easier all around. Paula will keep one of their New York residences, one of their houses in Los Angeles, who knows what in Mexico, fine paintings and mucho dinero. And, in keeping with her desire to be her own person, she will take back her maiden name of Cusi, even though it doesn’t quite have the ring that Azcarraga has. In Mexico, what does?

Speaking of billionaires, that stunning couple, Mercedes and Sid Bass of Fort Worth, New York, Aspen and the world, swept into New York to celebrate their birthdays — hers follows his by one day — and to proclaim their love to all their friends here and abroad. What a festival! What laughs! What thrills! What hugs and kisses! The carryings-on started a week before in Fort Worth with party after party, and continued in New York where the Basses flew in with the Texas contingent in tow. YA-HOO!

So now we all know that Mercedes is one of the world’s best-dressed women, her drop-dead style often likened to that of the Duchess of Windsor when that fashion plate was in flower. So now this is what Mercedes wore to all the lunches and dinners and concerts and sprees at Elio’s and the Basses’ big party at the onstage celebration at the Metropolitan: To Kenneth Jay Lane’s buffet for her and Sid in his ravishing duplex apartment, she wore a spare little black silk Audrey Hepburn-type dress from Oscar de la Renta’s Balmain collection, as short as short can be. To Gil Shiva’s lunch in their honor at his ravishing apartment in the Dakota, she wore her pal Givenchy’s forest green wool suit with a green satin blouse. To the fabulous “Save The Rain Forests” concert at Carnegie Hall (Elton John, I love you), where the Basses invited 50 guests there and to a dinner afterward at Elio’s, she wore another Balmain by Oscar, black silk, short and cut out at the shoulders. And for the Basses’ dinner for 94 at the Metropolitan Opera, she wore a beautiful wedding dress she ordered from Vera Wang in black — with lots of Mercedes showing through the chiffon! Now, don’t you wish you’d thought of that? It’s the only way, really.

It would be almost impossible to find a more beautiful setting for Mercedes’s birthday than the magnificent “On Stage at the Met” party, the extraordinary party Cecile Zilkha, the Met’s chairman of special events, has masterminded at the opera house every year for the past nine years. This year’s mise-en-scene was taken from the Met’s gorgeous new production of “Otello,” a gift from the ardent Texas music lover Sybil Harrington. Guests, stepping onto the vast stage to find their tables, walked toward a fantasy terrace under a distant starlit sky. One might have been in a lavish orangerie with tables centered with six-foot tall topiary trees bearing oranges and others adorned with spring flowers, all created by Philip Baloun. On each side of the stage hung huge Venetian paintings framed by majestic marble columns. Venetian balconies were bedecked with red banners representing the Lion of Venice and there were enormous lion statues everywhere. The guest artist of the evening was Renee Fleming, the Met’s new soprano, who had just made her debut singing Desdemona to Placido Domingo’s Otello and was still feeling the thrill.

The dinner honored Louis V. Gerstner, IBM’s chairman and chief executive officer, for his philanthropic support of the arts, and raised a record $1.4 million for the Met. Alfred C. DeCrane Jr., the chairman and chief executive officer of Texaco, was the dinner chairman, and the associate chairmen were Richard Gelb, the big man at Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Thomas S. Murphy, the chairman of Capital Cities/ABC. Glorious Food served a lavish dinner for 875 guests, and Michael Carney played for the dancing.

Mercedes and Sid were the Golden Underwriters of the evening, and among the perfumed pack they invited were the exquisite Farah Pahlavi, Shabanou of Iran; Sid’s parents, Nancy Lee and Perry Bass; Adele Chatfield-Taylor and John Guare; John Richardson; Georgette and Robert Mosbacher; Duncan McLaren; Betsy Bloomingdale; Beverly Sills; Oatsie Charles from Washington; Marian and Andrew Heiskell; Duane and Mark Hampton; Oscar de la Renta; Vivian Duffield and Jocelyn Stevens from London; Countess Marina Cicogna; Mica and Ahmet Ertegun; Linda Wachner; Barbara Walters; Chessy Rayner; Princess Firyal of Jordan, looking like a flower in pink silk; Shirley and Abe Rosenthal; Liz and Tassos Fondaras; Florence Grinda from Paris; Carroll Petrie; Judy and Alfred Taubman; Kenneth Jay Lane; the Leonard Lauders; the Ronald Lauders; Gil Shiva; Mary McFadden; Boaz Mazor; Maureen and Robert Oxenberg; Alex Gregory; Patricia Patterson; Anne and Vernon Taylor from Colorado; Elaine and Jim Wolfensohn; Bob Colacello; Fernanda and Frank Gilligan; Genevieve Faure and Alexander Marchessini, and such Texas friends as Peter Flood, Marsland and Dickie Moncrief, Gayle Hunnicut, the Edward Hudson Jrs., Kay and Ben Fortson, and more, more, more.

At Cecile and Ezra Zilkha’s table sat such as the French Ambassador to the U.S. and Mme. Jacques Andreani, who was not to be missed in a black Cardin with winglike white sleeves big enough to outfit a band of angels; the French Consul General and Mme. Andrea Baeyens; Astrid and Kip Forbes; Jerry Zipkin, and the Donald Zilkhas (it was his birthday). And scattered throughout the stage were Mary and Mike Wallace, the Joseph Volpes, the Edmund Pillsburys, Lucile and Guy Peyrelongue, Anna Moffo, Helen Gurley Brown and David Brown, Chris and Bruce Crawford, Lady Fairfax, the James Kinnears, Mrs. Gilbert Humphrey, etc., etc., etc. But more of all this frenzy on Friday when the Bass love-in continues and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent are given send-offs in Palm Beach by Emelia and Pepe Fanjul and in New York by Lee Thaw.

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