It was 1988 or 1989. I don’t remember which. Passing time has a way of blurring details like that, but those were heady days for a middle-aged Dipper in his prime. The new WDC was doing well, and national Diplomacy events were happening almost monthly in Europe. I’d already attended both kinds in Birmingham, Chapel Hill, Paris, Vienna, The Netherlands and Belgium; and more were coming. But first I had to go home to attend to some family business and since I had to make a stop on the east coast anyway, I decided to make my connection in Washington, DC. Besides, that would give me a few days to visit with Jamie and other friends.
I called Jamie from the first class lounge at Heathrow (Yes, those were the days when First Class on British Airways 747s was the only way to go, if you could afford the almost USD 8,900 airfare. The limo ride; and it was a real limo not a jazzed up 12 seat coach, from the Park Lane Hotel had been smooth and fairly quick thanks to a driver who had been making the round trip for years. Registration, customs and immigration had all gone smoothly, as expected when one travels first class. Jamie had learned, and her first question was, “Where are you?” She breathed a sigh of relief when I told her I was on my way to Dulles and would be arriving on flight 217 at around 1430. She said that was fine with her since she was in DC for a month. She said she’d call the Watergate and get my usual room on the 8th floor, right under the presidential suite that really was for presidents or guests of the president. She mentioned she was having dinner with friends and she’d change the plans so we could have dinner at the Rotunda at The Watergate; which was one of our favorite spots. It was convenient for her as well since she lived in a co-op across from the Watergate and next to the Saudi embassy in DC. Security was never a problem for her. The Saudis provided a uniform police guard service around the embassy and one of the guards was always available to walk her to the State Department building in Foggy Bottom where she worked; and if she’d worked late one of them was always willing to walk her home.
I’d know Jamie since college and I knew when we went job hunting in DC in the 70s she’d hit the jackpot after turning down a job offer from Henry Kissinger (She blamed me for that because I told her “He’s a dirty old man at 47!” and she felt the same way.) Fortunately, one of her mentors, Senator Scoop Jackson from Washington had got a job with the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, ACDA, which eventually became part of the State Department. She landed the job because of her brains and her linguistic skills (She could sight read and translate technical Russian and Chinese back in the days when most Americans could barely read a menu in Chinese.). She admitted her looks (a stunning blonde, even if it wasn’t real) had helped but it was her skills in a field dominated by men that had got her the job and kept her there for over 30 years. I knew she’d been to Iceland and Helsinki and Moscow for various talks with high-ranking Russian arms negotiators but we never got into the details. I just read the newspapers and journals and watched as she moved from office to office in the State Building, always up a floor and closer to the Secretary of State’s office suite. She was doing well, that’s all I need to know.
I also knew she knew a lot of interesting people in Washington and was a much in demand dinner guest, although as a matter of policy she avoided socializing with Soviet or other Eastern bloc nationals except for big and approved meetings. She hadn’t told me who we were having dinner with, but when she knocked on the door of room 807 I knew it was her. A hello kiss and hug, a corsage thanks to the Watergate’s concierge (Thank God, I still remembered how to pin one on without sticking the lady.), a compliment on her dress (Although I’m sure she was thinking that as we hit our forties The Good Life was catching up with us.) and we went downstairs to The Rotunda. The maître d’, the bartender, the captain, and the waiter all knew her, of course, and Ivan, her favorite waiter pretended to remember me. I definitely remembered him. He was tall and handsome and spoke with a bit of an accent and seemed to be especially popular with the Eastern bloc patrons that frequented the Rotunda on their way to or from The Kennedy Center just across the street. If there was a Russian orchestra, soloist, dance troop or what have you performing at the Kennedy that night you knew to stay away from the Rotunda because it would be filled with happy, drunk Slavs. Jamie told me later that Ivan’s grandfather had been a White general in the Russian Civil War and that his father had died fighting the Communists in the post-WWII years. Who knows? Washington is filled with stories like that.
There was a couple already sitting at the table and after first name introductions, I nodded to the waiter and a minute later the bartender showed up with a full bottle of Laurent Perrier and four glasses and we had our little opening ritual that Jamie and I had started on our first dinner at The Rotunda. We always began with a split of Laurent Perrier while we decided what to have. We worked together well in that department. She’d study the menu in detail while I’d peruse the wine list with just as much interest. Usually by the time the Champagne was gone we were ready to order. The small chat flowed as freely as the Champagne while we imbibed and nibbled.
We talked a lot about traveling and places we’d visited, and of course the rapidly changing situation in Europe. Jamie mentioned that I had done my thesis on the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the Prague Spring and that led into a long discussion of Soviet bloc politics which both Robert and Suzanne sprinkled with references to pre-Soviet Russian history. I remarked that they both seemed to know an awful lot about Russian history and Jamie started laughing so hard I was wondering if the Champagne from the second bottle was catching up with her. Finally, she looked at me and asked, “Should we tell him?” They turned slightly red (More Champagne?) and grinned. Jamie looked at me, with a twinkle in her eye, and said, “Larry. This is Robert and Suzanne Massie.” It took about ten seconds for that to sink in. I looked at him and grinned, “Good book.” Was all I said. Then I looked at Suzanne said, “Got any new proverbs?” They both started laughing.
I mentioned I had actually read his other book Alexandra of Hesse (Just as I would later read Peter the Great and Catherine the Great.) and we had an interesting conversation comparing the Romanovs with some of the other great historical families of Europe like the Habsburgs.
I told him I had actually used the method he had used in writing Nicholas and Alexandra in 1967 for my thesis written in 1969. He just nodded as I explained how I had collected copies of thousands of newspaper articles, reports, magazine stories, and columns written by correspondents in Prague at the time; and then arranged them in chronological order in such a way I could literally recreate the chain of events as they happened. He had done the same thing with the diaries of the Romanovs and senior Russian court officials (They were all avid diary writers apparently and recorded everything — never dreaming that somebody someone would read them all and put it all together.) That was how he recreated the story of Nicholas and Alexandra. He used much the same technique for his later works, although he admitted that Peter the Great was better for telling stories then writing them down.
Suzanne it turned out had turned her knowledge of Russian folklore into a mini-career as an unofficial advisor to US President Ronald Reagan who’d read one of her books, liked it and invited her to the White House. Suzanne is famous for encouraging President Reagan to learn the proverb used in the title of this story. He not only learned it but he used it over and over. Gorbachev got so tired of hearing him repeat it that he took to responding with quotations from Ralph Waldo Emerson that were probably lost on Reagan.
Unmentioned was the book Journey , the story of their hemophiliac son, that had won them a Pulitzer Prize and no doubt brought back the memory of the young Tsarovich who was also a hemophiliac.
It turned out to be the kind of evening Jamie can always come up with: good food, good drink, and stimulating company. We talked through dinner and after-dinner drinks and even a walk around the Kennedy Center’s riverfront side; which has one of the best views of DC. After we said our good byes to the Massies, who were also staying at The Watergate, I walked Jamie back to her place, under the watchful eyes of two Saudi security guards, and said good night. Several times.
Before I left DC Jamie called and said the Massies had been delighted with me and wanted to do it again whenever I came back to DC. Years later, when I finally got around to it, and we were having lunch at The Rotunda, I mentioned them and she told me, with a rather sad look on her face, that they had split and that Suzanne had remarried a scientist, of all things, who specialized in artificial intelligence.
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