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The Washington Diplomat

The Ambassador of Detente

It was just like old times. Former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and James Baker were trading stories, while former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft reminisced with the Firebird Arts Foundation's Xenia Woyevodsky, and UNESCO's Goodwill Ambassador Esther Coopersmith buttoned-holed Librarian of Congress James Billington. Former American Ambassador to Japan and House Speaker Tom Foley was there too.

They all came to pay tribute to their dear buddy, former Pepsi CEO Donald Kendall, and celebrate his 90th birthday in style at an elaborate black-tie reception and dinner given by Russian Ambassador Sergey Kisylak and his wife Natalia.

You might wonder what Pepsi's former corporate leader and the current Russian Ambassador have to discuss. Plenty, is the answer.

Seems that more than fifty years ago Kendall, then the brash, young International Head of Pepsi, not only beat Coke by introducing Pepsi to three million Soviets first, but made Pepsi the first American corporation to make and sell their product within the U.S.S.R. Having had the nerve and foresight "to infiltrate" the Russian market at the height of the Cold War, Kendall thus became a corporate icon.

With one of his favorite and oft-told stories, Kendall regaled his adoring audience of old friends by describing how in 1959 during the American National Exhibition in Moscow, he persuaded then Vice President Richard Nixon to bring Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev by his Pepsi booth saying, "I've got to get a Pepsi into Khrushchev's hand, or I'm in the doghouse back home."

Kendall's plan was to prove to the Soviet leader with a "taste test" that a Pepsi tastes the same the world over, no matter where it's made. When Khrushchev appeared at his booth, this young and eager American marketing genius was ready.

First the Russian leader drank from a bottle of Pepsi produced in New York and then he was offered a cup of Pepsi produced in Russia from syrup brought from the U.S.

"Immediately," Kendall remembers, "Khrushchev proclaimed the Russian Pepsi superior even though the taste was exactly the same!"

And so began a long love affair between this corporate titan and the Communist leaders of the Soviet Union and later, the Russian Federation.

As Dr. Billington would point out, "Don found a way to hold up Russian pride while accepting a new drink."

Later, Kendall (then Pepsi's CEO) engineered the merger with Frito-Lay. He cleverly figured out what to do with all those Russian potatoes — make potato chips and sell them to the Russians to go with their Pepsi. Instead of taking the money made from Pepsi out of the country, he re-invested it by making his new product over there.

Master of Ceremonies for the evening was appropriately Kendall's old pal, former Congressman James Symington, just back with his wife Sylvia from opening the "The Tsar and the President: Liberator and Emancipator, Alexander II and Abraham Lincoln" exhibit; a project of the American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation of which Symington is board chair and Kendall is a board member.

Russia's famed conductor and cultural icon Valery Gergiev, Artistic and General Director of the Mariinsky Theatre, praised Kendall in a video message and thanked him for all the effort he has made in bringing the two countries together culturally.

The only "mistake" of the evening was made by Alcoa's CEO, German Klaus Kleinfeld, who began by praising "Coke's" famous and fearless leader. The audience couldn't help but gasp when they heard the one four-letter word that was verboten. He quickly recovered and went on to present the famous businessman with special aluminum containers from which to drink his favorite American concoction.

For his life-long efforts of bringing American and Russian interests together, Ambassador Kisylak, on behalf of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, bestowed upon Donald Kendall Russia's "Order of Honor." This was the very first time a foreigner has been chosen for this prestigious honor. (Previously in 2004, then Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded him the "Order of Friendship.")

But that was about the only serious moment of the evening. Speaker after speaker told tales of how "relentless," "abrasive," and "tough" their old friend could be when he had a goal in sight, but that he was a "capitalist with a twist" who has always cared about people, friendship and building relationships.

The late movie actress Joan Crawford, who was on the Pepsi board, might not have agreed. "She called him 'Fang'," said James Baker when it was his turn at the podium. "And, that was not a term of endearment."

Baker, making a rare appearance in Washington, noted that Henry Kissinger was also in the room and then quipped, "I've already been over there and kissed his ring."

A Texan who knows how to tell a good yarn, Baker took great relish in exposing the thriftiness and fitness of his old hunting buddy. "You see that tuxedo that Don has on? If you look inside the coat pocket, you'll see the original label that reads 1971! It still fits him." The crowd roared.

"He still works out at least an hour a day," divulged Baker, who admitted, "I want to be as tough and mean and sweet as Don."

Top photo: From left, Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak bestows the Russian Order of Honor on Russia's long-time friend, former Pepsi CEO Donald Kendall, on his 90th birthday, marking the first time this prestigious honor has been bestowed on a foreigner.

Middle photo: From left,fFormer Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and James Baker were both honored guests at Donald Kendall's 90th birthday celebration hosted by Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.

