This year I attended my very first Diner en blanc. For the last decade, Montrealer’s and visitors to our city have gathered the their folding tables and chairs, found the perfect pure white outfits and built extraordinary works of art out of their place at Diner en blanc. I wasn’t sure what to expect but what I saw was extraordinary.
The Diner en blanc concept isn’t something that I’ve ever really been drawn to. The idea of schlepping a table, chairs, food and decorations to a location that isn’t revealed until 30 mins prior to its start while dressed from head to toe in white seems like a lot of work for dinner. To me, these high-concept nights out feel gimmicky and tacky.
While I may have felt that way before going to this year’s Diner en blanc, what I saw when I arrived left me speechless. Thousands of people (who sign up for this a year in advance), all dressed in white, where lined up near the intersection of de Maisonneuve and McGill college, waiting of the go ahead to set up their tables. For many of these people it wasn’t their first Diner en blanc and they have their elaborate systems expertly packed up on trollies and in bags ready to be unpacked in a flash.
From the media tent we watched the tables begin to transform into highly detailed works of temporary art. The passion people have for Diner en blanc was so impressive that it shifted my way of thinking about the event. As an outsider I would never have guessed that these people would have been so into it. The outfits, the make up and the meals were as elaborate at the tables that had been set up. Creativity is the showcase of Diner en blanc. It’s hard to think of something like this as gimmicky or tacky when it brings people so much joy.
A marriage proposal happened during the dinner which I found to be a little over the top and a little too mise-en-scene for it to have felt authentic. With a crowd of people, cameras, spotlights, microphones, a host and even a prewritten speech, the couple got engaged before a live audience. In our world of over the top reality TV, social media superstars and YouTube celebrity, every emotional event is something to be milked, staged and scored. It felt like someone behind the scenes had said “lets make this big so people can remember it”. As if the Diner en blanc, with over 5000 people gathered together couldn’t be memorable enough. A simple proposal that we may or may not have read about later would have felt more endearing and less distracting.
After the proposal I decided it was time to leave the white world behind. I walked past the tables of people enjoying their food, wine and company, laughing and chatting under their wonderfully constructed canopies. I was happy to have participated as a spectator to their hard work. My opinion of Diner en blanc has changed but not because of what it once meant to me, rather because of what it means to the people who love it.