Diner en Blanc for beginners

Diner en Blanc first started in Paris 30 years ago, when Francois Pasquier invited a group of friends to picnic in the park. So they could easily find each other, he advised everyone to wear white.

In 2011, his son decided the bring the event to the United States and that’s when Diner en Blanc Philadelphia’s co-hosts Natanya DiBona and Kayli Moran first learned of it. “We decided to start planning the first Philadelphia Diner en Blanc for 2012,” says Moran.

I admit, I was confused by the concept of Diner en Blanc at first. I have to spend money to buy all white attire, bring my own white table, chairs and food, and then pay a $45 entrance fee? I was pretty skeptical about the whole thing, especially considering a charity wasn’t involved directly. The money from ticket sales actually goes toward covering event costs, although Diner en Blanc does donate tickets to local charities every year to be auctioned off — something I later learned from DiBona and Moran.

But before casting judgement, I had to experience it for myself and invited my friend Becca to join me. She was up for the challenge and, with a little teamwork, we prepared for the event without stressing too much.

Buying a portable table, white chairs, white tablecloth, white cloth napkins and white totes to carry everything was easy thanks to Amazon Prime. Even though I waited until the last minute, I still got a great deal. My total came to $121.18 and split between Becca and me, wasn’t much. The rest of the items for our table, like the flowers and wine glasses, we already had.

Finally, no pop-up picnic is complete without food and wine, and while Diner en Blanc had incredible catering options for the evening, we decided to dive headfirst into the cheese selection at Whole Foods — making our very own custom charcuterie board. It included four types of cheeses (gorgonzola, drunken goat, brie and gouda), fig jam, grapes, carrots, olives and cured meats. We also had a baguette but that didn’t last very long. I lack self-control when it comes to carbs.

It is recommended that you bring two bottles of wine to Diner en Blanc and, luckily, Becca and I diverge on our vino preferences. I brought along a bottle of Mark West Pinot Noir, which was perfect for the summer weather, and she had a bottle of riesling.

The hardest part about the whole evening wasn’t putting together our picnic basket, however, it was carrying our stuff — especially the table and chairs. Becca noted it was “an unexpected workout” and we couldn’t understand why we had to meet our group at a separate location from the main site. Why not just text everyone with the Diner en Blanc location so we can all Uber there?

Given that Diner en Blanc was held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art this year, the 15-minute bus ride wasn’t totally necessary. However, once I saw clusters of attendees dressed in white and setting up their tables on the iconic art museum steps, I stopped analyzing the efficiency of getting there and let myself get swept up by the magic of it all.

Our group was seated by the water fountain and had plenty of shade to go along with the spectacular view. Once everyone had their table set up, Earthen Johnson, our table leader, waved her white napkin in the air to let us know we could begin our feast.

While Becca sat across from me, the people around us were strangers but quickly turned into new friends. Tom, to my left, worked in our neighborhood and his friend, Cara, came in from New York for the event.

Tom had been to Diner en Blanc last year and loved it. “I think it’s a great way to meet new people and socialize in a different type of setting,” he says. “Getting here was easier with the buses than last year — which required a lot of walking.”

Well that answers my question about the buses! Although I did have white flip flops in my bag, just in case.

After having our fill of wine and cheese, everyone at our table was ready to explore and dance. Earthen let us know to be back by 9:15 p.m. so we could get our sparklers.

As Becca and I took in the atmosphere, there were all sorts of sights to be seen at Diner en Blanc — marriage proposals, breakdancers, strolling violinists and people jumping into the big fountain (which we were told not to do but — it looked like fun).

Attendees really cast their inhibitions aside. While many photos were taken, I have to say, for the most part, people weren’t on their phones. They were living in the moment and it was such a breath of fresh air.

When it came time to light our sparklers to the music of Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida,” I felt like a little kid. This was actually my first time ever holding a sparkler, and under the light of the full moon, surrounded by a sea of white suits, dresses and everyone else’s sparklers, it was an experience I’ll never forget. Everyone was so present.

Sure, Diner en Blanc may seem frivolous to some but unless you’ve been there and really let yourself go, you won’t get it. We spend money on so many “frivolous” things in our day to day — from our morning coffee to our monthly gym membership to a glass of wine with friends at happy hour. Diner en Blanc breaks you out of your day to day. That’s the point.

Becca said it best: “The individuality and creativity of each and every person there was really incredible. In a way, everyone at Diner en Blanc came together to create a living art installation.”

When we were kids, we didn’t need a reason to play. We didn’t need a reason to dance. We didn’t need a reason to make art. The problem with being adults is that we think too much and stop doing things unless there’s a quantifiable reward. Diner en Blanc is a reminder to all of us that casting your inhibitions aside, trying something new and having a good time are rewards in themselves.

Would I go to Diner en Blanc again? Most definitely. What would I do differently? Well, I’d probably pack plastic wine glasses since we broke one of ours on the way. I’d also buy one of those Coleman tables that can be carried as a backpack. Aside from that though, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

The only question now is, how is Diner en Blanc Philadelphia going to top the art museum steps?

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