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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

GC in DC: Tales From the Swamp: When in Rome … for 3 hours at the Italian embassy

GC In Dc column graphic
Graphic by Bex Povill

After getting out of an Uber with four of my closest friends, we slowly struggled down the steep steps leading into the Italian Embassy. It was Feb. 10, the Saturday before Valentine’s Day, and we were set to enter the Embassy’s Valentine’s Ball. Waiting outside the entrance were the regulars: military men, Congressional staffers and couples in mid-life crises.

I’ll get to that last part eventually. But for now, I want to outline the series of events of how we — a group of 20-year-old know-nothings — bargained and earned our attendance at a formal event like this. Others might call it cheating, but I call it ‘the hustle.’

As part of our orientation into the Tufts in Washington Program, my friends and I competed in a scavenger hunt across D.C. Everyone was randomly sorted into groups, and each group was tasked to visit as many historical sites and documents as possible to earn points. The first-place and second-place winning groups would earn free tickets to the Italian Embassy’s Valentine’s Ball and the Austrian Embassy’s annual Viennese Ball, respectively.

We had a plan to hit as many spots as we could. Tenleytown, Dupont Circle, Chinatown — you name it. We were like Dora the Explorer and her trusty map, finding the spots with the most points. It was going well for the first 20 minutes until my group accidentally left me behind on the Metro on our way to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park.

Instead of waiting for the next ride, I decided to run a whole mile, dodging men in suits and kids on their Nintendo Switches to catch up with my friends. Me, making a bad split-second decision? No way!

Finally meeting up with the group, we decided to whip out an art form as old as the city itself to win, one mastered by America’s most notorious politicians: cheating. Obviously.

When the scavenger hunt asked us to go to the National Gallery of Art to take photos of presidential portraits, we used photos taken from a previous trip instead. When one of the tasks asked us to take a photo next to “any plane within the vicinity of the National Air and Space Museum,” we took a photo of a diagram of a plane at a construction site next to the Museum. When we left the Zoological Park, one of my teammates told another incoming group that there was a giraffe available for a picture, but the only ‘giraffes’ were toys in the gift store. All of this just for an opportunity to attend a gala and stuff ourselves silly with cannolis that were purchased at the nearest Wegmans.

Standing in the Italian Embassy, I wasn’t feeling the least bit regretful of our actions. And, why should I? Everyone was tux-ed and dressed out for the occasion, bejeweled and making the whole room shimmer. From our tuxedos down to the polish on our shoes, the boys were dripping so hard that we caused some pre-midnight rain. Our endgame was accomplished, people surrounding us hopped out of their glamorous getaway cars from the upscale bars and we felt bigger than the whole sky.

As soon as we started flexing our attires, the line outside the Embassy moved, and we were ushered through security into the Gala. Renaissance and mannerist paintings popped out at us along the red stucco walls with Botticelli and Gentileschi taking witness to our impending degeneracy. An opera singer was belting out some ear-shattering vocals in the front of the ballroom. People of all ages and backgrounds were already waltzing to the music, and I knew I had to join. I couldn’t be outdanced by some hotshot 70-year-olds who just come to these things.

But I had to get desserts first. And desserts we got: creamy tiramisu, rich chocolate mousse, thick zeppole and — of course — the cannolis that were actually really good. I didn’t even bother eating dinner beforehand because I knew this would be the last supper whether I was physically prepared for it or not, and it did not disappoint.

It was the first time I felt like I was going into a food coma. But we were only 20 minutes in and the DJ just started playing Usher (this was the day before the Super Bowl). We danced for three straight hours, and I’ve never felt more exhausted and satisfied.

Most of the attendees beside us waltzed away. The older couples were virtuosos, effortlessly transitioning from one move to the next across the dancefloor. We jumped up and down for what felt like an eternity. Considering my dinner full of desserts, this didn’t pan out in the best way imaginable, but it was a sacrifice I was willing to make.

At the end of the night, I was standing in line to get water with my friends when these two female attendees started fussing behind me. They seemed to be in their late 20s, and one of them, donning a silk ruby red dress, seemed like she was experiencing a very early mid-life crisis. She was particularly upset about her boyfriend’s absence, and, as I listened in, she began to unload the ‘tea.’

“How come he never supports me?” she told her friend. “I try to bring him everywhere, and he won’t stop ruining me. We even tried to play board games last night and he started throwing a tantrum. He literally ripped the board game in half! He gets it from his dad. He either needs a therapist or me, but he can’t have both.”

Smartly, I interjected to ask one of the most important philosophical inquiries of my generation.

“What type of board games are you into?”

To which she responded: “We have hundreds of them spread across my home.”

At this point, I had an epiphany: This is the level of passion emblematic of D.C. Maybe the passion was toward activities I couldn’t care less about, but I suppose everyone has a high level of investment in their daily lives.

Even in our craziest moments, we came together for one night and had a blast. I would do it all again, but my recovery period will be long, so I’ll let you know when I’m back to full strength.