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Consuls Stuck in Muddle

Pamela Marin is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

Following established protocol for snappy speechifying, master of ceremonies Erich Vollmer anchored his podium duties at the “International Protocol Ball” on Saturday with an anecdote.

Facing nearly 400 guests at the Four Seasons Hotel in Newport Beach--among them 42 consuls general from the Los Angeles consular corps and local business heavyweights--Vollmer told a story about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who reportedly hated social events.

(Vollmer, executive director of the Orange County Philharmonic Society, beseeched the evening’s honorary chairman, James Roosevelt, not to tattle if this particular tale from his legendary father’s life was a fable.)

According to Vollmer, F.D.R. so hated the superficiality of high society occasions that he took to greeting people by saying, “I murdered my grandmother today.” To which they simply smiled and made polite and inattentive responses.

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“Except for one time,” said Vollmer, when the President used his line on “a lady who was actually listening. She said, ‘Well I’m sure she had it coming to her.’ ”

Fact or fiction, that was one of the few moments of levity during a pre-dinner ceremony that was less than the hosts had hoped for.

Or, as event chairwoman Eva Schneider said as she stood outside the ballroom in the middle of the muddle: “This is terrible. I want to go home and disappear.”

The presentation was supposed to have featured a smooth flow of consuls general entering the packed ballroom one at a time at the side of a Marine in dress blues hoisting each country’s flag. The host, the Protocol Foundation of Orange County, had hired the Murray Korda Orchestra (which regularly plays for Presidents and last week was in the pit at the Grammy awards show) to come up with some nationally relevant ditty for each consul’s entrance.

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That’s what should have been. As it turned out, the 30-minute ceremony was chaotic, with Mary Roosevelt at the podium reading a list of names that rarely corresponded with the consuls’ erratic entrances (she doubled back three times); Murray Korda and his orchestra set up in the reception area outside the ballroom (and virtually inaudible inside); and tepid applause at best by confused guests as the consuls made their way to their dinner tables.

Much livelier was the cocktail reception before dinner.

The Protocol Foundation is a privately funded, nonprofit organization that promotes the county’s business and cultural ties with other countries. Saturday’s ball was the group’s fifth such event, and it proved an interesting mix for guests.

Over cocktails, for example, Anaheim realtor Phillip Quarre engaged Bangladesh Consul General Nancy Bretzfield in animated conversation amid the tux-to-gown crush in the reception area. The subject of their congress?

“We’re discussing the economic and social conditions in Bangladesh and worldwide export-import trends and Irish racing horses,” Quarre said with a laugh. “Really. I’m not kidding.”

Swiss trade representative Anny Cabalzar discussed U.S. military plane exports with Fred Schneider, an international management consultant and husband of the event chairwoman.

Stewart Wavell-Smith and Jean Gallaway discussed Scotland, appropriately, as both are Scots and Wavell-Smith was wearing a kilt.


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