November 16, 2012 in General
Normally I donâ€™t move in very high circles, but Wednesday evening was an exception.Â Smart clothes, fine dining, and even a butler.Â Itâ€™s all part of the experience when the US ambassador invites you to dinner.
It began around a month ago when I was at the GABA charity auction and dinner with my friend Sarah.Â Earlier in the evening we had met Duane, the ambassadorâ€™s partner, and decided that if we were going to bid on anything, it would be dinner with David and Duane.Â So bid we did.Â And after several bottles of champagne, Sarah wasnâ€™t going to be outbid.Â As a result, we secured our invitation to Camperdown â€“ the official residence of the US ambassador.
Wednesday was D-Day.Â We flew to Wellington, and on arrival I realised Iâ€™d packed a suit but forgotten my shirt.Â For two seconds I contemplated wearing a T-shirt to dinner.Â After re-contemplating, it was a mad dash to town to get another shirt.Â You just donâ€™t wear a T-shirt to dinner with the ambassador, Sarah told me.Â And then the shirts were on special so I decided to buy two, but thatâ€™s a different story.
Arriving at Camperdown was just how I had imagined it would be.Â A security guard stopped us at the gate, and checked our names.Â (We had been pre-registered as guests.)Â She asked us to pop the bonnet so she could check the engine, and then did a full sweep around the car with mirrors to check for bombs.Â I asked if I could take a photo of her doing her bomb-check (it seemed like an interesting idea) but wasnâ€™t allowed.Â When she was satisfied we were clear, the eight-nine-ten-foot something gates swung back and we drove on in.
The house was huge.Â It stands three stories high, and looks out over a sweeping lawn and garden.Â I felt a bit like a naughty schoolboy standing outside the principalâ€™s office as we rang the front door bell.Â There was no time for nerves though, as the door promptly opened and David and Duane greeted us with warm smiles.Â We were ushered into the foyer, where a butler instructed us to sign the guest register before taking our bags and coats.
Yes, there was a butler.Â He asked what we would like to drink, and recited a long list of vintages.Â I listened blankly.Â Iâ€™m hopeless with wine.Â I know the difference between red and white, but thatâ€™s about where it ends.Â So I waited for others to make their selection, and then told him I thought I would try the same.Â (What a cheat.)
David and Duane took us on a tour of the house and gardens before dinner.Â The library, the bathrooms (Elton for the boys, Marilyn for the girls), the dining room, and the art â€“ everything was impeccable.Â David and Duane have invested a lot of time and energy in the house, and the result is a beautiful residence that is befittingly grand yet as the same time surprisingly warm and comfortable.
The gardens were just as impressive.Â Little paths meandered in all directions, and we stopped and started as David explained the story behind this tree, what he intended to plant there, and how he was trying to regenerate native growth on the property.Â If I was half as engaged with the greenery in my pocket-sized backyard I would be proud of myself.Â Meanwhile, as we walked, the butler popped up between the bushes periodically with canapÃ©s and champagne.
Dinner was a grand affair.Â The plates were all embossed with the US seal, and printed menus let us know what to expect â€“ broccoli and feta ravioli, gin-cured salmon, seared lamb rack or pan-fried tarakihi, and strawberry tart with whipped cream.Â Food appeared with effortless precision, and dirty plates and cutlery disappeared just as smoothly.Â I tell you what, I could get used to living with a butler.
David and Duane were excellent hosts, and conversation flowed easily at the table.Â They were just like any other couple, bantering back and forth about how they met and joking about their jobs.Â David has a background in law and has been the US ambassador to New Zealand for three years now, and Duane specialises in the field of psychology.
I was interested to hear that Duane isnâ€™t allowed to practise while here in New Zealand.Â When we asked why that was, David said it was because he was gay.Â We all laughed.Â We then felt bad for laughing as it turned out the ambassador wasnâ€™t joking.Â Under New Zealand law there is provision for the spouses of diplomats to seek employment, so the wives of previous US ambassadors have been able to get jobs.Â However the law only provides for married couples, meaning de facto and/or same-sex partners are automatically excluded.Â Such a backward loophole!
Of course, no evening would be complete without an obligatory photo to commemorate the occasion.Â David knew just how to have us stand together, and where we should stand to avoid having red eyes.Â The mark of a well-photographed diplomat, I guess?
And then it was over.Â We said our goodbyes and parted ways, promising to tweet each other.
Because every good ambassador is on Twitter these days.
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