Monday, February 10, 2014

THE STATE DINNER CHALLENGE

President Obama and Francois Hollande  (en.wikipedia.org)

Meeting cuisine expectations for a state dinner is a daunting task in and of itself.  Add to the mix an unexpected revelation in the life of the guest of honor and protocol challenges get a lot more complicated. 

Here is an article by New York Time's journalist Peter Baker.  He details the challenges of tomorrow night's state dinner in a piece called, 
 French Breakup Makes a Dinner Hard to Do.

WASHINGTON - When President Obama invited President François Hollande of France for a state dinner, the White House drew up a list of 300 guests to honor the visiting leader and his partner, Valérie Trierweiler.  Engraved invitations, with the presidential seal in gold, at the top, were printed and set to be mailed.

But there was an unexpected development.  Mr. Hollande's relationship with Ms. Trierweiler blew up in the midst of revelations of an affair with a French actress he had secretly been visiting by motor scooter.  Suddenly, Ms. Trierweiler was no longer France's unofficial first lady and no longer coming to the White House for Tuesday's dinner.  The thick ivory invitations with the words "The President and Mrs. Obama request the pleasure of" each guest's company had to be destroyed and new ones printed without Ms. Trierweiler's name.

L'affaire Hollande has proved to be a dangerous liaison for the tradition-bound White House.  Although it is not unprecedented, not many foreign leaders arrive at the executive mansion stag for the most formal and coveted gala in Washington, and even fewer split from their partners just weeks before the festivities.

For a few days, at least, the White House social office was left to wonder whether the other woman - identified by the weekly tabloid Closer as a 41 year old French actress - would come in place of Ms. Trierweiler.  (She will not.)

All of which posed challenges for a White House staff already nervous about holding the first state dinner in nearly two years, and for haute cuisine-conscious French guests no less.  There will be no traditional coffee or tea for the spouse with Michelle Obama, and the American first lady will have no one to escort to a local school as she has done with previous counterparts.

The turn of events in the private life of Mr. Hollande, 59, posed a number of questions for the White House as well:  Who should be placed next to the prsident in the seat Ms. Trierweiler would have occupied?  Would any of the entertainment be inappropriate?  Should there be dancing if the romantically complicated guest of honor has no one to dance with?

"That may be a bit of protocol debacle there," said Walter Scheib, the White House chef to Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.  "It'll be curious to see if he asks the first lady for a dance.  That would be on the front of all the tabloids - Frenchman sweeps first lady off feet!"

To continue this article please go directly to the NY times site here