During a three-day visit this week to Los Angeles filled with speeches and dinners, Her Excellency Rita Klimova, Czechoslovakia's ambassador to the United States, broke away for something she really wanted to do--visit a Hollywood Boulevard curio shop to buy a poster of Hollywood's biggest movie stars.
"It's wonderful," Klimova, a slight woman of 59, said of Southern California. "It's like no place I've ever been to. The different styles of architecture--there's obviously been no planning done here."
She was the latest in a stream of diplomats and dignitaries from around the world who have been rolling into Southern California in recent months with their entourages, addressing crowds and sightseeing with fervor. In fact, those who invite the luminaries say Los Angeles now rivals New York, home of the United Nations, as a "must" stop on the international lecture circuit.
The visitors have included former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan and Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain, and King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden.
On her tour, Klimova spoke with great eloquence before half a dozen Los Angeles audiences about Czechoslovakia's "Velvet Revolution." Local officials showered her with honors. Beverly Hills and Los Angeles presented her with official proclamations. And on Thursday evening, she addressed a private meeting of the World Affairs Council, which named her "1990 Diplomat of the Year."
But she also visited Mann's Chinese Theater and bought a "Map to the Stars' Homes." Following the map, she drove through Beverly Hills and Bel-Air until she came upon the palatial home of movie star and salad dressing magnate Paul Newman.
"This is a very easygoing place," Klimova said after addressing a group at USC's Hillel Jewish Center. Some of the students, she noted, were clad in shorts. "I'm surprised at the way students dress here. That wouldn't be acceptable in Central Europe."
Adrienne Medawar, president of the lecture group Town Hall of California, says of the notable visitors: "People are increasingly recognizing that this is a powerful, creative and vital part of the United States. The foreign dignitaries are coming here and wanting to make connections with the business community."
Recent speakers at the Town Hall of California and the World Affairs Council include His Holiness Pope Shinuda III of the Orthodox Coptic Church in Cairo, Anatoly Sobchak, mayor of Leningrad, and Sheik Saud al Nasir al Sabah, Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States.
Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin addressed the Town Hall last year, followed by opposition party leader Shimon Peres.
Speakers from the Soviet Union and the crumbling Eastern Bloc are in particular demand. Soviet commentator Vladimir Posner spoke before the World Affairs Council on Wednesday. Nikita Khrushchev Jr., son of the bombastic Soviet leader, arrived in October.
Khrushchev, who bears a remarkable resemblance to his father, toured Los Angeles in a two-door Honda Accord belonging to Frances Brohan, media director for the World Affairs Council.
"It was amazing to look over and to see this image of Khrushchev in my humble little car," Brouhan recalled. "I think he was amazed by the urban sprawl of L.A. and the traffic."
Soviet Cosmonauts Alexi Leonov and Valery N. Kubasov packed lots of shopping and sightseeing into their four-day visit to Los Angeles last July. Ostensibly in Los Angeles to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Apollo-Soyuz Mission, they spent a good deal of time on Olvera Street and in Beverly Hills.
On March 12, Town Hall will play host to a Chinese delegation including Zeng Tao, whose lengthy official title reads: "Vice Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China."
Not to be outdone, the World Affairs Council will host its own Chinese dignitary, Fang Li Zhi, a leading Chinese dissident who spent a year seeking refuge in the U.S. Embassy.
Perhaps the busiest person in Los Angeles these days is Bee Canterbury Lavery, the city's chief of protocol.
Because of a city hiring freeze, Lavery has been unable to add new members to her staff to greet the flood of foreign envoys.
"We just work longer hours," she said.
ON THE DIPLOMATIC CIRCUIT Los Angeles has become a favorite stopping point for diplomats and foreign dignitaries on the international lecture circuit. The following are among those who have visited Southern California in the past 12 months. Margaret Thatcher, former British prime minister.
Anatoly Gromyko,son of Andrei, the late Soviet president.
Vladimir Posner, Soviet commentator and broadcaster.
Shimon Peres, former Israeli prime minister.
Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan.
Sheik Saud al Nasir al Sabah of Kuwait.