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Diplomatic Life Distinguished in December

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Written by C. Naseer Ahmad, Guest Contributor

In early 2012, the Intelligent Life magazine declared that “the best month is December,” providing lucid arguments. December 2013 also seems to be the time when diplomatic life is distinguished by camaraderie, cerebral discussions, and musical joys, and so it must be the best month.

On December 4, 2013, former U.S. Secretary of State Dr. Henry A. Kissinger spoke at Sisco Memorial Forum Lecture, “The Asia Pivot: Strategy or Slogan?” hosted by the American Academy of Diplomacy and the World Affairs Council DC at the Fairmont Hotel, Washington DC. “Having your questions answered? Well, that must be an illusion!” he said to the audience’s delight and laughter. At 94, Dr. Kissinger is still as sharp as a tack.

There was a mini United Nations at Table 17. To my left sat the Ambassador of Vietnam, as I rose to shake hands with Dr. Kissinger and exchange a few words. The smiles on both faces were memorable. To my right was Mike Nastasi (West Point 1971), followed by eminent Harvard Medical School Professor Emeritus Dr. Richard Budson and former UN Ambassador Edward Perkins–the unsung hero who helped free Nelson Mandela and end Apartheid in South Africa.

That evening, the World Affairs Council DC (WAC-DC) held the “International Holiday Affair” at the residence of Ambassador Mauro Vieira, who pulled out all the stops to welcome WAC-DC members. It was a transformative experience for the guests who tasted the Brazilian life through the delicious food and the tireless efforts of the embassy staff.

Ghosts of seasons past were singing the sounds of silence across Massachusetts Avenue in the desolate Iranian Embassy. “Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio (oops, we meant Ambassador Ardeshir Zahedi). A nation turns its lonely eyes to you,” they sang.

Down the street at the Luxembourg Embassy, the Embassy Series was uniting people through musical diplomacy. Such concerts at the Luxembourg Embassy seem to have become a new Washington tradition and making one feel at home is an art mastered by Ambassador Jean-Louis Wolzfield and his staff. This year also marked the 110th anniversary of U.S. diplomatic relations with Luxembourg.

While there are many remarkable venues in Washington for enjoying music, the Embassy Series offers a set of distinguished settings. Amazing architectural works of art are the added benefit one gets to enjoy in addition to the music. For example, the Luxembourg embassy was the former home of the late Congressman Alexander Stewart–one of the lumber barons of the gilded age.

From the living room windows, one can see light traffic and city lights around the historic DuPont Circle neighborhood. Inside one hears the melodies from the Thomas Circle Singers led by the accomplished Artistic Director James Kreger. Bethlehem is thousands of miles away and Jesus was born over two thousand years ago, but this chamber choral ensemble makes one feel as being in the Holy City and witnesses to many miracles.

A few days later, at the Spanish Ambassador’s residence, the musical group miXt delivered an amazing performance of music composed by Béla Bartók, Ludwig van Beethoven, John Novacek and Paul Schoenfield–courtesy of the Embassy Series again.

Spanish Ambassador Ramón Gil-Casares took time to engage the guests and answer questions about some of the unique pictures in his living room. One of those pictures was from a visit to former South African President Nelson Mandela’s residence in Johannesburg.

Asst Sec Nisha Biswal at Kazakhstan National DayThe famous “I have a dream” speech was penned in a room at Willard Intercontinental Hotel in 1963 by Rev Martin Luther King. Fifty years later–and a few floors below in the ballroom–the Kazakhstan National Day celebration was a realization of the dreams of an aspiring Kazakh nation.

Ambassador Kairat Umarov and his staff welcomed guests–fellow diplomats from other countries, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, Nisha Desai Biswal, media representatives and professional from diverse backgrounds–for a joyous celebration of independence and big dreams. Earlier that day, U.S.-Kazakhstan Convention–in collaboration with Turkic American Alliance–was a big draw at the Hyatt Regency, Washington.

Both grace and gravitas are resplendent at the Swiss Embassy in Washington. Brimming with enthusiasm, Andreas Ledergerber, the newly arrived Science Advisor and his staff organized a discussion and showing of documentary film by Director Noah Hutton’s Blue Brain Project. With their creative genius, they combined the arts, culture, science and just plain fun with the holiday celebration in a very elegant fashion. The excitement radiated in Tracy Dove’s voice, as he described the planning of the event.

Congressman Chakka Fattah (D-PA) was not a man lost for words. “In this town, there are both Democrats and Republicans, but we are on now on neutral territory at the Swiss Embassy,” he quipped about the passing about the federal budget by U.S. Congress. It was perhaps a reference to some diplomacy at work on the Capitol Hill. Then he spoke about his pet project–Fattah Neuroscience Initiative–an innovative initiative designed to make progress in understanding the human brain.

The lovely couple Ambassador Manuel Sager and his wife are gracious hosts with the most at the Swiss Embassy, where the food is always delicious and never in short supply. The cerebral ambiance for an evening of “Switzerland, Science, and Celebration” made the diplomatic life distinguished in December.

So on a rainy night while crossing the P Street Bridge towards Massachusetts Avenue in Washington for another diplomatic event, I caught the teenager in me singing: “I’m singin’ in the rain. Just singin’ in the rain. What a glorious feeling. And I’m happy again!”