The ballroom of the Westin South Coast Plaza served as a mini-United Nations on Saturday when more than 40 members of the consular corps dined with about 300 locals at the seventh annual International Protocol Ball. The $150-per-person dinner, with the nonprofit Protocol Foundation of Orange County as hosts, raised an estimated $30,000, according to Margie Gephart, who co-chaired the benefit with Shari Esayian.
While a few of the consular wives wore outfits from their native lands, most of the feminine forms were clad in typical county style: Shiny and spangled, poufed and plunging, the ball gowns seemed to shout look at me! For their part, the gentlemen donned white or black ties, with a higher-than-usual percentage sporting medals on their chests.
What's that for, one guest was asked of his breast-pocket adornment.
"It's a military medal," he answered, declining to be named. "I got it for killing a lot of people."
That's how it went at cocktail hour--conversation cut right to the bone. For the first time in its history the ball was overseen by a security team organized by the State Department.
"They called us," said Mary Jones, executive director of the Protocol Foundation. "I can't tell you any more than that."
Among the consuls general--who work at consulates in Los Angeles and San Francisco--concern for personal safety ran the gamut. Jones said Mehmet Emre, the consul general of Turkey, had taken his own security precautions in addition to those provided by the U.S. government. Aivars Jerumanis, honorary consul of Latvia, talked about the "very depressing time of violence" in his homeland, then said with a smile: "I don't worry about my own security--the State Department worries more than I do."
John von Muhlen, consul general of the Netherlands, graciously shook hands and smilingly posed for a picture, then shifted moods abruptly when asked about security.
"You should ask yourself, as a member of the press, what is the point of these questions? Who are you helping with these answers? When you read the newspaper you think only the United States is fighting" in the Persian Gulf, he said. "But we are there, too. The Netherlands has been named on Radio Baghdad as a country that should be harmed."
With two rows of military medals girding his suit coat, retired Marine Col. Joe Hunt said the daily doses of news from the Middle East made him feel "great sadness."
Hunt chatted with the Lithuanian consul general, Vytautas Cekanauskas, about conditions in the beleaguered Soviet republic. As he moved off to another cocktail grouping, Hunt shook his head. "I served in Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon," he said. "If you've been in war, you know how sad this is. I just don't like to see anybody get hurt."
Let it never be said that "protocol" means "dinner soon." No, no. Once the honorables and others were in their seats in the ballroom, the long list of introductions began. Each consul and spouse marched into the dining room, accompanied by a Marine with the consul's national flag hoisted before him. As emcee Erich Vollmer read their names, the couple paused at the center of the dance floor, bowed, then headed for their seats. Two by two, 41 times. (If applause is any measure, the most popular pair were Hassan and Amal Nazer, the Saudi Arabian consul general and his wife.)
After the international corps came a host of other introductions--from Orange County supervisors and party committee members to honored guests, major donors and local council members. After a few turns at the podium, the talk gave way to dinner of chicken consomme, poached salmon mousse and veal crown with chestnut stuffing.
Among underwriters were Donna and John Crean, Isabelle and Jack Lindquist, Donna and Robert Peebles and Dotti and Glen Stillwell.
Socializers included Gayle Anderson, president of the Protocol Foundation board of directors, Mary and James Roosevelt, Lois and Buzz Aldrin, Elaine and William Redfield, Marcia and Karl Giesler and Marilyn and Tom Nielsen.