Last night’s  Dîner en Blanc (White Dinner) in Paris was doubly spectacular because there were in fact,  two dinners.    The main location was in the  Cour Carrée du Louvre, with about 8,000 participants in  the back courtyard of the Louvre museum. The second location was at Notre Dame cathedral, planned as a decoy for the police. The  Cour Carrée was a surprising choice not only because the front courtyard of the Louvre was last year’s location but also because the courtyard closes at night, meaning everyone would have to get in before the gates shut.

But in the spirit of Paris and the Dîner en Blanc, the Louvre allowed the gates to remain open and even turned on the monument lights later in the evening in a truly beautiful gesture.

As every year, at 8pm we meet the organizers at our designated pick-up points scattered throughout Paris. We bring tables, chairs, dinner, wine and champagne, and when the time is right, file onto the buses that will take us there. In previous years, a paper is handed out with the location and where to set up the tables. Discretion is maintained–nobody ruins the surprise for those further back in the bus. But this year, the location was so unique that we were in the dark until we saw some other people in white at the rear entrances to the Louvre. Then we joined the thousands flooding into the many entrances of the Louvre, quickly setting up and pouring champagne.

A center aisle in the courtyard was kept at last night’s dinner. Tourists and Parisians who happened to be walking by came to check out the scene. Many asked me questions about the event as I was taking pictures, and it was nice to explain the “flash mob” idea.

This courtyard of the Louvre is known as the “old” section because it was built during the medieval and Rennaisance period. The main courtyard, where the I.M. Pei pyramid stands, was built under Napoleon I. This facade below was built during Napoleon to enclose the older section:

At 11pm every year, the sparklers are lit:

There are several bands providing music and entertainment throughout the night:

My side of the party was filled with younger participants, mostly in their 20s, who took the dancing seriously:

The reflecting pool:

Dinner in full swing:

We stayed until the very end. My boyfriend and I danced in the middle of the courtyard when the party had cleared out. A homeless man came through asking for our fruits. He seemed pleased with the peaches we gave him and continued on his way. Then we also headed home, on foot, through the Paris night. Also check out this 360 ° view of the event!

There has been a bit of commentary about the elitist nature of the event, which is not the main purpose of the Dîner en Blanc. The dinner began thirty-five years ago with just a few people and took a hold of the popular imagination so that in just a few years thousands were attending. There have been many conscious attempts to widen the type of attendees–younger ones from more diverse backgrounds and career choices. And in the other cities (organized by the son of the event’s founder), you can sign up to be involved–a democratic flash mob! Untapped will be covering the first New York Dîner en Blanc this August and we hope to see you there!

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All photographs by Augustin Pasquet and Michelle Young.

34 thoughts on “IN PICTURES: The 2011 Paris Dîner en Blanc at the Cour Carrée du Louvre and Notre Dame

  1. I was also there, Taking photos of the Louvre at sunset. As my wife and I sat there Looking at the sunset over the pyramid an onslaught of people, thousands, suddenly appeared. They all rushed past us to the courtyard and Within minutes they all had a table, table setting and dinner ready to eat. We weren’t wearing white so tried not to mingle but enjoyed the experience from the sidelines. We truly enjoyed watching this experience. I interviewed about a dozen participants and to my surprise some traveled from as far as Australia to partake in this event. We felt fortunate to be there by accident… truly one of life’s happy surprises. Ciao!

    1. Love that story! I got a chance to talk to some of the passerbys, maybe I saw you 🙂

      1. Thanks Michelle, Your article inspired me to cull all my film footage from that evening to create this short film about our experience. Please share and I hope you enjoy! I reside in Los Angeles but travel often, any idea where the next one is to be held as we want to attend? Ciao 🙂

        The 2011 Paris Dîner en Blanc

  2. My husband and I were vacationing in France and just happened to be there as thousands of people dressed in white ascended into the courtyard. We were awestruck! It was one of life’s little gifts that our first memory of the illustrious Louvre was the evening of the Dîner en Blanc.

    1. That’s amazing! I got a chance to speak to a number of people who randomly stumbled upon it that evening–maybe one of them was you! Glad you enjoyed it!

  3. Interesting. Is the purpose simply to eat while dressed in white? I think I’d rather dress in red.

  4. Thanks Michelle for posting these each year as I live vicariously through your postings! I was wishing there would be a dinner in white in NYC & now that there is I am going to miss it because I am having a show of my photographs in Wellfleet, MA in August & thus will be there for the month of August.

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