Atwitter Over a Royal Visit

On the surface, Washington's social scene looks discreetly subdued.

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WASHINGTON — On the surface, Washington's social scene looks discreetly subdued — a luncheon and Rena Lange fashion show for the Salvation Army; a black-tie dinner at the Library of Congress for the National Book Festival, hosted by First Lady Laura Bush; the 75th anniversary of the National Symphony Orchestra, and plenty of buzz about the Kennedy Center's festival celebrating the performing arts of China.

But look a little closer and the tiny beads of perspiration among the capital's social set offer a telling harbinger of what lies ahead.

In about five weeks, President Bush and his wife, Laura, known for their dislike of glitz and glamour, will take their biggest steps into the burning spotlight of social entertaining when they welcome Prince Charles and his new bride, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, to Washington. Details of the visit are expected to be confirmed in London today.

Forget the dinner is being prepared as the President's poll numbers are at an all-time low, or that his administration is reeling from the dual punches of Hurricane Katrina and the quagmire in Iraq. The dinner is about a president entertaining a royal, and Washington always gets more twittery than usual when a royal, especially a British one, is in town.

And there's added pressure. The state dinner (purists dispute the term because the Prince of Wales isn't a head of state, after all) will mark, to the month, the 20th anniversary of Charles' last official visit to the nation's capital. That dinner, hosted by Ronald and Nancy Reagan, is iconic for one reason: the swirling dance between the chic, glamorous, blushing 24-year-old Princess Diana and one of her idols, actor John Travolta. Watching the princess from the wings were the current president's parents, then-vice president George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara, never on the Reagans' A-list when it came to makin' whoopee.

So Bush fils has a lot to live up to — not only does he get to entertain an older Charles and his second (and less chic) wife, but he has to prove that his White House can outgun the Reagans' when it comes to entertaining. And dancing isn't expected to be on the menu.
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