For years I have been studying the tradition of Diner en Blanc from afar. I’ve watched the documentary detailing its humble French beginnings with a group of friends wanting a chic picnic in white while popping up, legally or not, in some location around Paris. That’s the fun, the location is a mystery until a few minutes before the picnic begins. This tradition has now become a world wide tradition with over 50 cities and 20 countries participating in Diner en Blanc. One such “city” is the Okanagan Valley.
The Okanagan is more like a group of towns and cities that have banded together to create one cohesive assemblage allowing for us to participate in the official Diner en Blanc celebrations. What the rules are for a city to be allowed to participate officially I am not sure but the Okanagan has been doing it for 3 years now plus one year as unofficial participation.
So when it came time for me to decide whether or not I would make 2015, the 3rd Diner en Blanc Okanagan, my first year to participate I hesitantly registered. I say hesitantly because at first it seemed like a pain in the ass. There are rules and there are claimed consequences if you don’t follow them. The proclaimed rules: Must wear white (not ivory, not cream), you must bring your own table for two, place settings must also be brought along and cannot be plastic, bring a 3 course gourmet meal, and so on (meals and rentals available at the online store during registration as well to make things a bit easier but we went all out!).
After I registered and paid for two spots on the bus (mandatory), as well as our chair rentals, linens, glass place settings including stemware, and a bottle of local wine, all totalling $160, I was asking myself “What am I doing this for again?”
I quickly enlisted my mom to share the burden of planning with. It being her birthday two days prior to the event I thought she would make the perfect subject to go through the rigours of Diner en Blanc in all its glory. Mom being mom, she wouldn’t complain too much (at least to me) if things went wrong and my having made the 3 course meal helped ease the stress that developed from white clothes shopping. If you learn one thing from Diner en Blanc it is that the white you need can be hard to come by especially when you have 1000+ people in the same area also shopping for white. Another thing you’ll learn is that the white rule is interpretable – some wear cream, off white, snow white, etc. and some have orange shoes, coloured designs on dresses, black waist belts and so on. The rule is dress in white from your shoulders to your ankles, how far you choose to take it is up to you.
When the day finally arrived I was ready and had no expectations other than the weather – this week in the Okanagan has been hot reaching 35˚C to 40˚C. The only solace from the sun has been the terrible smoke from surrounding forest fires lingering along the lake in the chasm of the valley.
The day of Diner en Blanc was a balmy 35˚C at 6:00 pm, check-in time. After a long wait upon hot concrete we finally boarded the bus and were on our way to the mystery location. After the rules, lay of the land and general jubilations were established our bus leader, Joy, told us that we would be celebrating in Peachland. It’s a small town that is just as it sounds. Situated on the Okanagan Lake with quaint restaurants, wineries, and a general retirement feel, we planted our evening in a large field big enough for 1000+ people and just enough space to dance.
As we disembarked the non air conditioned bus, now sticky with sweat and melting make up, I was again asking myself, “Why are we doing this?” But the crowd pressed on and we all lined up our tables as best we could in organized chaos and with the traditional wave of the white napkin we could begin to eat…and drink!
Once we sat down at the foot of a mountain with cool grass beneath our feet and the sun tucked safely away, we poured ourselves a glass of local Haywire Pinot Gris. As we ate, drank and talked with our table mates, conveniently two fellow Okanagan foodie bloggers whom I admire – Dina of Olive Oil and Lemons and Val of More Than Burnt Toast – we began to ease into a state of serene delight. Music played away over speakers, the homemade food began to flatten our spikes of heat induced stress, then suddenly like Jack Skellington discovering the meaning of Christmas, I understood the point. It’s something that must be experienced with friends and loved ones. It’s that moment of “Ahhh, this is actually nice” that makes it worth while. Not very eloquently put I know but in those moments when you are participating in this simple union of like minded people you end up tapping into a zeitgeist that you might otherwise not have known you are apart of. It is here you find your tribe, your ilk if you will.