In Moscow, Donna Hartman—the U.S. Ambassador's Wife—Proves a Good and Faithful Servant
Hartman's do-it-yourself diplomacy is a consequence of a tit-for-tat embassy war waged by the two superpowers in the wake of the Nicholas Daniloff affair. When the U.S. expelled 55 Soviet diplomats last month, the Kremlin retaliated by withdrawing more than 200 Russian nationals employed by the American Embassy in Moscow and the consulate in Leningrad. The move effectively deprived U.S. diplomats of most of their support staff, including maintenance men, chauffeurs, secretaries, translators and household help.
For Hartman the bad news came just hours before a scheduled banquet and reception in honor of Nobel Peace prizewinner Elie Wiesel. In the absence of Soviet maids and assistant chefs, Hartman helped cook a kosher banquet for 17 guests and assemble hors d'oeuvres for a reception for 100. At the fete she was photographed by the New York Times in a most uncharacteristic pose—carrying a tray of dirty dishes. "My daughter Lise, who works on Capitol Hill [in Washington, D.C.], called me about that the next day," complains Hartman. "She said, 'Mother, I'm so humiliated. Of all the things you've done in your life, how can they consider carrying a tray of dishes heroic?' "
A slim woman who wears her graying hair swept back, Hartman has been coping with the vagaries of life as a foreign service wife for most of her adult years. In 1948 she dropped out of Wheaton College, Mass. to marry Arthur, then a Harvard Law School student, who joined the State Department that year. In the decades that followed, she raised five children while serving in such distant hubs as Saigon, Brussels and London. Posted to Moscow in 1981, Hartman has been an enthusiastic hostess, throwing as many as six embassy functions every week. In the meantime, she has cultivated back-channel contacts with Russians involved in extrasensory perception (ESP) projects. "I have met a lot of psychics and parapsychologists in this country," she says. "It seems to be in the Russians' nature and is one of the things I like about this country. I do think there is something to it."
Hartman and her husband could well use the help of a clairvoyant to see their way through the current personnel crisis. For most embassy staffers the initial reaction to the wholesale withdrawal of Soviet workers has been to rally to the communal cause. Forming small teams with names like the "Killer Bees" and the "High Cs," foreign service officers have been dividing up such downstairs tasks as chauffeuring the Ambassador or cleaning the lavatories at the embassy. But considerable grumbling among the diplomats' wives threatens to spread into a quiet insurrection. In addition to the difficulties of shopping and preparing semi-official dinner parties without help in a foreign country, the women are particularly rankled about the loss of school bus drivers and nannies for their kids. "All the time, these days, I'm close to crying because of the human cost the Soviets have inflicted on their own people," says Hartman. "Imagine snatching these babushkas from the babies they've been watching!"
Officially, Hartman is living well in the manner to which she's only just become accustomed. After leading a visitor on a tour of her Moscow mansion, with its massive freestanding Ionic columns and glittering cut-crystal chandeliers, she waxes diplomatic over the departure of her Soviet servants. "I miss them," she says. "Some of them were lovely, but I do find the house wonderfully calm now."