I first received an email about Dîner en Blanc a few weeks ago. “Dear Robert Peyton,” the email started, “Congratulations! If you received this email, it's because you have been invited to join Le Dîner en Blanc – New Orleans taking place on Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 7 PM in a secret location. Not only can you register for a table for two for the current year's event, but you will now become an official member of Le Dîner en Blanc!”
I was impressed by the use of my name, but I remember thinking, “No, I will not become an official member of Le Dîner en Blanc!” The email continued:
Dîner en Blanc is a chic pic-nic and our guest are a part of creating the experience, this means you will be providing your own table, chairs, linens, food and beverage.
Participation fees are $35 per person for guest taking charter bus service from points across the region and $30 per person for all guests taking the shuttle from the Convention Center departure. Admission fees go to cover overhead costs only, such as transportation, rental of the location, sound, lighting, associated permits fees, insurance, security, entertainment, etc.
I deleted the email, but more came. Eventually I read up on the event, but I remained puzzled. I'm asked to pay $30 or $35 to bring my own food, table, chairs, (white) tablecloth, (white) china, stemware and so forth to a communal dinner where I'll be seated with strangers and I have to wear all white?
The more I read, the more I found the whole thing whimsically inane. Once you register, you are committed to attending the dinner, regardless of the weather. From the FAQ:
The presence of each guest is necessary and mandatory, regardless of the weather. Guests must provide for a white raincoat, transparent poncho or umbrella, the Dinner will be held at the designated time and date whatever the weather conditions.
This is an event being held on April 20 in New Orleans. If it's storming, and you're attending the “Dîner,” then you are either far more committed to whimsy than I or you have suffered some sort of brain injury. Or, according to the apocryphal story, you are a turkey. But that doesn't make sense, because hey, turkeys can't sit at tables or use fine china.
Here's one more small detail from the FAQ that I guess tipped things for me where my opinion of this event was concerned. In response to the question, “Why are men generally seated on one side, and women on the other?” came this answer:
Le Dîner en Blanc is a highly photogenic event. Colour, style, but also the symmetry of men and women are important components of this aesthetics. This has also always been the tradition of Dîner en Blanc Paris. Moreover, regardless of the site, there is always a guest perspective which is more pleasing to the eye than the other. This first perspective is always given to women. Same sex couples are not requested to follow this guideline.
I will admit that I am paranoid, but when I read that, all I could think was that someone (probably named Guy, or Pierre, or possibly Guy-Pierre) was playing a massive joke on me. “Let's make 1,000 stupid Americans line up, all in white, at tables of 50. We'll photograph them, and later we will laugh like only the French can laugh. Huah! Huah! Huah! Gitane! Huah!"
My active imagination aside, I can't imagine enjoying an event of this nature where I'm seated in close proximity to 1,000 other people who are enjoying an event of this nature. I am not proud of this. It is a weakness. I am a misanthrope.
But I swear to you on my infant daughter's tiny little heart that when I started writing about Le Dîner en Blanc, I was planning on coming up with something positive to say about it. There are a lot of young folks who've come to New Orleans to teach our children, start up new companies or otherwise help in our recovery. Maybe, I thought, this would be a good way for some of those kids to connect. But I've met a lot of those kids, and making friends has not been a complaint I've heard. From what I understand, Le Dîner en Blanc is aimed at bringing together young professionals. Perhaps getting young professionals together is a problem in some of the other cities in which these dinners have been held; here, I don't think that's the case. When I left my office yesterday, I could hear the music from Wednesday at the Square, and while I haven't gone in a while, if you ever want to see a bunch of “young professionals” in one place at one time, I recommend you check it out.
So I'm out of ideas for the social benefit of this thing. I mean, I read that 20 percent of the take goes to charity, but it seems like there are better ways to funnel money in that direction than paying $35 for a night of whimsy wherein the majority of the whimsy is provided by the person paying $35 for the privilege.
Normally when I say, “I hope I'm wrong,” I'm not entirely serious. But here, I truly do hope that the folks behind Le Dîner en Blanc live up to their aspirations. I hope that 1,000 people converge someplace in town on April 20 and have a magical evening. I hope they have good weather, and that the participants make a lot of new friends. This is one occasion where I'd love to eat my hat. My white, poplin hat.