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At the Night on the Nile gala

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Many of the objects in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' current Splendors of Egypt exhibition were inspired by the cult of the dead. But the scene was strictly high-energy on Saturday, Oct. 23 as the Council of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts threw one of the most elaborate bashes of recent social seasons. Some 800 fur-clad and black-tied guests entered the museum after passing by a three-camel welcoming committee which stood just near the parking lot. Once inside, they found an official receiving line positioned in the lobby. The space was transformed by murals, Oriental carpets, hanging vines and swags of translucent fabric suggesting a tent.

To accommodate tremendous response (hundreds of places had been reserved before invitations were even mailed), dining tables were set up in seemingly every available spot — in the Renaissance court, the member's suite and in the new education and outreach building on Sheppard Street. The marble hall in the Lewis Mellon wing, however, was ground-zero. Here the assemblage of politicos, including the governor, the lieutenant governor, State Sen. Benjamin Lambert, and a former governor, gave the air political charge. Eugene Trani, president of Virginia Commonwealth University, appeared happy to use the occasion to introduce the school's new provost to Richmond: The affable Roderick McDavis, and his wife Deborah, were all smiles.

"There are so many folks from Roanoke here," was the oft-heard remark. First Union, which coughed up major funding for the Splendors exhibition, is a major corporate presence there.

The meal, prepared by museum chefs, was a success — for openers there were grilled stuffed peppers, prawns and endive spears with tabbouleh and hummus. Medallions of lamb and couscous pilaf with chick peas, almonds and dates made up the entree, with garnishes of miniature zucchini and eggplant. The dessert was a knockout: Two-inch high chocolate pyramids whose pinnacles lifted off to reveal apricot mousse, were set atop swirling layers of pomegranate and syrup that resembled wind-swept sands.

After dinner, guests repaired to the museum's lower levels for dancing. The Eric Felten Orchestra played in a tent-covered and heated sculpture garden. By midnight, Peg Freeman, wife of former Signet chairman Bob Freeman, had kicked off her shoes and was dancing in her stocking feet. It was emblematic of the evening — carefree, celebratory and fun.

And where were you?

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