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Excuse me, no take-home lapdogs? You call this a party?!

Thursday night

Hewlett-Packard

(HWP)

surpassed putting on the Ritz. President and CEO of Enterprise Computing,

Ann Livermore

beckoned a manageable throng of several hundred Internet startup partners, press, analysts and H-P family to join her at the Chiltern Mansion in Hillsborough, just south of San Francisco in, well, mansion territory.

We were to enjoy "An Evening With Picasso." Pooh-pooh the

Ask Jeeves

(ASKJ)

people launching Ask Jeeves 4.0 at a simultaneous party with crooner

Elvis Costello

. These were

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Picasso

paintings, sculptures and sketches that had never touched the godless, MTVified soil of the U.S. They were from the old world, untainted by corporate American greed. And so they came with two polite men to protect them, in this leased den of ... it seems, corporate America.

But we were on our best behavior. It was hard not to walk gingerly into the formidable castle-like atmosphere that is the Chiltern mansion. Manicured hedges and sprawling gardens surround the main house. Cut stone masonry and short, blunt towers jut up to the blue skies, as the house thumbs its pug nose at the ranch-style one-story hovels with carport that span the Bay Area. Cocktail hour was held in a sprawling chapel-style hall brightened by all the painted stained glass windows Europe's 17th century churches could bear to part with. Marble busts of French aristocrats jutted into iconographic wood carvings on every beam, mantel and antique wood-paneling joint. It was breathtaking, regardless of the Picassos.

Holy sinful mounds of stock options, Sir Batman!

Nick Earle

, vice president and chief marketing officer at H-P, made us feel snug and comfy in our palatial digs. Earle opened the event with a short, witty speech on Picasso and the legend's entrepreneurial spirit. Picasso was an inventor, and H-P was in the business of encouraging inventors through its Internet efforts. It wanted to give them the tools, the funding and the channels to change the face of business. We all stood a little taller in our dress shoes.

As Livermore added at the end of her speech, which quickly ran down Picasso's lifetime achievements, the artist might have been an entrepreneur himself were he born in our time and place. Both she and Earle played light on the H-P line and heavy on the Picasso, making for a stronger party statement than usual. No PowerPoint slides. No droning marketing speeches. Just a little H-P inspiration: Let's go invent a new way of things, be it blue period, rose, cubist, neo-classical or a new interpretation of speed-eating at the mashed-potato bar a few rooms away.

Finally, Earle thanked the host, Bobby Lent of

Ariba

(ARBA)

, who ponied up for the Chiltern Mansion recently and allowed H-P to go along with its party plans, which were arranged with the mansion's former owner. Lent was suddenly cast in a four-foot radius of fawning. He owns the place? Great Zeus! He was suddenly transformed from entrepreneur to real estate baron, interior decorator par excellence and, generally, the guy to beat.

As a small indoor fountain trickled away and the geraniums cast their pungent scent among the evening diners, there was a grand sense of hope.

If the founder of Ariba could own a place with Elizabethan portraiture every three feet and a bunch of virginal Picasso works could find their way to Silicon Valley, H-P can achieve Internet greatness. By the heavens, it has to be true.