A Sydney journalist got her first up close experience with President Bush yesterday, witnessing him "storming the buffet" during a barbecue lunch with the Australian military.
But the real story was in the spiral pasta bowl, or 'noodles', as the Americans call them :
George Bush was in a good mood yesterday as he helped himself to his buffet lunch.
So when he caught sight of your correspondent, who had embedded herself 'twixt bain-marie and pasta salad with pen poised attentively, he was inclined to be expansive.
"Oh, you people are recording my every move here, aren't you?" he drawled. "I tell you what, I'll help you out. Here's your first sentence. 'The President takes a spoon …"'
"In your right hand or your left hand?" the Herald asked, slightly bewildered but happy to be in the frame for some high-level one-on-one, even if only on the topic of the cold buffet.
"Yes. Important. He takes the spoon in his right hand, and he takes some salad. But how many pieces? One, two … "
Whereupon the leader of the free world proceeded, as a friendly service to the readers of The Sydney Morning Herald, to count out pieces of spiral pasta as he dropped them one by one on to his plate. "Eight!" he concluded. "Eight noodles! There's your story. Nice helping you out!"
Emboldened by this significant exchange, your carbohydrates correspondent can now further report that the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, augmented her plate of barbecued chicken and sausage with a helping of root vegetable couscous, but eschewed the pasta spirals completely, suggesting perhaps a worrying rift with her leader.
Hovering besottedly at Dr Rice's elbow was the Defence Minister, Brendan Nelson, wearing a dashing open-necked black shirt and grey trousers that made him look excitingly like an extra from Saturday Night Fever.
Mr Bush, anticipating his first Aussie barbecue of the trip, had warned Mr Howard with Texan directness: "I'm a meat guy."
Dr Nelson, by contrast, is very much a Rice guy. As the Secretary of State took delivery of her couscous, an attendant alerted her to the presence of green salad, but Dr Nelson interceded protectively. "Secretary Rice has salad on her table, thank you," he intoned with crushing finality. The attendant retreated.
Eight Noodles. Now that's a story.
The journalist also details just what an outsider has to endure to get that close to the president.