Friday, July 20, 2012

Lunch With Dick And Richard

A guilty pleasure read in August, when it comes out, will be Kati Marton's book about the love of her life, the late Richard Holbrooke. Susan Cheever has a preview:
In a bookstore after saying goodbye to Holbrooke [before one of his diplomatic missions], Marton picks up Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars, flips to her husband’s name in the index, and finds an infuriating story. She writes, “The President soured on Richard when my husband asked him to call him Richard, not Dick, at the ceremony appointing him special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Holbrooke had explained to the president that Kati, who was in the audience, did not like the nickname Dick. Standing in a Paris bookshop, Marton is furious—how can Obama, who doesn’t like to be called by his nickname, Barry, be irritated that she doesn’t want people to call her husband Dick?

The rich are different from you and me—they are a lot more fun to read about. Marton and Holbrooke’s first date was a three-day jaunt to Chartres and the Chateaux of the Loire Valley at Christmastime in 1993. He was in his 50s, the American ambassador to Germany taking a few days off; she in her 40s was just barely separated from anchorman Peter Jennings, one of the most famous men in the world. They talked about Gothic vs. Romanesque, spoke perfect French, and ate at Chez Benoit where they ran into Holbrooke’s friend Pamela Harriman, the ambassador to France. (Harriman snubbed Marton.) No sweaty groping in cheesy hotel rooms for these two! Holbrooke’s most excited moment was when he and Marton sat side by side in a pew of the great Chartres cathedral. “Just imagine,” he whispered urgently, “the pilgrims’ first reaction to these windows! The power of this place for medieval peasants.” At the end of five days together, they held hands.

Kathy and I met Holbrooke in Bonn in March 1994, when we accompanied Richard Nixon on his last visit to Russia, she as his chief of staff, I as director of his presidential library. On the way back, we stopped in London and caught a performance of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "Carousel," then enjoying a West End revival. He and Mrs. Nixon (who had died the previous June) had seen it in New York right after World War II with their friend John Raitt (blueswoman Bonnie's father) as Billy Bigelow. In London, we got the last five or six seats in the balcony. When Billy's ghost broke through to his widow, Julie Jordan, and their embittered daughter, Louise, and they both stood to sing "You'll Never Walk Alone," Nixon was mopping his face with his raincoat.

We also popped back to West Germany for a meeting with Chancellor Helmut Kohl. You're allowed to say "popped" when you're riding in the private jet ADM's Dwayne Andreas had lent Nixon for his trip.

Holbrooke, as U.S. ambassador, met us at the airport. Since the Red Army Faction was still a threat, he had a half-dozen men around him toting semiautomatic weapons. We'd been a little late leaving London, and Holbrooke's apparatus was determined to get Nixon to Kohl's office on time. We were in four black Mercedes, virtually bumper to bumper, driving about 120 mph, the cars in front and back bristling with armament.

Afterward we went to Holbrooke's residence for lunch, where Nixon briefed him on his Moscow meetings (which had not included one with President Boris Yeltsin, who got angry at Nixon for visiting one of his political enemies). They had in common their enlightened realism in foreign policy and Diane Sawyer, Nixon's former aide, Holbrooke's one-time lover. Her name did not come up, so far as you know.


Jim Leach said...

Fascinating story. Kind of like the time I was stuck in traffic on the 5 with Charlie Sheen. I mean, he was in his car and I was in mine, but it's almost the same. Thanks for sharing the great memories.

Fr. John said...

Was he exhibiting road rage?