I’ve been reading Letitia Baldridge’s memoir, Of Diamonds and Diplomats, and I think it may be skewing my expectations a bit. If you don’t know Ms. Baldrige, let me fill you in: After WWII, fresh out of college, she landed a gig as the Social Secretary for the Paris embassy, then spent a few years as a personal assistant to the ambassador in Rome, then moved on as Social Secretary to the Kennedys. Oh, and somewhere in there she served as the first female executive at Tiffany’s.
Clearly this woman knows what’s up when it comes to official functions. In her day, black tie receptions were a regular occurrence. Things like seating ranks and flower arrangements were issues of the utmost diplomatic importance. Ladies got dressed up for work and for dinner.
Dinner! In a BALL GOWN. I started thinking I could really get on board with this whole diplomacy thing: spreading good will to foreign nations with every coupe de champagne! Breaking down international barriers over caviar! Representing America with a great pair of shoes!
So when I got the email invite to see Hillary Clinton speak at the Ambassador’s residence, I felt compelled to rise to the occasion. This was somewhat uncharted territory, since most days I never leave my pajamas and I don’t own a power pantsuit. But I donned a sleek wool sheath dress and my best heels and set out to be diplomatically fabulous.
Hillary would be arriving at 4:30, so I got there right as the doors opened at 2:30, figuring I could grab a seat up front and wait. Because if you walked up to a palatial looking house, expecting to wait at least 2 hours to hear a major leader of the free world address the diplomatic community, wouldn’t you at least expect there to be a few chairs around?
Nope. Not a one. And since they took my umbrella at the gate, I arrived damp and wearied to a big empty room where I stood in my best heels for what seemed like eternity. I felt a tad overdressed. I waited in vain for someone to start serving champagne. I wondered how the hell we could get Ms. Baldrige back in charge of events.
Because believe me, it was still really amazing to see Hillary. She gave a great talk, thanking everyone for their service graciously. But by then I was so delirious from all the standing and jostling and lack of cocktails that I could barely hear her over the pain in my feet. Where was the luster? The glamour? All that really important social protocol!?
As I hobbled out to the street to the bus stop (I bet Letitia never took the bus), I bumped into a friend and asked her how her feet were doing. “Oh that was nothing. Last summer I waited for 3 hours to see Obama. In the rain. No umbrellas allowed.”
Well. Looks like this rookie will be trading in her heels for sneakers and a poncho. And trading in Letitia’s book for this one.