A Nite in White
A sea of white filled the Parvis de l’Hôtel de Ville and spilled over onto the Pont d’Arcole and then the Ile de la Cité Thursday evening. The “invités” set up their tables in long rows, one after another and one up against another, laid their white tablecloths, set their tables with white china and crystal stemware, laid out their elegant “répas” and dined “ensemble” under the moonlight. This was the 29th “Diner en Blanc,” by invitation only, where more than 8,000 people came together for a “pop-up” event that takes place every June in the City of Light and in other major cities around the globe, now in 70+ cities.
Diner en Blanc photos by Erica Simone
Getting invited is the tough part…guests do not have the liberty of inviting more than one other guest and organizers control the attendance to keep it exclusive. Founder, François Pasquier from Montreal started it all right here in Paris in 1988 when he “invited a group of friends to an elegant outdoor dinner at the Bois de Boulogne, asking them to dress in white so they could find each other.” (Wikipedia.org) His son, Aymeric, introduced the idea to Montreal in 2009 and before you knew it, New York was doing it in 2011. Singapore came along in 2012 and then came Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne followed right behind.
I got lucky when I met one of the organizers here in Paris a few years ago. That’s what it takes to get invited. Then, you must equip yourself with a folding table and chairs (I bought a camping-style table for 50€), white china you don’t care about in case it breaks, white cloth napkins (that get twirled en masse a couple times during the evening), silverware you don’t care about losing, candles that last all evening (and hopefully won’t blow out if there’s a gust of wind) and of course, an outfit to wear that is white head to toe (although silver and gold is tolerated, but gray is not).
You don’t know the date of the event until only a week or so ahead. You pray it won’t rain that day and that day you check your email at noon, because it’s not until then that you know where you will meet. You meet your group leader at a designated location indicated in the email at 8 p.m., usually a café where you can have a drink and wait for everyone to arrive. People dressed in white rolling their tables, chairs and carts or suitcases filled with their food and accoutrements start to gather. People who are in the area question WTF are you doing there (?) dressed in white with all that stuff. You wait till your group leader tells you to follow him/her and it’s only then that you even have a clue where you will be setting up your tables and dining that evening until midnight.
This year, when our meeting point was on rue des Lombards, I guessed that the final dining spot had to be the Parvis de l’Hôtel de Ville just a few blocks away…and it was. Our row of tables was one of the last to file into the Place, just next to the fountains on the north side. Standing on the elevated edge of the fountains we could have a great view of the sea of white and tried to estimate how many people were there. We gave up trying and decided to just relax and enjoy the short time we had there.
The only thing it costs is one euro per person for your one sparkler, which is lit about dessert time, once the sun has gone down. Most diners take the event very seriously and dress up for the occasion as well as dress their tables elaborately and serve formal three course dinners. The more effort you put into it, the more fun you have. Strolling down the aisles is one of the special past-times, just to see what everyone else is up to or to find friends. The whole experience is completely surrealistic and if you get drunk on champagne (or high on whatever), you could believe you’re on another planet.
Interestingly enough, there was no police presence, or at least none that we were aware of. Perhaps plain-clothes cops were among us, but we wouldn’t have known it, with everyone in white. And there is no reason for police. In spite of the pop-up nature of the event, it is an elegant a dining experience as one can imagine and the behavior is impeccable, even with so much alcohol flowing.
The backdrop of the beautiful Hôtel de Ville was a knock-out. In the distance was Notre Dame. The weather was perfect…warm and a bit breezy…until just before midnight when the gusts came up and the black clouds started to move in. We packed it all up before the rush and headed out of there just in time because as we landed home, the rains came down.
Now, I’m just counting down the days till next year’s Diner en Blanc.
For more photos, visit the official Facebook page for the event.
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
(at Diner en Blanc 2017)
P.S. Don’t miss this month’s Après Midi TOMORROW, when
William Jordan speaks about his “Secret Life of an American Diplomat in Paris,” what it’s like to represent the U.S. in the City of Light, warts and all. Don’t miss it