It’s surely the fanciest and most elegant annual rendezvous of the capital city, with thousands of picnicking revelers taking over a Paris landmark for a dinner that is out of this world. Each year, the location of the very select Dîner en blanc is kept secret until the last minute, when it is finally revealed to the happy few.
Everyone is assigned a specific role. Men bring chairs and tables, while women are responsible for the picnic basket with meals and drinks. And all must obey the biggest rule of them all: dress all in white, with a touch of eccentricity.
The Dîner en blanc was launched in 1988 by French entrepreneur François Pasquier, who wanted to organize a dinner to reconnect with old friends. But his garden was too small, so instead Pasquier told his friends to meet at the huge Bois de Boulogne public park, wear white so they could recognize one another and bring tables, chairs and picnic fare. The following year, each attendee was able to bring one additional friend, and the diner grew exponentially in size. In 1991, Pasquier decided the gathering would take place at the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris. But in order to avoid problems with the local authorities, the location was kept secret until just before the event got started.
For 2015, nearly 60 events are planned, with most taking place in North America and Europe, and a total of 100,000 members participating. But the original event in Paris is still the largest, with about 15,000 people taking part.
Today, new potential attendees are recruited by past revelers months in advance. Several days before the dinner, RSVP cards and instructions are sent to each invitee in order to make sure the rules are followed. The day of the event, designated persons head a group to which they provide all necessary instructions by telephone, text or email. And in less than 10 minutes, throngs of white-clad masses take over a designated site in the capital and hold one of the world’s biggest picnics for three hours.
During these 27 years, some of the most prestigious sites of the capital have been occupied: the Champ-de-Mars, the Louvre pyramid, the Trocadéro esplanade, the Place Vendôme, Versailles, the esplanade of Notre Dame, the Invalides esplanade, the Champs Élysées, the Place de la Concorde, the Louvre Carrousel and the Place des Vosges.
Last year, 13,000 people dined on six different bridges: Alexandre III, Iéna, Concorde, Alma, the Passerelle Solférino and the Passerelle Debilly.
At 15 minutes past midnight, at the sound of hunting horns or another signal, the tables are folded, the leftovers thrown in garbage bags and the site is emptied and left in perfect condition by 12:30 am. The revelers disappear as if by magic, like the Dîner en blanc never existed and was just a figment of their imagination.
Police authorities have tolerated the event, and perhaps even viewed it favorably. The peaceful gathering has recorded no crimes, violence or damage in its nearly three-decade history.
The 27th edition is taking place tonight, 11 June 2015. Fancy Oli, who was invited, wonders where it might take place…