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Panamanian Ambassador Jaime Aleman and wife Pilar at the Colombian Embassy residence

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To launch the 2010 festivities, the effervescent envoy welcomed social folk like Esther Coopersmith and Barbara Gordon, staffers from the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, and even the Commerce Department’s Colombia desk officer at glamorous sit-down feasts in her Baroque ballroom. These Friday and Monday gatherings just before Thanksgiving were called “nonworking” dinners.

Inviting guests to “start off this holiday week on the right foot,” Barco held her own “Thanksgiving” dinner dances to “thank all of you who have been … helping us to navigate uncertain times.” It didn’t take much to encourage guests to dance to the rhythms of Colombian cumbia, salsa, vallenato, and porro, and American rock ’n’ roll.

For Friday night’s bicentennial kickoff dinner, Colombian chef Leonor (“Leo”) Espinosa, owner of Bogota’s world-renowned Leo Cocina y Cava (Condé Nast Traveller lists it as one of the world’s best eateries), created an endless presentation of exotic dishes inspired by Colombia’s different regions.

Keep those dancing shoes handy – Barco promises a yearlong celebration aimed at highlighting the diversity of Colombia’s cuisine, art, science, and traditions and … always, dancing!

PANAMA’S POWERFUL PAIR

Washington has already taken notice of the new Panamanian Ambassador Jaime Aleman and his talented wife, Pilar. This Notre Dame and Duke University Law grad now occupies the chair where his father, Roberto, once sat as ambassador to Panama in the late 1960s when Jaime was a student at Georgetown Prep – now their youngest son, Juan Manuel, 15, is boarding there.

“It’s wonderful to be back in Washington,” says the distinguished lawyer and economist who most recently was managing partner at Aleman, Cordero, Galindo & Leed, one of Panama’s leading law firms. “To come back to live in the house where I grew up and now see my son go to my school is quite something.”

His wife, also no stranger to Washington and the East Coast, is a Smith College graduate who received a Master’s degree in Finance at American University (and started her U.S. education at the posh Shipley School on Philadelphia’s Main Line). Always active in the financial world, this former president of the Panamanian Stock Exchange, corporate manager of Central America’s largest private bank, and professor of Finance is now head of development for Fundacion Amador, the non-profit group behind the first major museum in Panama (and all Latin America) to be designed by the famed American architect Frank Gehry.

Expect these two powerful Panamanians to not only throw great parties and be the same down-to-earth pals they have always been to their American extended family, but to also get the Free Trade congressional endorsement for which Panama has long been awaiting.

STATE VISITS AS LEARNING TOOLS

Capricia Marshall, President Obama’s chief of protocol and the mother of 6-year-old Cole Marshall, is spinning out her dream of including children in state visits. To coincide with the administration’s first fête honoring Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in late November, the State Department and the Indian Embassy planned “Taste of India,” an afternoon “cooking lesson” at Blair House for District school students and the children of Indian diplomats. Fifty-two little hands made samosas and white lentil donuts while learning about Indian spices from guest chef Vikram Sundarum of Rasika, Blair House chef Ian Knox, a Scotsman, and his assistant, Keisha Sellers.

“I hope this will be the prototype for other State visits and that one day we will have a children’s state dinner to complement the regular White House state dinner,” Marshall said after signing autographs next to the afternoon’s star, Indian Ambassador Meera Shankar.

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