I had never heard of Dîner en Blanc until I was invited to attend one in good ol' Burque. My coworker Courtney had planned on going but realized she wouldn't be able to make it due to a prior commitment, she asked me if I would like to attend in her place and I told her I would think about it. I looked it up and it seemed interesting enough—a party where people are required to wear all white at a mystery location—so I agreed. I was put into contact with a lovely woman named Kristi D. Lawrence, the event's PR manager She sent long, detailed messages about what was going to happen at the dinner, which confused me at first because I haven't experienced people actually planning their events in Albuquerque.
She said that guests were expected to wear all white, bring their own meals, table, chairs, utensils and décor that had to be all white, as well. She told me I could partake as media (walk around and observe) or as a guest. I typically wear all black, so just finding an appropriate outfit was a struggle; I opted for the media option. She emailed me the time and location the morning of the event.
I wondered why people would commit to bringing so much to an event like this—I've never been expected to provide my own food, tables, chairs, utensils and decorations at any event, so naturally, I googled it.
The technically illegal event began around 1986. A man named François Pasquier began hosting pop-up parties at historic and culturally important landmarks in Paris, France, telling his friends (who told their friends, and those people told their friends) to dress in all white so they could find each other easily. Eventually the event became legal with better organization and looked pretty fucking classy compared to local hooligans (or tourists!) running around said landmarks smoking, loitering or taking pictures.
Nowadays we don't have to depend on word-of-mouth but people do need to know someone to be a part of the event. To join you need a sponsor or be put on a waiting list which will make you wait a pretty long time because Dîner en Blanc events often sell out.
Those lucky enough to make the cut are told a meeting place and time, from there they are taken to the end location—which is a public space—and take over it. They set up a table for two (did I mention you have to have a date?) with all the bells and whistles: chairs, decorations, plates, glasses, utensils and most people bring their own meals and wine. The end location for this year's dinner was the BioPark's beautiful Botanical Gardens.
It took a bit over an hour to get all 1400 guests in and set up (a record for anything being done in such a timely fashion in this state). Then people stood up and waved their napkins above their heads like lassos meaning the space had been taken over and it was time to begin the meal. Everyone looked gorgeous. Outfits ranged from two-piece suits, either with a blouse or a fitted button up. Dresses were popular—everything from short and fitted to long and flowing. Lace was very popular amongst the lady-folk, and fedora and trilby hats were popular with the men-folk. There were also a surprising number of white wigs.
I began wandering the space trying out my new camera (and super-zoomy lens) on people eating, which I noticed made folks uncomfortable so I just did the socially acceptable thing and watched people eat instead. I saw most people brought their own meals, I saw everything from steaks to salads to fried chicken. In regards to beverages, most people opted for the wine on location.
A lot of folks were excited to get to the party part of the evening and drifted toward the stage where there was live music. I was pulled to the back of the venue by some unknowing force and heard people cheering in the ceremonial garden so I decided to pop back there for a minute to see what all the hubbub was about. As I passed the wall a voice became clearer, talking about marriage. I found a surprise wedding was in progress! The crowd seemed to be primarily family and friends of the happy couple-to-be, with the groom and officiate standing on the side closer to the Jardin Redondo. The bride joined them quickly and the ceremony was brief and lovely.
Soon after, sparklers were passed out to the guests on the green and the entire crowd lit huge sparklers at the same time. The enchantment that sparklers bring at any time lasted longer than expected, but that describes the entire night, to me. It was such a positive experience; families and friends gathering together civilly, sharing a meal with hundreds of strangers without anyone being rude or mean. Sure, it was a little hectic at times, but isn't that what makes things exciting? Unpredictability prompts bonding.
Many guests (including myself) left early because of rain, a magical end to the night. As I left I asked some people how their night went and everyone said they had a great time and the hosts—Cat Hanna, David Stroud, Taylor Trodden and all the group leaders—were marvelous and created a wonderful environment. Their guidance and efforts created a wonderfully relaxing and fun night.