On Thursday, Aug. 16, the Boston waterfront beneath the swooping glass facade of the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse was invaded by a throng of picnickers dressed in white and elegantly nibbling from white china plates.
Was it performance art? An extreme response to Zombie Flash Mobs? A cult?
Dîner en Blanc had arrived in Boston.
Dîner en Blanc (Dinner in White) first began in Paris in 1988 when Frenchman François Pasquier wanted to call together long lost friends by having them meet for a picnic in the Bois du Boulogne, the equivalent of New York’s Central Park. One requirement: They must dress in white so they could find each other in the crowd. The experience was so delightful, they repeated the picnic the following year, and every year after, inviting friends along the way until it bloomed into what it is today: A flash mob pop-up dinner society that draws more than 14,000 picnickers to distinguished city landmarks around the world kept secret until an hour before the meal is to begin.
The combination of elegance and mystery under a midsummer’s night sky has proved so alluring that Dîner en Blanc has expanded across 5 continents to more than 15 cities worldwide. Paris itself featured three different dinners over two days this year.
New York’s inaugural event last year, the first in the United States, drew 1,200 with 30,000 people on the waiting list. This year’s guest list has been expanded to 3,200 for their event held last night on Aug. 20 in the courtyard of New York City's Lincoln Center. The Boston event on Aug. 16 brought 650-700 picnickers down to the waterfront.
I received an e-mail in mid July – so nondescript that I almost overlooked it – with an invitation to become a member of Boston’s Dîner en Blanc. Dîner en Blanc uses a system of membership, guest sponsorship, and a waiting list to send out invitations.
I invited my friend Lisa, a true Francophile and a foodie to join me. We began to divvy up the details for meeting the evening’s requirements to wear white, dress elegantly, and assemble the following to carry to the mystery picnic spot:
- A folding square dining table + 2 white folding chairs;
A white bag or a white picnic basket (or covered with a white fabric) containing your dinner items as the following items :
- white tablecloth and 2 white cloth napkin
- 2 white plates + 2 white plates for dessert (non disposable)
- 2 sets of cutlery (plastic prohibited)
- 2 glasses (plastic prohibited)
- 1 complete meal, including: 1 first course, 1 main course, 1 final course (cheese, dessert, etc)
- 1 white trash bag
A simple picnic, mais bien sûr mes amis!
We could elect to either arrive by public transportation (the subway) or by bus, for a few dollars more. Anticipating that we would be highly uncoordinated trying to navigate a full picnic basket and two chairs and a table, I signed us up for the bus. Then we turned our attention to more important things.
Such as, where to buy a white hat. And of course, a new white dress, très chic.
On the evening of Aug. 20, we met Zach, our group leader, at the appointed time in front of a cathedral in the South End and quietly filed onto the bus with a group of strangers all decked out in white. We were oddly shy, surprising since any passerby immediately lumped us together: “What is this, a wedding?”
I had a hunch we’d be heading down to the waterfront, and we did. As we wheezed our way through the downtown streets we passed groups of people in white emerging from various subway stations. The demure masses carried tables, picnic baskets, balloons, and even a parasol. Ooo la la!
Eventually, once assembled at our final meeting place, we all fell into line and rounded the corner to the courthouse. It was a beautiful setting. A green lawn stretched out to the boardwalk. Boats bobbed peacefully in the inky harbor water, lights twinkling. The night air was perfect – partly cloudy, 77 degrees, with no disturbing wind.
Lisa and I were flanked by other women also picnicking with their female friends. How did you hear about this? we asked. One person said, Twitter, another said she stumbled across it on a website.
As we set up our tables, our votive candles, and bouquets of flowers, a cellist elbowed jazz riffs on a stage. We twirled our white napkins overhead (a Dîner en Blanc tradition) and ate our five course meal as a French band called C’est Si Bon performed. Then came a DJ and we all got up to dance beneath giant white balloons hung from low branches in the trees. Si, c’est très bon.
Alas, one visual treat of Dîner en Blanc was omitted: No sparklers, usually held aloft to signal that the dancing will begin. Massachusetts doesn’t allow fireworks. Zut alors!
At 10:30 came the call to pack up and just as quickly as we had appeared we vanished like wisps of white mist.
It was a huge undertaking to be sure. To Angela Giovine, Wendy Goldstein, and Zach Taranto, the organizers of Boston’s event, we lift our white hats in gratitude.
Bravo! Encore, s’il vous plait!
For a slideshow of the event and a menu of what was in our picket basket, visit Kitchen Report.