June 2000 During a long career with Red Cross I have been invited to so many dinners and cocktail parties. They can be dreadfully boring or you can make them fun. Here is one I distinctly remember.
On Monday evening I was invited for dinner by the Turkish Ambassador and his wife. Invited were the French Ambassador with his Burmese wife, the European Union Ambassador; Antonio, from Portugal, the Thai Ambassador and his charming wife, the Foreign Secretary, a former Bangladesh Ambassador, to the US, the Bhutanese Ambassador and wife, plus a Turkish politician and his French wife. It was typically a Turkish evening, a nation that is west and east and is so often the bridge between east and west. Before dinner, I sat with the French Ambassador who had garrish red horned-rim glasses and a personality as bubbly as Moet. He was the French Ambassador in New Zealand when the French secret service blew up the Rainbow Warrior, a Greenpeace ship, In Auckland harbour. His other inglorious moment was when the French Rugby team was thoroughly thrashed by the All Blacks. He enjoyed his time in NZ and recalled his most memorable time was when he spent some days on a high country South Island sheep station where the farmer rounded up his sheep by helicopter, which he flew wearing wellingtons. Here was my chance to tell a few sheep jokes. He laughed so much that he spilt Bordeau down his shirt front. The stain matched his spectacle rims.
After some superb French Red wine, we moved to a huge Burmese teak table, with all the crockery bearing gold Turkish Government insignia of the crescent and star.
I was seated between the Ambassador from Bhutan and the Turkish diplomat.
It was very quiet and to break the silence I asked the Bhutanese Ambassador "What's the population of Bhutan?" He replied, " 600,000 people and our main sport is archery" as he went through the movement of drawing a bow. Then I managed to get the wife of the Foreign secretary to quote poems from Hassan Raja, at which, the rather dashing Portugese EU Ambassador said to me, " Your wife is Kazakh, isn't she ? I am going to Tashkent in a few weeks and I want to know more about Samarkand and Bokhara." Here was my chance to quote Flecker's " We make the golden journey to Samarkand." The Turkish politician next to me was not going to be outdone, so he started quoting Rumi. All in all a delightful evening.
After the Turkish coffee and Arak, the Turkish Ambassador took me outside to see a bust of Kemal Attaturk in his garden and we spent time discussing Gallipoli and the First World War.