Special Report

Noor Do Well

A Washington evening with an Arabian queen.

3.31.03

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Washington, D.C. -- Remember the old Fawlty Towers skit where John Cleese has to keep reminding himself "don't mention the war" in front of the German guests?

Well, the members of the National Press Club did a pretty good job of mimicking it last week when Her Majesty, Queen Noor of Jordan, stopped by.

The widow of the late King Hussein was in town to talk about her memoir, Leap of Faith. It was originally meant to be published last November, but was postponed so she wouldn't have to promote it during a Middle Eastern war.

So there's at least one Arab out there who has reason be annoyed at Jacques Chirac.

The tour included a rather awkward dinner at the club on March 25. As allied troops fought pitched battles against Arabs half a world away, Washington was trying to be on its best behavior and not embarrass the visiting royalty.

The club's guests were repeatedly, if confusingly, told the Queen does not speak for the Jordanian government. Also, she was not going to take questions about the war in Iraq anyway.

Translation: don't go there.

But sometimes reality poked its head through.

For instance, during the after dinner Q&A session, the Queen was asked this stumper: So, your majesty, what do you think of suicide bombers?

I'm guessing it's not the type of question that usually gets asked of the guest of honor at swanky dinner affairs. The crowd was certainly stunned. More than a few gasped.

Everyone wondered, what would she say?

Well, almost everyone. Personally, I was impressed by the chutzpah of the guy who asked her, a Christian Science Monitor editor who was reading questions sent in by the audience.

(Did I mention that Noor had a large, and presumably armed, bodyguard standing at her side?)

Not to worry. She condemned suicide bombers, adding that they were, of course, un-Islamic. What we need to do is build bridges between Israeli and Palestinian children, she said, throwing in a plug for one such program.

The crowd sighed relief. From there it was quickly back to more Oprahesque questions, like how did you build relationships with your stepchildren? (Patience, if you're wondering.)

The whole evening was like that. But you've got to give Noor her due; she's smart and she knows her audience. It was a pitch-perfect performance.

Besides, she was the picture of chic, modern glamour. Now "of a certain age," as they say of women, she was still a head-turner in person. She may be the blondest queen in the history of Arabia. It was clear why the Jordanian royal family is second only to the Windsors as America's favorite royals.

It helps, of course, if the queen was born Lisa Halaby in America and married into royalty, giving hope to daydreaming schoolgirls everywhere.

People say Washington doesn't have the culture of New York or the glitz of Los Angeles -- and they're right. That's because it's so small. It cannot have the depth or breadth of those places.

But it has something better. It gives ordinary Joes and Janes the opportunity to get right up close to the rich and powerful and observe them as they really are.

It was certainly worth the $48 the tickets cost me.

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