Dîner en Blanc Johannesburg

It was just more than a year ago that I blogged about Le Diner en Blanc after stumbling upon the all-white secret posh picnic during a late night walk in the streets of Paris. (You can read about it here). Since then the photos on my blog were used by the girls organising the Brisbane event, and it was the same girls that sent me an email a few months ago to let me know that the event is coming to Johannesburg. I immediately registered to be on the waiting list.

And then I settled in for an anxious wait.

After the initial tickets were sold to friends of the organisers (as you do), the people on the waiting list were informed it was time to buy those tickets urgently. I did not realise how urgently. The 1200 tickets were sold out when I tried to make the payment for “my ticket”. Luckily, the organisers released another 200 tickets and with lots of luck, my husband and I managed to each buy a ticket for the event with 1000’s of people online all at the same time. Each ticket is for a couple so we invited our friends Teresa and Rudolph along.

So, what is all the fuss about? Well, Diner en Blanc is a world-wide phenomenon that started 25 years ago in Paris. François Pasquier returned to Paris after a few years abroad and decided to have a dinner party for all his friends. So many wanted to attend that he asked them to convene at Bois de Boulogne dressed in white, so as to be recognizable to one another. Each attendee was also asked to bring a friend. The evening was such a hit that guests wanted more friends to join-in the following year and thus was born the concept of Dîner en Blanc.

Part of all the excitement is that the location of the event is kept secret until the very last minute (the local authorities in Paris did not allow such large gatherings in public places). So, in South Africa we were told to meet at different points across Johannesburg. We opted for the Gautrain Station. It was very exciting to arrive outside the station and join the group of people in their white outfits (by the way, if you’re male, trust me, it’s not that easy to buy a pair of white pants in Johannesburg – the amount of slim-fit Zara pants at the event made me smile since I also did a run to Sandton on behalf of my husband :-). We boarded a bus and the secret location was revealed. The War Museum in Forest Town, with its memorial arch, right next to the Johannesburg Zoo, was the location of this first Diner en Blanc Johannesburg. 

Upon arrival, tables with white cloths and white chairs were awaiting us. All the guests brought along their own white crockery, silver, white napery and table decorations. People went all out with flowers, candles or lamps. It was possible to pre-order picnic baskets from the organisers, but we opted to bring our own food and wine. Rudolph, the wine connoisseur, made sure we started the evening with a blanc de blanc French champagne (with a white label, of course!) We started our 3 course meal with a vichyssoise (can’t help that it was white too :-). Our main course was a mezze platter with delicious picnic food (with another white labelled wine) and our last course was a cheese platter with fruit, nuts and chocolates (and dessert wine). 

Part of the traditions of the Diner en Blanc is to “occupy the site” by waving our white napkins above our heads (they do it at French weddings as well when the newlywed couple arrives at the venue). A new tradition started specifically for the Johannesburg event was the writing of a wish on a piece of paper. We attached this piece of paper to a white balloon and watched how it, together with 100’s of other balloons lifted up into the air past the statue on top of the arch, who must have been slightly bemused by all of this! Later the evening all 1400 people simultaneously lighted sparklers and waved them in the air. It was magical.


What made this particular event so successful in my mind was definitely the music. The Rocketeers played while we dined. An exciting guest appearance by the girls from the band The Muses with their violins had every one on their feet (and on the chairs, where most remained for the rest of the evening!) Tamara Day from Flash Republic also sang a couples of songs before the DJ for the evening took over. Her name is DJ Ultra-Mel and I want her at my next birthday party!! She was fantastic.

In the end, an evening like this can be seen in one of two ways. Either it’s a thoroughly frivolous way of entertaining people with nothing better to do, as John Robbie seemed to imply when he interviewed one of the organisers a few weeks before the event. Or, the second alternative, the one which was written on the faces of all the people in these photographs: it’s a celebration of life and all it has to offer. The white, seemingly frivolous from the outside, creates a temporary tribe which treads the earth lightly - occupying its own secret space for a while before disappearing again, having created nothing but a memory and leaving nothing behind. It’s a perfect metaphor for modern life dressed up in its best white frock, having a great time. And I can’t wait for the next one.

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