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Amy Scherzer's Diary: Francois Delattre, French ambassador to the United States, bestows honors in Tampa

Wheels of Success' Aquarian birthday bash

Peace, love and cars made for a groovy Biggest Aquarian Birthday Bash benefit for Wheels of Success hosted by Jaguar of Tampa dealer Rob Elder in his Fletcher Avenue showroom Jan. 20. All zodiac signs were welcome, of course, but Aquarians got in free with a paying guest. Psychics offered tarot card and tea leaf insights for the tie-dyed and bell-bottomed crowd of nearly 200. Sponsors Hyun and Don Cooper reinvented their hippiness; WEDU's Joyce Cotton turned heads in an Afro wig.

GrillSmith, Whiskey Joe's Bar & Grill and Mr. Empanada buffets satisfied the munchies. Also for sampling: psychedelic vodka punch; fruit and spinach smoothies by Raw Fusion Living and chocolates from Taking Care Pkgs. Lava lamps lit up silent auction tables while Julie Weintraub and Jack Harris handled live auction duties.

Deejays mellowed with Woodstock oldies until suddenly, a flash mob burst into song. It was the Age of Aquarius, and even program director Lisa Ferrer joined the throng, careful not to pop her balloon dress. Michael "Balloon Guy" Byrne created the bubbly design to sell $20 and $50 raffles. Buyers found a numbered ping-pong ball in their balloons, indicating their prize.

Grooviest of all: four people received car keys from Wheels of Success founder Susan Jacobs, and three previous recipients earned their car titles.

Ambassador of France visits Tampa

His Excellency Francois Delattre, French ambassador to the United States, bestowed four high honors on behalf of President Nicolas Sarkozy during his visit Monday.

Rear Adm. Patrick Martin, chief of the French detachment at U.S. Central Command, was named a commander, and honorary consul Jean-Charles Faust was named a knight, both in the prestigious French Order of Merit.

William Bowers of Clearwater, who joined the Navy in 1943, the same year Thomas Hengstebeck of Bradenton joined the Army, were both awarded knighthood in the French Legion of Honor.

"Our friendship is bound in blood,'' said Delattre, extending "eternal gratitude for your bravery" as 150 guests rose to applaud the World War II vets.

For the reception that followed at the University of South Florida's Patel Center for Global Solutions, master baker Xavier de March of Cafe de Paris in Indian Rocks Beach filled the buffet with boursin cream puffs, tapenade on brioche, crab and caviar vol aux vent, chocolate mousse, eclairs and other delicacies.

Brighter Tomorrows

Music for the soul, dollars to eliminate domestic violence. That's how the Elegant Evening private concerts organized by Brighter Tomorrows fund grants to address the needs of abused women and children. Among the recipient organizations are the Spring of Tampa Bay, Child Abuse Council, Family Justice Center, Are You Safe Inc., Mary and Martha House and the Guardian Ad Litem program.

On Jan. 16, the fourth Elegant Evening featured the Arioso Strings at the Palma Ceia home of lawyers Betsy and Gil Singer. Violinists Nancy Chang, Lei Liu and Lucas Guideri and cellist Lowell Adams played well-known compositions of Leonard Bernstein and Antonin Dvorak, sponsored by the Hirsch Group of Baird & Co. private wealth management.

"There's such camaraderie,'' said Stephanie Hobson, looking at the familiar faces enjoying wine and hors d'oeuvres. She and co-chairwoman Elaine Stupp have already begun lining up next year's musicians and hosts.