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Tampa's Bella Tuscany brings out the beautiful

By LENNIE BENNETT

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000


Bella Tuscany, as the 15th Pavilion was called, brought out the Bel Mondo on Saturday for a bella notte at the Tampa Museum of Art. (And that's about it for my Italian.)

This was my first Pavilion. I rarely cross Tampa Bay for social events, being kept busy enough in lower Pinellas County, but I was easily lured by a contingent of St. Petersburg supporters and curious about this party, considered by many to be the ne plus ultra in local fundraising circles (oops, that's Latin).

Bella Tuscany was beautiful, and made me want to re-read Frances Mayes (author of the best-selling Under the Tuscan Sun, and coincidentally featured the next day on CBS's Sunday Morning).

Margo Eure, co-chair of the event with husband Hilliard Eure, is one of the most organized people I have ever met. She also happens to have wonderful taste. (I have known her for a long time.) She left no detail unexamined, all of which makes things very nice for her guests.

The Eures were aided by a huge committee, the list of names stretching over three pages of a program that included the expected subcommittees -- auction, decorations, patrons, for example -- along with some specialized areas such as calligraphy and legal issues.

Arriving guests walked through a tunnel-like entry lined with greenery into the large, high galleries of the museum, which was given over to the cocktail hour. Waiters circulated with trays holding flutes of Bellavista, Franciacorta Cuvee Brut (which tasted like champagne with fewer bubbles), and little bites of bruschetta.

In the crowd were museum director Emily Kass; Tina Douglass, looking very bella as always, and husband Bob Douglass; Dr. Richard and Mary Perry (he is a museum trustee and has endowed a curatorship, held by Aaron Paul, for Greek and Roman art); Alexander and Cynthia Astrack, in a lovely green beaded dress; David and Catherine Straz, also in green and eye-popping emerald and diamond jewelry; Ed Cassidy; Dr. Ralph and Kathy Rydell (he wore amusing socks depicting Boticelli's Venus with his white tie and tails); Dr. Allen and Janet Root; Monroe and Suzette Berkman, in another beautiful green gown, with beaded lace; Hal and Marion Flowers; Salvador Dali Museum director Marshall Rousseau; Cynthia Gandee, director of the Henry P. Plant Museum at the University of Tampa; Joel Momberg; Cecil and Linda Edge, who chaired the impressive auction; Rita Carlino and Gloria Carlino Giunta, owners of Carlino's at the historic Don Vicente Inn in Ybor City; Gregg Thomas and Cathy Clayton; Jennifer Ellison; Jim and Joan Jennewein; Paul Jerome; John and Mary K. Wilson, elated, as they should be, over son Patrick's success in the new Broadway musical The Full Monty; Paul and Cindi Dresselhaus, and Tom and Cathy Unruh Sansone.

The Sansones were among about 25 couples who hosted Tuscan Tables, a series of small private dinners for patrons the week preceding the big blowout. Tuscan Tables was a new event, replacing the patrons cocktail party, said Mrs. Eure. The Sansones' dinner at their Redington Beach home on Thursday was catered by Chad Harrison, who interpreted the Tuscan theme with gnocchi in pesto and pine nuts, grilled lobster with hazelnut cream, chicken rollantini in a balsamic reduction, a salad with seared tuna and, for dessert, zabaglione. Ms. Unruh is a vegetarian, so she also served a soy dish and lots of vegetables.

The enormous white dinner tent was draped with muted gold swags and lit by hundreds of candles. It was a lovely effect. Dinner was a five-course production by Mise en Place, with names such as Penne ai funghi esotici e fiori di zucca con salsa di burro e salvia; spigola arrostita con ragu di faglioli alla Toscana, finnocchio, pomodori, escarole, all'olio di tartufi bianchi; filletto di manzo alla griglia su patate e funghi porcini alla salsa di vino rosso e accompagnati da chard svizzera e peperoni rossi arrostiti, all of which takes longer to say than to eat.

St. Petersburg Times colleague Anthea Penrose, who organized our table, for emergency purposes had the corporate credit card, which I tried to convince her to use to bid on my favorite auction item, a Windstar cruise along the Italian and French Rivieras (opening bid: $18,000), but she thought our bosses might balk at an expenditure probably considered non-emergency.

The live auction was full of other glamorous items: a trip to Tuscany, valued at $19,000; a Dale Chihuly sculpture valued at $12,000; attendance at the final round of the Masters as house guests of the Flowers family, valued as priceless, which is true if you have ever tried to get tickets; a leased Jaguar for a year; jewels; a full-length Blackgama coat. The silent auction of almost 100 items included some more great getaway packages, including a local one I did not know about: a long weekend on Egmont Key in the 1890s cottage of Capt. John Timmel, which has been modernized and air-conditioned.

I did not stay for the torta d'espresso Illy con macedonia di frutta secca con sapore d'anice e biscotti di nocciole or the Lester Lanin Orchestra or the performance by former Cats star Liz Calloway or the Mezzanotte at Pavilion, a party after the party with cigars, frittatas and cappuccino served at midnight. I didn't have to. I was already so full of Tuscan thoughts and flavors, I had just one thing left to say to the valet guys as they handed me into my car: grazie.

Looking ahead

Sunday Palladium Theater Showcase: A family-oriented free day of performing arts to celebrate the second anniversary of the not-for-profit theater. Continuous performances run from 1 through 9 p.m. and range from classical to rock music, ballet to modern dance and includes an excerpt from the popular Webb's City, The Musical. Free admission and refreshments. 253 Fifth Ave. N. 822-3590.

Nov. 15

Diamonds and Denim: The annual dinner and dance for Brookwood, A Young Women's Residence, recognizes leading supporters. 6:30 p.m. Don CeSar Beach Resort, 3400 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach. Semi-formal or Western formal (get out those silver studded chaps). $80. 822-4789.

* * *

Cooking for Kids: Hosted by Help a Child Foundation to benefit Suncoast Child Protection Team. Appetizers, buffet dinner and dessert table provided by area restaurants including Redwoods, O'Gradney's, Blackstones Tapas Cafe, New City Diner and Julian's Bistro. Harborview Center, 300 Cleveland St., Clearwater. 6:30 p.m. 864-2684.

Nov. 17

Monte Carlo Madness: Fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club of the Suncoast with buffet dinner, casino games and dancing. Cash bar. Black tie optional. 7 p.m. St. Petersburg Yacht Club, 11 Central Ave. $40. 867-5567.

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