Le Dîner en Blanc Was Well Served

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Despite the likelihood of rain, 1,500 people attended the annual outdoor Dîner en Blanc last Thursday evening. On site, organizer André Auger shared his passion. "This year, for the 25th celebration since its creation in Paris, we are happy to announce that we are a record number of people. We are up from 1200 in 2012 and from 700 in 2011."

Auger continued, "It takes ten months to organise the event with the help of forty-five volunteers. I was told that if I wanted to organize a dinner, I had to attend one. So I did just that five years ago in Montreal, which convinced me that Quebec City needed such an event." The event's signature aspects are secrecy of the venue, the requirement to dress head-to-toe in white, and the reality that the event is actually a grand picnic.

Participants had been instructed to gather at pick-up points around the city, and the location was only revealed once en route. They brought along their own picnic baskets full of flatware, glasses, food, and beverages, along with white tablecloths and other thematic items.

At 7:30 p.m., buses full of participants began to arrive at the park in front of the Grand Théâtre de Québec. Auger greeted dinner-goers who elegantly paraded to the venue behind the theatre to the airy orchestral music of the Canadian Cadet Band. Some men were wearing handsome suits, even tailcoats complete with shoes, gloves and top hats. The women were stunning in evening wear, with some outfits resembling wedding dresses or angelic gowns.

"Many things about this evening make it magical," enthused Auger. One is the "great age differences in the participants. Last year, there was an 80-year-old couple dancing among young couples." At this point, Auger looked up at the sky and said, "So far, for all of the Dîners en Blanc in Quebec City, it has never rained; it has rained before and after, but never during the event. Hopefully, this year we will be just as lucky." Planning for the soggy worst, participants had been encouraged to bring transparent or white ponchos and umbrellas.

As the clock struck 8:00 p.m., everyone stood to swirl their napkins in the air, the customary dinner-is-ready signal. Among the picnic dinners packed well in advance, there was a wide variety of warm or cold dishes. Eclectic as the event itself, meals ranged from sushi to plates of cheese and pâté and vegetables to pasta.

Later in the evening, the Cadet Band was replaced by the special guest of honour. Valérie Amyot, of the singing competition La Voix, serenaded the crowd with jazz standards. "If I had to describe this evening in one word," she said, "it would be magical. It is surreal." She continued, "Even if you hear about the event, you don't know what to expect until you arrive and participate. I was incredibly happy to sing this evening."

In the midst of the event, one gentleman, Daniel Leclerc, proposed to his girlfriend, Isabelle Darisse. "Our engagement only made the evening all the more special," said Leclerc. In accordance with their joy, the heavens opened up and buckets of rain fell. Amyot, taken up in the magic of the moment, began to sing "Singing in the Rain," to which everyone joined in. "Luckily, we do not melt in the rain," offered volunteer Marie-Christine Provost.

When nearby church bells struck 9:00 p.m., small sparkler candles were distributed, and the Grand Théâtre was illuminated in white. The party then moved to the dance floor on the lower level of the Conservatory of Music. Some enjoyed swing, others a waltz, and others simply swayed to the music of the DJ.

Amyot was delighted by the ambiance and good-natured crowd. "It was amazing, when it began to rain everyone cheered and applauded. You would normally expect everyone to run and hide from the rain, but no, they all danced, laughed and clapped. It only added to the magic," she concluded. As the evening came to an end, a third-time participant Virginie Goudreau commented, "I adore the Dîner en Blanc. I find it to be a most pleasant and elegant evening. I cannot wait until next year."