Away From Madding Crowd, It’s Laughing and Horseshoes : Camp David: American and Soviet presidents relax, enjoy each other’s company in Maryland foothills.


Seclusion ruled the summit Saturday as Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and President Bush slipped behind the thickets of forest land that hide Camp David in the foothills of Maryland.

They reportedly laughed together, enjoyed each other’s company and always called each other “Mr. President.” But they did all this far out of the public eye.

Of course, great leaders are always as secluded as they want to be at great summits. The glare of television and the hectoring questions of reporters and the artful confidences of aides never really let outsiders know what is going on in the heads and hearts of the leaders or what mood wraps their feelings toward each other when they meet in private sessions.


But, in a large city like Washington, the leaders do move about from private meetings to public affairs, and there usually is enough exposure--especially with ubiquitous television cameras on the streets and even perched on top of the Washington Monument--to bring out the amateur Freud in most of us. A Gorbachev frown seems to reflect the turmoil of Lithuania. A Gorbachev saunter in the streets reflects his cool in the eye of chaos.

Sometimes the amateur psychiatrists conflict. One prominent newspaper analyst listened to Gorbachev speak to American celebrities at a luncheon in the Soviet Embassy on Thursday and pronounced him seductive; another listened to the same speech and pronounced Gorbachev tired and defensive.

But the illusion of insight vanishes at Camp David. The leaders really are secluded. Television cameras are not allowed in. White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater told reporters that still photographs would be sent out to the waiting journalists. And the reporters would see the Camp David meetings only through Fitzwater’s eyes.

A cascade of images, in fact, came out of the seclusion through Fitzwater’s words in a late-afternoon news conference. He said President Bush had presented the Gorbachevs with navy blue Camp David windbreakers inscribed with their names. Both presidents, according to the press secretary, had removed their ties and, with the use of earphones, had spoken to each other with simultaneous interpretation.

“Both presidents seemed quite pleased with their conversations,” Fitzwater said, “both laughing intermittently at humorous asides and enjoying the warm Catoctin Mountain sunshine.”

But, in reply to a question, Fitzwater made it clear they were not exactly buddies. “They have a very--I would say a very warm and personal relationship,” the press secretary said, “but they still refer to each other as president, and I suspect they always will. I think it’s just the nature of the two men.”


Supplying a host of other details that the public had not seen, the White House press secretary said the Gorbachevs took a walk on one of the many paths of Camp David, stopping for a few minutes to throw a few horseshoes. The watchful eye of Fitzwater also spotted Mrs. Gorbachev and Mrs. Bush throwing a few horseshoes together. “From where I stood,” Fitzwater reported, “they were all ringers.” Fitzwater did not mention any horseshoe throws by President Bush, but that may have been an oversight.

Early in the day, Fitzwater had told the press that Bush looked on the meetings in the retreat--known as Shangri-La in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s day but renamed by Dwight D. Eisenhower in honor of his grandson--as “an opportunity to avoid the distractions of the White House--staff, guards, press, congressmen and all those kinds of things. It’s a very tranquil kind of setting. It is easy to relax. A living room atmosphere. If you want a cup of coffee you can get up and go get one.”

A few pool reporters, however, were allowed near the Camp David helicopter pad when Gorbachev and Bush arrived in the morning.

They watched the President show Gorbachev a cream-colored golf cart. “Do you want to drive?” Bush asked his guest. Evidently Gorbachev did not, for Bush called out, “Forward, march,” waving a hand forward. Gorbachev squeezed himself into the cart while Bush, the driver, said, “Here we go. A great day.”

Later, Gorbachev seemed to like the idea of driving better. Fitzwater told the press at his news conference that Gorbachev was driving the cart while Bush pointed out the sights of the Camp David grounds during a 10-minute tour around 1 o’clock. But that feat of Gorbachev was accomplished outside the gaze of the world.

The people of Thurmont, Md., the little town only four miles from Camp David, regard themselves as summit-savvy. After all, there have been summit conferences there since President Roosevelt entertained British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Shangri-La during World War II.

On Friday night, the 3,500 residents of the town were asked by the Secret Service to keep their cars off the road to Camp David on Saturday morning. That was a clue that Gorbachev might be coming to Camp David by car. Of course, Thurmonters know that such notices from the Secret Service were only a kind of smoke screen sometimes, confusion for the sake of security.

But clumps of residents lined the streets of Thurmont anyway, just in case. Suddenly they saw the Soviet limousines approach. Joy Cornish called out to her husband working in his garden, “Put your shovel down. Here he comes. Quick.”

The Zil limousines rumbled by. “Do you see Gorbachev?” someone called out. “I don’t know,” another replied. Everyone waved, and then they began to realize they were waving at nearly empty limousines.

A few Soviet aides--but not Gorbachev--were heading to Camp David. Gorbachev had flown to Camp David earlier by helicopter. Even the summit-savvy can be fooled.

Times staff writer Shawn Pogatchnik contributed to this story.