Last Saturday, I had one goal: to sit on the sofa and read the Daily Mail while eating cake. Because that’s what Saturdays are for. But Michelle kept calling and calling, so finally I answered, reluctantly, because when she calls five times in a row it usually means she wants me to get off the couch, stop reading the Daily Mail, and leave the house. I was not wrong–turns out she had a bee in her bonnet about going to the very first Portland Diner en Blanc pop up picnic.
I was ambivalent, I’d seen the website earlier that week and it seemed like a rather complicated “maybe if you’re lucky you’ll get in” type of thing. Plus they wanted you to bring your own white chairs, and wear white shoes. I haven’t owned white shoes since I was five. It sounded like work. That’s not what Saturdays are for. They are for eating cake and reading pointless celebrity gossip.
Michelle insisted, saying how incredible it would be, how much fun we’d have, how it’s so Parisian, how it was probably all right if our shoes were tan, not white, but I was unmoved until she promised to bring good champagne, and since everyone has their price, I caved. And there went my peaceful afternoon. Protocol for the event was strict—dress entirely in white and BYO table with a white tablecloth and white chairs, white dishware and cloth napkins, a picnic and up to two bottles of wine. So I lugged a card table up from the basement, and Michelle rented white chairs. I washed my white tablecloth to get the huckleberry ice cream stains out of it, Michelle tracked down white candles. I dug two white cloth napkins out of the linen drawer, Michelle packed her picnic basket with champagne glasses and real cutlery. I ran around town buying baguettes, cheese, olives and fresh fruit and vegetables to make a few easy salads, Portland Picnic Society-style, Michelle ran around town buying a white hat. By the time we had to leave, we were both exhausted.
We convened, drove to Olympic Provisions Southeast for a couple of bottles of champagne and some salami, then made our way to our designated rendezvous point, one of five set up across the city. We parked, unloaded everything, strapped it to a small trolley, and stood with the rest of our new blanc friends on a small concrete island at the Leftbank building, surreptitiously checking out everyone’s shoes. Our worries had been in vain, plenty of people had fudged on the white footwear. In a few minutes, we were ferried via streetcar to the secret picnic location–Jamison Square. This worked out nicely, since one of the event hosts was Christopher Handford, owner of Jamison and Davis Street Tavern, we got to use Jamison’s beautiful marble bathroom instead of the park’s perma-portaloo.
We had to set up our tables in neat rows, arrange our picnics, then wave our white napkins, and as soon everyone was waving in unison, prompting a nearby diner to shout something about cheese-eating surrender monkeys, we all sat down and ate together as the Portland Cello Project played in the center of the park.
We lucked out in the neighbor department bigtime, our fellow blanc diners on either side were delightful. Come dessert, our new friend John–whose enviable feast had included homemade tomato tartlets and lamb chops–pulled out a plate of miniature bread puddings and a bottle of his signature caramel sauce. I call dibs on the table next to him next year.
At 9pm, sparklers were distributed and lit, and the DJ began to play, prompting everyone to swarm the fountains and leap around in the water like albino kangaroos, as passerby watched incredulously.
One Pearl resident was less than delighted by the merriment, and took it upon himself to stomp around ripping all the white perimeter tape from the park trees, but other than that, it was smooth sailing until 10pm, when group leaders drifted through the crowd, instructing everyone to pack up and ship out. In minutes, the group had vanished without a trace, filtering back onto streetcars or in our case, into several bars, until last call drove us into the arms of a double order of Robo Taco nachos. Which quite honestly, isn’t the smartest way to end an evening when you’re dressed head to toe in white (okay, white and tan), but, hey, c’est la vie.
Hopefully, since this year’s event was such a success, they’ll make the Portland Diner en Blanc an annual thing like it is in cities all over the world. To get on the invite list, stop eating cake and reading the Daily Mail for a second and register here. And remember, I called the table next to John and his bread puddings.