PALISADES DISPATCH: Joe and Val’s Noisy Neighbors, Amalie and the Death of a Party
WITH PATRICK FITZGERALD’S grand jury expiring on Friday, word on the street is that any indictments will come down tomorrow. Beyond the Prettyman courthouse downtown, much of the action in the CIA leak affair has been taking place in the Palisades, where Karl Rove lives (his driveway is stationed with photographers in the early mornings), along with Joe Wilson and Valarie Plame.
Just like some real estate purists would say that Palisades resident Mr. Rove lives in the sub-neighborhood of Kent, if I remember correctly, Mr. Wilson and Ms. Plame live in a sub-neighborhood called Colony Hill, above MacArthur Boulevard and the Georgetown Reservoir, where they have views of the Washington Monument from their terrace, according to a photo caption in Vanity Fair. (For some more context on what it's like to be a neighbor of Mr. Wilson and Ms. Plame, read Christopher Wolf's piece in USA Today from July.)
But I'd like to talk about some of their other neighbors -- noiser neighbors who I don't think live directly next door, but are noisy neighbors nonetheless who live on the other block.
Last Friday night when I was taking the D6 bus into town from the Palisades, I saw security patrols on the far edge of the reservoir with, behind that, a police entourage (with flashing lights) headed into town on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, masked by the trees of the Virginia side of the Potomac gorge. I then looked to the left at a non-descript brick house by on the north side of MacArthur Boulevard as the bus zoomed by. I then thought back to a few parties I went to at that house last year, which I believe is quite close to the Wilson-Plame residence ... perhaps they share a back fence, but even if Joe and Val aren’t adjacent neighbors (I guess I’d have to sift through D.C. property databases to confirm their exact address), the late-night parties -- lasting well past 3 a.m. -- were likely to have kept them up on a few Saturday nights, and on a random Wednesday night too. Blame the French.
SIFTING THROUGH MY NOTES from one of those parties, I’ve put together the following recollection of a Saturday night at a – well, interesting – diplomatic party on MacArthur Boulevard:
First, please disregard your pre-conceived vision of an embassy party. This house across from the reservoir was dirtier than a Big Ten fraternity shanty, though the knick-knacks were considerably more interesting (including the original blueprints of the old estate Colony Hill is built upon, and a movie poster from that 1965 classic “Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!” with its slogan “… Superwomen! … Belted, Buckled and Booted!”). I’m not exactly sure who lived there, but one of my old roommates who interned at the French Embassy, had invited me. I was one of the few Americans among the group of Western European embassy libertines.
The theme was a “hippy-fest” but the definition was quite amorphous. Since European Union member states can hardly agree on dairy regulations or farm subsidies, they clearly didn’t see eye-to-eye on what a “hippy-fest” meant:
There was a German guy in a pin-stripe vest and matching pants, French women in various forms of Great Gatsby-meets-Woodstock flapper dresses with matching beads, Italian men in FIFA football gear on the couch wooing some other French girls, a French dude in a straw hat chewing a thistle that I saw fall on the floor more than once (and he put it back in his mouth), a Spanish guy in army camouflage and unidentified nationalities who seemed to have just walked in from the nearest Brooks Brothers. (Then there were random Japanese staffers dressed in suits who kept to themselves in the corner.)
I eventually found the corner of random Americans which included a local university student with a Scandinavian pixie haircut trying to work on her Spanish, a former Navy enlistee who was dismissed for being stoned too many times while on his lookout post out at sea, and guy dressed in a bright yellow Abercrombie & Fitch golf shirt doing a good job annoying an attractive woman from Barcelona telling her it’s “cool” that she’s from Pamplona because “that’s where the bulls are, right?”
OUTSIDE ON THE FRONT STOOP, French was spoken exclusively as hand-rolled cigarettes sent smoke up into the air. Across the reservoir, the headlights from a security cruiser were beaming our way, seemingly staring right at us. But from that far distance, the security patrol probably couldn’t see us anyway. But the neighbors could hear us, certainly. It was hot, most people had lit cigarettes in hand, the windows were open and the bass was traveling through the normally quiet neighborhood, a few minutes walk from the German Chancery.
