Amazing, the thrilling things that can happen in New York – just from paying attention! Two years ago as I was walking home to my Upper West Side apartment, I heard music coming from the outdoor plaza of Lincoln Center. I walked across the street to check it out, and I saw thousands of people in a sea of white – white clothing, white tables and chairs, white china plates. It was definitely – in 1970s parlance – a Happening. But what exactly was happening? Other than a jubilant throng of strangers having a wonderful time, dancing, laughing, eating, drinking champagne, waving white napkins in the air? I finally buttonholed a couple on their way out and learned that this was Le Diner en Blanc (The Dinner in White), an annual flash-mob event that started in Paris in 1988, has spread to more than 60 cities in 25 countries around the world, and was making its second appearance in New York.
I rushed home, found Le Diner’s website and immediately signed up online to receive notices of the next year’s event. And then life intervened and I forgot about it – until summeer 2014. Exactly two years later I received an email telling me I was eligible to sign up for the August 25, 2014 dinner in New York. I phoned my friend, Charles – no one can come to the event alone; you have to bring someone, anyone, any gender; we signed up and paid a $5 membership fee and a $30 per person attendance fee. We were lucky – the party was capped at 4,800 diners, and 25,000 people had to languish on the waiting list.
Getting ready for the event was a big part of the fun. Our instructions stipulated that everything had to be white – and elegant. Charles and I put together our outfits and accessories, buying a few items we didn’t have (thanks to the Salvation Army, the Dollar store, and IKEA), and ordered wine through the website (you’re not allowed to bring in alcoholic beverages). We could have ordered champagne: Moet & Chandon is a sponsor of the event, which is organized by Diner en Blanc International.
On the afternoon of the big event, we loaded up a hand truck with our folding table and two chairs, white china place settings, white table linens, real cutlery (no plastic or paper allowed), table decorations, and a picnic supper (although we could have ordered that too from celebrity chef Todd English), and took everything by subway down to our group’s meeting place at South Ferry. Other groups were meeting at various points throughout the city. Brandi Miller, our table leader, checked us in, took us back onto the #1 train, and we finally learned our destination: the waterfront Nelson A. Rockefeller Park in Battery City. It was a 15-minute walk from the subway, so we were glad we heeded the recommendation to wear comfortable shoes (which we were encouraged to trade for more stylish ones onsite).
The evening was magical, as we got to know our dining companions, set up our table according to a preset grid plan, waved our white napkins to signal the beginning of the event, marveled at a brilliant sunset over the water, listened to a young violinist wending her way through the crowds, and then danced to a live band.
We formed instant friendships with the people at the tables on either side of us. First, Peter, a dentist who had been with his table-mate, Richard, an event planner, for 18 years, said to me, “Oh, they put the seniors together.” (Although at somewhere around 50, I think, Peter could be my son.) It was a young assemblage, with most attendees looking to be 30-something, a few younger (all over 21 since alcohol was being served), and the rest in upper age strata. Sonia and DJ Chef (aka Marc Weiss) on our other side were celebrating their first anniversary, and Sonia kept taking pictures, inexplicably hiding her beautiful face with a “Phantom of the Opera” mask. After sharing our food and wine, we all toasted Gerry and Priscilla, one table down. After 13 years together, Gerry added to the evening’s sparkle by presenting an engagement ring to Priscilla. She said yes.
We all kissed and hugged when it was time to go home, saying “See you next year!” Throughout this exhilarating evening I never heard a voice raised except in glee, never heard a complaint, never saw a cranky face. With almost 5,000 New Yorkers! So miracles do happen.
This year’s Dinner in White will be held Tuesday evening, July 28. You may be too late to sign up for this year, but you can get on the list for 2016. Just go to: http://newyork.dinerenblanc.info.
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