Byline: Aileen Mehle

The Washington crowd that matters — senators, ambassadors, a former secretary-general of the United Nations, the head of the World Bank, members of the medical and scientific worlds, assorted socialites from all over and Ethel Kennedy — all gathered in their gracious big-shot way at the magnificent Folger Shakespeare Library to honor Lily Safra, the billionaire philanthropist. The reason: Lily has contributed $3 million for the establishment of the Edmond J. Safra Family Lodge at the National Institutes of Health just outside Washington. The lodge, a tribute to Lily’s late husband, will provide a retreat for the families of critically ill patients, who come from all over the world to participate in research and treatment programs at NIH. Can you think of a better way to use your money?
The augustly beautiful library, high-ceilinged and darkly paneled, the greatest repository of Shakespeariana in the country, is pretty awe-inspiring without even a wilted fern in the place. But when the New York decorator Philip Baloun cornered every cherry blossom for miles around and arranged them in great branches in giant vases running down the length of the library, the scene drew a gasp from even the most blase of the guests who have been there and done that everywhere and are not in the least loath to let you know it.
It was a treat to see a smiling Ethel Kennedy, who never lets down the side, no matter what life hands her. Years ago, I lived across the street from her in Georgetown, and she is just as cheerful and full of life now as she was then. An amazing, courageous woman.
If you like senators — some do, some don’t — a likable Sen. Christopher Bond (R., Mo.) was there with his fiancee, Linda Pell, and Sen. Bill Frist (R., Tenn.), the only doctor in the Senate, made a special appearance. If you like ambassadors, Javier Perez de Cuellar, the Peruvian ambassador to France, a former secretary general of the United Nations, flew in from Paris with his beautiful wife, Marcela, for the dinner and the lunch in Lily’s honor the next day on Capitol Hill. The British ambassador in Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer, and Lady Meyer popped in all the way from the British Embassy and former Ambassador William McCormick Blair said his wife, Deeda, a big lady at NIH, brought him along as her date. Sweet.
In the crowd were the president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, just back from doing business in Uzbekistan — it’s a world bank, remember — his wife, Elaine; Buffy and Bill Cafritz; Lynda Carter Altman and Robert Altman; Lynn Wyatt and her big-oil-and-gas-man husband, Oscar, who flew in from Texas; Princess Firyal of Jordan; Mrs. Rubens Barbosa, the wife of the Brazilian ambassador in Washington; the Hon. Boyden Gray; Gale Hayman-Haseltine and Dr. William Haseltine; Deborah Norville and Karl Wellner; Paul Montrone, the chairman of the board of the Metropolitan Opera; Mary and Mandell Ourisman; Linda Wachner; Lucky Roosevelt; Blaine and Robert Trump; Genny and Fred Ryan; the NIH’s Dr. Charles Sanders and Mrs. Sanders; Washington grande dame Oatsie Charles, and too many others of that ilk and stripe to mention. Dinner, however, is well worth mentioning — black truffle risotto, filet of sea bream, pommes souffles and quenelles of ice cream, accompanied by very French wines. The organizer of the festive, two-day celebration was Robert Higdon of the Prince of Wales Foundation in Washington. He organizes things for Prince Charles all the time. So — who better?

At the Versailles Foundation dinner at the Carlyle, Florence Van der Kemp, the president, announced that longtime friend and patron, the late sugar heiress Dorothy Munn, has left her spectacular Paris apartment overlooking Les Invalides to the foundation. Dorothy, who loved to play cards from dusk to dawn — and from dawn to dusk — was once married to Charles Munn, PB’s grand seigneur when the resort was truly in flower and social desperados were kept at bay.

On a decidedly different note, here’s a Madonna quickie. She has called in some — just some — of her spiritual advisers to remove what her husband, Guy Ritchie, is calling “bad vibrations” around the movie, “Love, Sex, Drugs and Money,” that he and Madge just made together. It’s a remake of Lina Wertmuller’s 1974 hit “Swept Away,” which starred Giancarlo Giannini, and the word of mouth is controversial because in it Madonna plays a rich woman who gets beaten up by her sailor-lover. I don’t get it. Is it because she’s a woman? Is it because she’s rich? Is it because she gets beaten up? Is it because a sailor does it? Is it because he’s her lover? The Italian director Wertmuller made her reputation on that flick and was lionized whenever she came to New York. Don’t Madge and Guy thrive on controversy?

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