I struck up a conversation with some guy named Renaud (if I remember correctly) about living in Washington as an embassy staffer. Others at the party told me Renaud, a student at the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, (the school founded by Charles deGaulle to train French government officials) was a rising star on the French diplomatic scene and was in line to get a high-level government post in a few years. His reputation was that he was very endearing, a student of the humanities. And as I found out, very good at coming up with English prose on the fly, depending if drunken poetry that isn’t really poetry is your cup of tea.
When he found out I was a writer, he told me to look over at Amalie, a girl standing to his left, who could have doubled as Amalie in “Amalie.”
“Amalie does not smoke, Amalie does not drink.”
Amalie smiled and blushed, saying something in French.
“Amalie is watching a collapsing world with a benevolent mind. That is very beautiful. No?” I wasn’t sure if Renaud was referring to his prose-on-the-fly, or to Amalie’s sobriety in the midst of embassy interns and staffers drunk on pastis, cheap beer and tequila.
Then my roommate’s friend, John-Baptiste, whose embassy specialty was playing the piano and violin, asked me what kind of writer I was.
“I write for a newspaper,” I said.
“No? You do not write poetry? You do not write love songs?” he asked, winking at me and looking over at Amalie, who then fluttered her eyes out into nowhere.
Of all of my roommates’ French friends, Jean-Baptiste was the only one who was reluctant to speak in English with me. After four-years of high school Latin and two years of Spanish, I could generally understand what he would say to me in his drunken French and I would respond in English. My roommate, who served as my translator, was perplexed by our hybrid dual-language discourse about the nature of the American political process and American consumerism.
(Jean-Baptiste, by the way, and his musician friends, play a pretty awesome café version of the theme music to “Inspector Gadget,” especially when accompanied by the hum of cicadas.)
THEN CAME THE DEATH OF THE PARTY. Everyone brought some sort of alcohol. The cramped kitchen -- with a worn and sticky linoleum floor and scuffed walls -- was full of bottles, two liters of coke, juice and empties. People were lighting their cigarettes from the gas range, which had trash on it and not to mention a pot of cooked pasta with spent cigarette butts thrown in for added chaotic effect. The mantle had a good assortment of used bottles, and others partially filled with whiskey, vodka and pastis. Despite the party being hosted by the French, the lingua franca that early morning was Spanish.
By 2:30 a.m. the dance floor was in motion, with an influx of people when Kyle Mignogue came on, and later Daft Punk’s “One More Time.”
When I went out to the backyard to get some fresh air, and heard Blur’s “Death of a Party,” muffled of course. The song was appropriate for the moment.
“Shhhhh! Die Polizei ist hier!” a German girl said. The music stopped. Blur popped into my head.
The death of the partyA Spaniard declared: “Le me gusta mucha fiesta!” Then switching into English, “I don’t want police, I want music! I want music!”
Came as no surprise
Why did we bother?
Should have stayed away
Another night …
“No, no, no …,” a French girl said to him, leading him inside. He hit his head on the door post.
I think Amalie had left by that point, but I’m sure that if she were still around, she would have indeed be “watching a collapsing world with a benevolent mind.” Because when you’re a bunch of foreigners hosting a party, how are you supposed to know about D.C. noise ordinances? Somebody said something about diplomatic immunity. I’m not exactly sure how that works. The police left, the music went back on. But the party was dying.
A bunch of people started congregating on the MacArthur Boulevard sidewalk trying to find cabs or a bus closer to 4 a.m. I tried to call a cab for the group, but Yellow Cab said that they needed an exact address of the destination in order to dispatch a cab. One girl said “Dupont Circle,” that is where I want to go. I tried tricking the dispatcher into agreeing to 1600 Connecticut Avenue NW (which is right around Q Street) but again the dispatcher refused to send a cab up our way. One French girl asked when the night bus was coming. Unfortunately for her, there was no night bus. So I led a group of eight people on a 40-minute walk to Wisconsin Avenue, where they might be able to hail a cab so early in the morning.
As for the death of the party. I’m assuming that the neighbors -- who I’m sure just love their neighborhood’s embassy frat house -- called the cops. Perhaps it was Mr. Wilson and Ms. Plame.