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David Nelson / Society

La Jolla Museum's Monte Carlo Ball Was Party Fit for a Maharajah

August 14, 1986|DAVID NELSON

LA JOLLA — Emmy Cote, also known as Mrs. Bud Cote, stole the scene as chairman of Saturday's Monte Carlo Ball, and Oh! Calcutta, what a dandy party she threw.

This was the 10th edition of the annual escapade given to benefit the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, and by custom it took place in situ at the seaside palace of the arts. Largely attended by the Brahmins of San Diego County society (who consider this bash one of the sacred cows of the summer calendar), this year's party was subtitled "Visions of India" and given a theme that paid homage to the land watered by the Indus and the Brahmaputra.

This motif indienne allowed a wide range of interpretation, an opportunity of which both committee and guests took full advantage. Ignoring the days of the British Raj, the decor instead went straight to the heart of the ancient subcontinent, that land of mystery where skinny chaps in loincloths sleep on beds of nails, and the scents of rose water and frying spices make the air seem heavy and palpable.

Thus guests entered the museum's courtyard through a gate of the Taj Mahal to find themselves in the garden of Shalimar, a sensuous spot in which servers bore trays of champagne and ice sculptures supported kilo-weight tins of Beluga caviar. None entered without first receiving adornments suitable to their status--forehead tika dots for the women and pale rose boutonnieres for the men. Fanciful elephants guarded the entrance to the museum, which had been stripped of its artworks so that its galleries could be painted with the scenes and symbols of India. In the entry, a mural entitled "Reflections of the Ganges" depicted the sacred river as it flows through the holy city of Benares; elsewhere, caravans and turbaned Sikhs brightened the walls, as did snatches of wisdom borrowed from Sanskrit literature (one ponderable thought writ large upon the wall: "It is not the road you walk, it is the walking.").

No matter which road one walked, though, it led to a casino packed with gaming tables. These have always been the heart and soul of the Monte Carlo party, and although a new city ordinance severely restricted the amount of prizes that could be awarded to those upon whom fortune smiled, the blackjack tables and roulette wheels never went begging for customers. As an innovation that kept touch with the theme, special rooms were added, including a bazaar that offered the foods, clothes and crafts of India, and a mood room to which guests could retreat to admire the sitar music played by a pair of Indian musicians.

But it is the guests, not the theme, that make the Monte Carlo parties the paragons of entertainment that they are, and this splashy crowd demands nothing less than glamour in heaping portions. To dress less than stunningly for Monte Carlo is to be virtually invisible, a fate that no one desires, and the women burst out in equal parts Paris couture and Bombay saris. Gold, purple and crimson, the trumpeting tones of the Orient, predominated in this garden of vivid humanity, and even some of the men entered into the fantasy; Aage Frederiksen wrapped his brow in a turban of gold and black brocade, and jeweler Patrick Abarta fastened his simple white turban with a maharajah-class emerald that weighed in at a hefty 66 carats.

To best display all this finery, the dance floor was set up under a translucent canopy at the center of the open-air dining room. Party co-chairman Liz Yamada dubbed this area "Shangri-La," an apt description that nicely took in the "Lost Horizons" decor of sky-high floral centerpieces draped with strings of pearls and eerie, leafless trees sprayed silver in a convincing imitation of moonlight.

India gave the ball its flavor, and gambling and dancing its excitement; the party's savor arose from a menu, neatly designed by Harriett Levi, that included peppery duck salad stuffed in artichokes, a beef filet entree, and a dessert buffet extravaganza that numbered at least half the pastries and sweets known to French cookery. This bounty made the guests happy that Monte Carlo's many diversions and destinations required a fair amount of walking to reach.

Actress Joan Van Ark, with her husband, Los Angeles television newsman John Marshall, attended as a guest of Linda and Neal Hooberman. Van Ark dazzled the crowd in a gold lame gown woven to resemble 24-karat snakeskin, and she complemented this costume with a gem-encrusted serpent that wound sinuously around her neck.

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