Diner en Blanc 2011: Secret “Pop up” Picnic for Thousands

Diner en Blanc 2011: Secret “Pop up” Picnic for Thousands

On the bus en route to Diner en Blanc 2011 ©Carina OkulaLast week I carried privileged information, guarded in the deepest secrecy: I was one of the thousands sworn to secrecy as an invited guest at Dîner en Blanc in Paris, an event that started 23 years ago as a simple dinner with friends.

The eve before last Thursday’s top-secret “pop-up” dinner in Paris, the annual Dîner en Blanc, I felt overwhelmed and anxious as a child on Christmas Eve. It’s hard to contain the excitement knowing that the following day, you’ll wake to a surprise that will thrill you to bits.

The only details on the invitation-only event indicated a meeting place with very specific instructions for boarding place and departure time. Dress code was white and elegant—must be white. No further information would be given until en route.

Diner en Blanc 2011 ©Carina Okula

At 9pm on Thursday evening, we finally arrived at the moment where the wrapping paper is torn off. We made our way through Paris traffic, passing busloads of fellow diners in white on buses with curtains drawn to veil their “attack.” We started to learn of our destination and some of the details: 6,500 people would be arriving, the majority by bus, all closely guarding the same secret.

Excitement swelled and laughter flowed through the seats and down the aisles, knowing we’d soon be at our point of débarquement. In six minutes flat the bus was emptied of passengers carrying tables, chairs, table decorations, food and beverage. Arriving in front of the Louvre, the footpaths along the Seine became the color of snow with those pulling their picnic fare to meet at the gates.

Diner en Blanc 2011 ©Carina OkulaAnd then we were part of a sea of blanc at the Cour Carrée du Louvre, which became an instant dining room surrounded by hundreds of years of history. Tables were set, flowers arranged, candles lit and by 9:36pm on the dot, Champagne flowed.

Music struck up in each quadrant: from tango to musique of Edith Piaf’s era to the big brass band in our corner. Toe-tapping, skirt-twirling dancing took over and the scene was nothing short of stunning, not only visually but in ambiance as well. It was an evening of striking proportions. The crowd that came together to laugh, dine and dance filled the carré with a sense of warmth, a unity against the unseasonable chill of a June evening. The friendship, laughter, cooperation, precision and perfection with which everything was carried out was a beautiful experience to behold.

Diner en Blanc 2011 ©Carina OkulaWhat began as a chic picnic amongst friends twenty-three years ago is now an annual event in Paris, Montreal, Quebec, Hamburg, and soon in New York. Since the very first gathering of friends dressed in white met in the Bois de Boulogne on the lawns of Bagatelle back in June 1988, the picnic has grown in epic proportions. The blanc dress code initiated then stands today.

The event grew every year, quickly outgrowing the Bagatelle gathering. In 1992 the first secret Dîner en Blanc was held on the Pont des Arts and people began talking about the mythical dîner en blanc.

Diner en Blanc 2011 ©Carina OkulaAll these years later, François Pasquier should be proud of the legacy he started on the pelouse of Bagatelle, for it truly has become a remarkable event with an ambiance unlike any other.

It was, without doubt, sophistication at its finest.


Footnote: This year two dinners were held, one in the Cour Carrée du Louvre, and a second with thousands more diners at Notre Dame Cathedral. You can see more of Carina’s photos on Flickr.

Carina Okula is a photographer and writer who lives in Paris. In her last BonjourParis story she wrote about Family Travel in France and next year we want to go to Dîner en blanc with her.

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