Bottom photo: Esther Coopersmith, former U.S. representative to the U.N. and now UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Intercultural Dialogue, joins Librarian of Congress James Billington, who has made two national libraries of Russia available online through the website of the Library of Congress.

Photos: Gail Scott

Don't Miss Picasso

With so many fine art galleries and museums in Washington, you might wonder why I'm suggesting that you consider a day trip further afield to see fine art. The reason is simple: "Picasso, Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso Paris" — in its only East Coast appearance — is a treasure waiting to be discovered at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in Richmond until May 15.

A New York City museum was originally expected to host this exhibition but when plans fell through, the Virginia Museum jumped at the opportunity and found the funds to host it.

The new French Ambassador François Delattre and his wife Sophie thought it was such a coup that they invited the Virginia Museum Director Alex Nyerges and his Washington counterparts to the French Residence for the couple's first reception since arriving.

The ambassador said he is particularly pleased to have the exhibit so nearby in Virginia because this exhibit is "unprecedented," because the176 pieces on display came from Picasso's own personal collection and include "the art he particularly loved."

Pablo Picasso was born in 1881 in southern Spain and studied art in his native country — first in Barcelona where he entered the School of Fine Arts at the young age of 13, and later in Madrid — but he had a lifelong love affair with Paris where he first traveled in 1900. He was greatly influenced by the City of Light's art and culture. After an incredibly long and productive career, he died in 1973 leaving 50,000 works in many different artistic mediums.

The Musée National Picasso Paris has the largest and most significant Picasso collection in the world. This particular Picasso collection is unique because it represents only the pieces that Picasso set aside for himself. As he constantly reinvented himself as an artist, he kept some of his most iconic pieces from each period of his work and, and thus, created his own legacy. Upon his death, his heirs gave this collection to the French government. The museum devoted to this art opened in 1985 in a renovated 17th-Century mansion, which is currently being remodeled.

Because the Musée National Picasso Paris will be closed for renovations until 2012, its president Anne Baldassari saw an opportunity in a multi-city world tour, including Helsinki, Moscow, St. Petersburg (Russia), Seattle, San Francisco, and one additional non-U.S. museum.

Many museum directors attending the reception were privately discussing how the seven-city travelling exhibit, which even contains work done up to six months before Picasso's death, was very creatively organized to defray the costly renovations in Paris. Director Nyerges did verify that such an exhibition is costing the Virginia Museum around 5 million dollars and that Altria is the Presenting Sponsor.

"This exhibition is without a doubt a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the American public. An exhibition this monumental is extremely rare, especially one that spans the entire career of a figure who many consider the most influential, innovative and creative artist of the 20th Century," Nyerges said.

Phillips Collection Director Dorothy Kosinski, who had already taken a group from the Phillips down to Richmond to see the Picasso exhibit, vowed,"It's well worth the trip and I'd love to go back again."

Even before this groundbreaking exhibition, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) was recognized as one of the top comprehensive art museums in the country. The museum's art collection from around the world spans more than 5,000 years. Although general admission to the Museum is always free, moderately priced tickets are necessary for this special exhibit. The Museum, which now includes a handsome new wing, is open seven days a week, 365 days a year. For more information and tickets, call 804.340.1400 or visit

Top photo: Senior curator of the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Arts Joseph Rishel, now here as National Gallery of Art Kress Professor in the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, catches up with the Phillips Collection Director Dorothy Kosinski, who has already taken a group from the Phillips down to Richmond to see the Picasso exhibit.

Middle photo: French Ambassador François Delattre, right, welcomes Alex Nyerges, director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, to a reception celebrating the museum's new exhibit, “Picasso, Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris.”

Photos: Gail Scott

Bottom photo: Portrait of Dora Maar, 1937, Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) oil on canvas.

Photo: Musée National Picasso, Paris © 2010 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY

Latvian Choir Shines, and Sings, On

Ambassador Andrejs Pildegovics could not have been more proud to present Latvian Choir Director Maris Sirmais and Latvia's "Kamer" to an intimate embassy audience on March 14, calling this youth choir "a true jewel of Latvian choir music."

"Latvia is not a world political superpower or economic powerhouse, but the Latvian nation can certainly be called the 'heavy weight' in choir singing," the ambassador said. "In the Baltics, this beautiful tradition goes back over several hundred has evolved as an integral part of our cultural identity."

Later last month, the celebrated youth chorus from Riga's High School #1 would go on to garner rave reviews in The New York Times for their debut in New York City. NYT Music Critic Steve Smith commented on their "thrilling" concert at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, noting the chorus' "bright sound, clear diction and sumptuous blend." (At the embassy concert the ambassador had told me, "Mikhail Baryshnikov, you know, is a proud Latvian.")

