I hope that all is well with you. Yesterday was one of the nights that I wait for with excitement all year. Kind of like the old movie “Brigadoon”, where a whole town appears once a year, or once every hundred years, and then disappears again. In this case, the magic happens once a year and it was a little less magical this year, but fun anyway. I’ve told you about it before, it’s the White Dinner in Paris, an extraordinary event that began in Paris about 26 years ago. It has been emulated in other cities since, with some variations. But the original real deal is in Paris. It began when a naval officer and his wife celebrated their anniversary in June, by setting up several folding tables with friends, and served an elegant dinner on white china, with a table cloth, in front of one of the monuments of Paris. They invited a few friends, the husband wore his white summer naval uniform, as did his friends, the wife wore a white dress, or perhaps all the women did, I’m not sure. They had a fabulous meal in an incomparable setting, right on the streets of Paris, in the setting of their choice, I’m not sure which of the monuments they chose, but there are many spectacular ones to choose from. And they loved the evening so much, that they returned to do it every year, and invited more and more friends. Eventually it grew to an event of several thousand. And it is still a remarkable event. It is organized by a committee of six men in Paris, the entire event is by invitation only (a greatly coveted invitation in Paris every year), it is free, no money changes hands (in Paris, i believe that in some of the cities where they have imitated it, they charge to attend the event). And once invited, the location of the dinner is kept secret until 2 hours before. Sub heads or group leaders are assigned lists of people to notify. The rules are that you must wear white clothes from head to toe; each couple must bring a folding table, 2 folding chairs, china, cutlery, a white table cloth, and all the equipment to serve an elegant dinner for two. You bring your own food for two, people bring silver candlesticks and flowers to decorate the table, and at 7pm the night of the event, you are notified of where to meet at 8pm, and you arrive dressed in white with all your gear. It is a deep secret where the dinner will be held, and thousands of people arrive at the meeting place, filled with excitement, wondering where they will actually be dining. There is a celebratory atmosphere, people are excited as they gather and wait to hear where they will go next. The final location is a few blocks from wherever you meet, because you have to carry your folding table, 2 folding chairs, and a pull cart/caddy of some kind with everything for the table and the food. Outfits range from white jeans and casual clothes, to some very sexy white cocktail dresses and high heels. (I opt for flats and white jeans myself, because walking across the cobblestones in high heels, pulling a caddy full of plates, cutlery, glasses, and food, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but the women in elegant white dresses look great.) Men wear everything from white suits to white jeans too; everyone wears white shoes, and respects the rules of white from head to toe.
As people chat and greet each other in the meeting location, finally it is 8:45 pm, and your ‘group leader’ tells you where the dinner is, always an amazing location, and people are thrilled as they head to the dinner location a few blocks away. And in a radius of a few blocks around it, people flock to one of the remarkable Paris monuments, and people fly in for this event from all over the world, so you hear every imaginable language around you. You arrive at the dinner location at exactly 9 pm, and in a matter of minutes the huge crowd is directed to their exact spot, in neat rows, and your assignment is to the inch of where you unfold your little table for 2 and set up. And once the tables are up, you are in long, long rows of tightly packed tables, in most cases, with men on one side and women on the other. Out come the candles, the candlesticks, the flowers, the china and chrystal, and within minutes, an elegant outdoor dinner is set up. Astoundingly, fourteen thousand people now attend this event, and it is totally orderly, remains friendly, orderly, and well behaved. People help each other set up, and offer each other some of their wine or food. Also amazingly, there are no crashers, bystanders gather and watch, but no one tries to fake an invitation or claim a place they weren’t assigned. Also interestingly, the event is technically ‘illegal’ because there are no permits requested for a group of this size dining in a public place. But the event has become a Paris tradition now, and the diners are left alone to have their fun. Music appears later in the evening, and before that, it is timed so that everyone has just settled into their seats at sunset, as the evening sun glimmers on whatever monument you are dining at (at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, the Place de la Concorde, in front of the Louvre, or Notre Dame, or whatever the location of the year. Some years the group is divided between two locations, because of its size.) And as night falls all the tables are candle lit, as the diners in white celebrate their favorite (and mine) night of the year. Sparklers are handed out late in the evening. And at 1am, like Cinderella, they pack up everything they brought, are instructed not to leave a single shred of food or paper, everyone takes away their own garbage (in white plastic garbage bags of course), and fourteen thousand elegant white clad dinner guests disappear into the night, hoping to be invited again next year. It is a magical event. Although occasionally real life intervenes, a few years ago it rained (though it rarely does on that night), which thinned out the crowd a lot. Only the die hards stayed. » read more »