It took me a whole day to get ready and perfect my look, halfway between that of a bride and a nun: a glass bead necklace, white shoes on my feet and a polystyrene box tucked under my arm as a picnic basket. That’s me ready, all in white from head to foot as the dress code would have it: et voilà, let this rather unusual dinner begin.
For one night, New York was spruced up in total white, as chic and elegant as though stepping out on the Champs Elysees, all because of the Dîner en Blanc: a secret dinner date for a numerous group of guests, whose only rule is total white. Applied to clothing, as well as picnic gear: a tradition born in Paris which for over twenty years now, has seen the French armed with baskets, tables and chairs – all strictly white – gathering together to occupy the city’s public spaces in a manner that is free of charge and totally amazing.
For the first U.S. edition, the 1150 guests registered on-line, in a dash for the last available place that lasted less than 5 minutes: having been invited by a Parisian friend, I managed to find my way into this exclusive list. Where will the picnic take place? Impossible for me, or the other participants for that matter, to know the final destination until just a few minutes before the actual event.
At 6 pm, Downtown is populated by eccentric figures sporting feathers, white tuxedos, overalls, lace, Andy Warhol-style wigs and even the odd bathrobe. Some individuals are accompanied by dogs on a lead, monochromatic of course: a decidedly unusual scenario for the Financial District that is more accustomed to total black suits and very few frills.
My dazzling white polystyrene basket – a last-minute buy from Jack’s99 – was packed with plates, champagne glasses and, ça va sans dire, some excellent food purchased from Dean&Deluca. Not to mention a few delicacies made in France and kindly contributed by my Parisian friend.
Having got past the Underground, where a look like mine could hardly go unnoticed, we meet up with Nella – our leader – who is responsible for a group of about thirty people. And here comes the text message we were all waiting for: final location, Battery Park. In less than half an hour a white population scattered all over New York heads straight for the area behind the World Trade Center Winter Garden. The event is also a kind of treasure hunt: where you get to know new people and identify the veterans who have been taking part in the Parisian editions for years by their practical trolleys for carrying heavy items, or the gatecrashers – almost always with sushi in their bags -, where you take the wrong turning and pick up new groups at each corner of the street, until the groups turn into a parade that invades the city.
At sunset, Battery Park is transformed: in the space of a few minutes, white tablecloths, refined crockery, candlesticks, candles and flowers appear on the scene. As well as the food, of course, which finds its way onto the table. The backdrop is supplied by a view of New Jersey, the Hudson river and, a little further beyond, the Statue of Liberty, accompanied by some excellent jazz: the perfect setting for this elegant and unconventional dinner, which even offered an excellent opportunity for someone to get engaged, complete with proposal on bended knee, tears and a giant solitaire ring.
Master of Ceremonies for the evening was 37 year old Aymeric Pasquier, son of the well-known event organizer, François Pasquier, who has been organizing flash-mob parties for the past few years. He was asked to comment on the differences between a Parisian public and that of New York: «People work more here and are used to paying to have everything organized», he explained. «For Dîner en Blanc, on the other hand, some people get ready for weeks beforehand: but the result pays off all the efforts. And then there’s the question of shoes: in New York men wear white footwear, but Parisians wouldn’t dream of it…».
Once the table is cleared, the chairs folded and the plates put back into the basket, the square empties and we return to our everyday multi-coloured existence. I too returned to Brooklyn, still in white and carrying a heavy load in spite of all the food we ate. I’m already well organized for next year, though: I’ve treated myself to a nice little trolley, parbleu!