"Singing has helped my nation to cultivate our language and traditions, as well as to withstand foreign political and economic domination," the ambassador explained. "During the national awakening movement of the 19th century, choir singing became a powerful unifying force as effective as Facebook and Twitter are today."

He said that choir singing was a form of spiritual resistance against Soviet totalitarian ideology and ultimately facilitated restoration of freedom and independence in a peaceful, nonviolent movement called "The Singing Revolution" 20 years ago.

Several audience members who had been to Latvia remarked how you can be on the street in Latvia or in a train and everyone starts singing. "It's so joyous," said one American diplomat, "You feel part of something bigger than yourself."

After the delightful embassy concert, I asked the ambassador, once a choir member himself, why choral singing was allowed during the Soviet occupation. He had an interesting answer.

"We just kept singing," he said, "And the Soviets must of thought it was harmless, just something Latvians do. So they just left us alone."

Now, every five years, there is an International Summer Choral Festival in Latvia and the next one is coming up. In 2006, over 35 countries were represented by their choral groups.

"More than 30,000 choir members will be on the stage," promised the ambassador, "And there will be more than 40,000 in the audience. We have a stadium just for this. You must come! We don't have enough hotel rooms for everyone so it is the Latvian tradition to take visitors, whether they are singers or just those who've come to listen, into our homes."

Front photo: Latvian Ambassador Andrejs Pildegovics, extremely proud of Latvia's international reputation for choral singing, welcomed Riga's youth chorus "Kamer" to perform at the Embassy before their New York debut.

Top photo:
Latvian Choir Conductor Maris Sirmais (left) with Latvia's world famous youth choir "Kamer" being congratulated by Latvian Ambassador Andrejs Pildegovics (right) following their performance at the Embassy on March 14. Choral singing in Latvia is a favorite national pastime that, over the centuries, has evolved as an integral part of Latvia's cultural identity.

Photos: Gail Scott

Peru’s Fusion Cuisine a Winner

Peru is first to win the Organization of American States' new Cultural Heritage of America Award — with its fusion cuisine. At a gala dinner on Saturday, March 23 hosted by OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza and Peru's Permanent OAS Representative Hugo de Zela, over 300 guests were treated to an elaborate dinner created by Peru's legendary chef Marisa Guiulfo and overseen by her two sons, Luis Felipe and Coke who are also distinguished chefs.

Chef Marisa Guiulfo — who has cooked for world leaders, royalty and top celebrities — has been called to Washington by previous Peruvian ambassadors for special occasions. She and her four sons have done much to raise both the quality and awareness of Peru's world-class fusion cuisine. Their restaurants in Lima include Los Faisanes, Ambrosía, Le Bistrot de mes fils and Punto G, Tai (specializing in Thai food), and La Bonbonniere, a French styled café considered one of the Capital's most exclusive restaurants.

The Cultural Heritage of America Award is part of OAS' yearlong Inter-American Year of Culture. Eduardo Ferreyros, Peru's Minister of Foreign Trade and Tourism, was there to accept the recognition for his country.

"For Peruvians, gastronomy is a passion," he told his dinner guests, "No matter who you talk to in my country - the young or the elderly, men or women, in any part of Peru -- the discussion always turns to gastronomy."

In explaining Peru's long and rich culinary history, Ferreyros credited the centuries-old Andean tradition, European tastes and recipes from Spain, new flavors of Africa and other influences and ingredients from the Far East, such as China and Japan.

"This rich plethora of influences, combined with the wealth of Peru's own ingredients have resulted in this nouvelle, and at the same time, traditional and contemporary Peruvian cuisine. What we are showing you is an image of ourselves...this award pays tribute to a cultural phenomenon that unites all Peruvians."

As Minister of Foreign Trade and Tourism, this proud Peruvian took the opportunity to emphasize his country's new "Peru Brand" or "Marca Peru," a playful and artistic logo, which decorated the bright red backdrop on stage and was used in the handsome silver napkin rings on the tables. Marking "the beginning of a new phase in Peru's presentation of itself to the outside world," he cited Peru's gastronomy as an integral part of this branding because "our gastronomy...plays an integrating role, a defining characteristic of our country."

Top photo: From left, Peru's Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States (OAS) Hugo de Zela and Peruvian Chef Felipe Giulfo, son of Peru's legendary Chef Marisa Giulfo, celebrate Peru's new award for culinary greatness from the OAS as part the organization's "Inter-American Year of Culture."

Bottom photo: From left, Peru's Permanent Representative to the OAS Hugo de Zela, Vice Minister of Culture Bernardo Roca-Rey Miró-Quesada, and Minister of Foreign Trade and Tourism Eduardo Ferreyros celebrate being the first OAS member to receive the new Cultural Heritage of America Award for the country's fusion cuisine.

Photos: Gail Scott


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