Hotel Goes Full-Boar in Benefit for Opera Pacific

Imagine if you will a Noah's ark of delicacies, a garden of epicurean delights, some familiar, others quite strange, set adrift near the Costa Mesa Freeway.

Imagine 750 visitors, turban- and sari-clad, though many, perhaps in deference to local custom, arrive in black tie. At least half a dozen Arabian horses, nostrils flaring, wait at valet parking.

Imagine an ode to exotica in Santa Ana and you will get some idea of the goings-on at "A Night With Scheherezade," the grand opening last weekend of the Embassy Suites Hotel, which raised $25,000 for Opera Pacific.

Would-be sheiks boogied in the hotel disco. Real belly dancers rotated their midriffs in the bar. Strains of "Stranger in Paradise" filled the night air in the atrium courtyard. Psychics did a booming business on the second floor.

"It's an explosion," said longtime county arts supporter Lorne Huycke of the hubbub.

Guests, stashed in every nook, cranny and alcove, admired the sculpted lines of the new hotel, built on property next to the old Holly Sugar factory, now an industrial park. "Welcome to the suite life," beckons its literature.

"Right here was the old sugar beet pile," said Robert Woolley, owner of 30 Embassy Suites hotels and the Las Hadas resort in Manzanillo, Mexico. "I guess it's 'early big California,' kind of a high-rise mission," Woolley said of the new hotel's architecture. This "mission" has floral-print carpeting, bird-life murals and oils of cheetahs and tigers and zebras on the walls, an indoor pool surrounded by plants and ducks and koi in the atrium courtyard.

Honorary event chairmen Woolley and his wife, Joan, who maintain residences in Dallas, Newport Beach, Palm Beach and Manzanillo, underwrote the entire affair.

Charles and Carolyn Paap arrived in a car covered with luggage and mud. On it was scrawled, "Baghdad to Woolley's Embassy Suites or Bust." Cocktail mugs-on-a-rope were hung about guests' necks to free their hands for eating; the glasses, filled with mai tais and pina coladas from barrels, clanked when friends greeted each other with a kiss or a hug.

The more adventurous among them enjoyed--or at least tried--snails-on-a-stick and antelope-on-a-stick; rattlesnake--"just like spare ribs," said Felicia Bukhaty of Fullerton of the bony grub; octopus salad; smoked peacock; honeycomb, even an "Arabian pasta" that paired squid-ink spaghetti with a sauce of apricots and raisins.

And who could turn down goat or wild boar?

As those around her sampled curries, Lois Cornwell wondered aloud how many had tried the incense steeping in a pot on the buffet. "It looks pretty tempting and it smells real good," she said.

Some dishes baffled the guests.

"Now this can't be poi from Hawaii," thought Stiles Dixon Jr., "because that's purple. Poi tastes like wallpaper paste. This is absolutely neutral." Other descriptions of the goo ranged from "non-food" to "worse than grits." (The staff said it was couscous.)

According to Sylvain Touati, who runs Woolley's, the hotel restaurant, the boar arrived whole--cleaned but not skinned or detusked--from Africa. "We skinned it here," Touati said. "People were scared. It's a monster."

Added event designer and coordinator Gloria Zigner, "We were going to have elephant until Sylvain found out you have to order a whooole elephant."

Touati said that although many dishes at the party Friday were not on the regular menu, his recipes would always be a bit different.

"Cajun, for example, is popular because it is a cross of African, French and Spanish cuisine," he said. "My cooking, too, is a medley. You will see someday soon an egg roll with boeuf Bourginon inside, spaghetti with salsa."

Ami Porat conducted Opera Pacific vocalists and members of his own orchestra in hourly performances (arranged by Opera Pacific production director Michael Kurkjian) of selections from "Kismet" and works by Mozart.

If Opera Pacific's first season at the Orange County Performing Arts Center seems an unusual mix--they'll do Bernstein's "West Side Story," Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" and Puccini's "La Boheme--Opera Pacific director David DiChiera had his reasons.

"I have to test this market," DiChiera said. "We've got to 'find' the audience. It will be a different mix in '88, but I want you to know I'm very committed to American works. That's got to be a cornerstone of any music theater in this country."

This particular tale of Scheherezade kept spinning till the wee hours of the morn; the hotel's disco opened for business sometime after 11 p.m. Porat's Mozart Camerata musicians also lingered: violist Miriam Meyer joined in a passionate improvisation at the bar with an Arabian-garbed lutenist.

Costumed committee members included Donna Bunce, Gayle Anderson, Ruth Ding, Gloria Gae Schick and Lenore Robinson.

Party chairman and arts activist Floss Schumacher (her niece Jennifer Lee was Scheherezade) took a moment to reflect on the county's arts scene.

"Every corner of our cultural world is changing," Schumacher observed. "It's turning like a whirling dervish."

The Woolleys made sure nobody stole the towels: Guests were provided with a set on departure.

Saturday night at the home of Dave and Linda Eggleston in Hacienda Heights, 150 partygoers posing as international sleuths raised $8,000 at a "Mission Impossible" party for the Blind Children's Learning Center of Santa Ana.

The game was the brainchild of center supporter Dave Sprowl, who came in costume as the fictional Dr. Sanduval Dada. Assisting him to slyly disperse clues, so that guests could "diffuse the bomb and save the world" were the equally fictional Security Secretary Duarte--real name Rebecca Wallace--and Secretary of the Treasury Duran--Jan Walker.

In Santa Ana for almost 25 years, the Learning Center offers an in-home infant program, an on-site infant-toddler program and an accredited preschool program; other programs continue into elementary school and beyond.

"We've just started a new program to assist blind kids in public schools," said center director Ronnie Passolt. "We'll probably work with 30 (children) in the district. Our primary goal will not be educational so much as teaching good self-concept. They can always learn. The only thing a blind person can't do is drive a car."

Sleuths included Lollipop Guild president Bryn DeBeikes and event chairman Patti Wirtz.

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