Diner en Blanc Baltimore – It Ain’t for Everybody!

Full Disclosure: I was on the volunteer team for the Inaugural Edition of Diner en Blanc Baltimore. My opinions are my own and do not reflect the opinions of the hosts of Diner en Blanc Baltimore or the parent organization Diner en Blanc International.

My first Diner en Blanc experience was in New York City in 2016. My good friend Shanika scored a coveted spot after having been on their wait list for almost forever. I long had heard about Diner en Blanc, and was intrigued. Being a part of a “pop up event” where you don’t know where you’re going and then once you arrive, you have a hand in creating the event was something I wanted to experience.

To prepare for our DEB NYC experience, Shanika and I ran drills practicing packing and unpacking, setting our table up and then breaking it down. Several times. We timed ourselves, and weighed our options (literally). Since we would be driving from Baltimore to New York, and then navigating lower Manhattan to arrive at our departure point, we had to think through what essential items would be easiest to carry.

I did my research before attending DEB NYC, so I was fully aware that it was work. It was not a typical summer white party where you show up in a cute white short set and heels and pose for pictures in front of a step-and-repeat. DEB attendees are responsible for helping to build the party from the ground up…literally.

Looking at some of the mixed reviews about Diner en Blanc Baltimore on social media, I can only laugh. Some people just don’t get it. Unfortunately, with anything shiny and new, everybody wants to have it, touch it, be a part of it, but not everybody is willing to put in the work.

To appreciate the international phenomenon that is Diner en Blanc, you have to understand the history of the event. François Pasquier started the Dîner en Blanc tradition almost thirty years ago as a means of reconnecting with old friends after having been away from Paris for a period of time. Because all his friends did not know each other, he asked them to wear white so that they could identify each other when they arrived at their meeting place. They brought their tables and chairs (you know those cute French bistro sets we see in HomeGoods and other home furnishing stores? Yeah, some people actually fold them up, take them to a park and use them for their intended purpose).  A beautiful tradition came from that first meeting in Paris, and has spread across the globe.

The dress code, and all of the other rules that some people said were “silly” or “stupid” exist to honor the French tradition. To preserve the integrity of Diner en Blanc, there were aesthetic elements that guests had to adhere to. Deviations — non-white attire, athletic gear, odd-sized tables — tarnish the brand and ruin the experience.

So last night was Baltimore’s time to shine. Despite the naysayers who didn’t attend or those who attended and complained the whole time (because they were woefully unprepared), the majority of people that I spoke with had a wonderful time.

There are some who think Diner en Blanc is not for Baltimore, and they are entitled to their opinion. I beg to differ. Baltimore, with all of its grit and rough edges, has endured a barrage of endless criticism, especially in recent years. We have been dismissed and painted with a broad brush as being a city with no morals, no culture, no potential. As a proud Baltimore native, it pisses me off when people (even some other fellow natives) disparage our city, relegating us to a perpetual state of inferiority. Baltimore is more than crime, chicken boxes and jumbo half and halfs.

Being that this was Baltimore’s Inaugural Edition, the business community and the media were slow to embrace the Diner en Blanc concept. Thus, the exposure and resources for the host team were rather limited. It’s sad that our local media (specifically the television stations) did not cover this event as they could have. But that’s the nature of the beast that is the mainstream media. “If it bleeds, it leads.”

It is extremely disappointing to have read some of the reviews and comments on social media trashing Diner en Blanc Baltimore, the host and volunteer team, and dismissing those who put in a tremendous amount of work to attend and make this event happen. My responsibilities as a group leader started earlier this year, and required much of my time over the past several months. I was responsible for coordinating logistics for the 300 wonderful and excited guests that chose to depart from Owings Mills. It was no easy feat. Many things in my personal life had to sit on the back burner, including my upcoming book release. (Thank goodness my friend and publisher, CP Patrick and her Field Order Press team have been so understanding.) My poor husband may have ingested glitter or metallic paint with his dinner at some point because I turned our kitchen and sunroom into a DEB craft workshop. There were conference calls I had to run home from work to take at lunch time. I even had to take a couple of conference calls in the wee hours of the morning. While the rest of Baltimore was sleeping, the host and volunteer team for DEB were hard at work. In addition, there were site visits, meetings, and so many other things that went into pulling just our part together.

I didn’t do any of this alone. The team of table leaders that I worked with sacrificed so much to make this event a success. I am grateful to them for all that they did to make sure the 300 people we were responsible for were well taken care of. It required a lot of sacrifice — time, sweat equity and money out of my own pocket. I had a phenomenal team to work with, including my fabulous, creative and forever organized friend Shanika and the amazing and gracious Jade Nicole of Charm City Pretty. We all pitched in where we needed to, investing time and money to make sure the Owings Mills guests had an authentic and enjoyable experience.

I can’t help but laugh at some of the people who complained about all the work that it took for them to attend Diner en Blanc. They thought they had work? Oh, they have no idea. Diner en Blanc is not your typical white party. It is a unique event, that if planned for properly, will be an enjoyable and worthwhile experience. I loved how someone described it as “planned spontenaiety.”

To help guests prepare, the volunteer team sent out periodic communications to guests, advising them of the dress code (in place to honor the French tradition), items to bring and advice to help them plan. If you didn’t read one of the dozens of emails that we sent out then, you didn’t know that you probably should wear flat shoes instead of those white Louboutins you purchased. Or you wouldn’t have known not to bring your entire kitchen and dining room with you. We created videos to help inform attendees about Diner en Blanc fashion and about packing for the event. It was painfully obvious last night who didn’t read the emails, watch the videos, and failed to take heed to any of the advice that was offered. And today, those are some of the very people who have a million and one complaints about last night.

Is Diner en Blanc pretentious? Of course it is! So then how would you define the guests who were asking if there would be Moet to go along with styrofoam containers of fried chicken? Ratchetly pretentious? Or pretentiously ratchet?

For those who complained about the location, and suggested that the hosts should have thought about this place or that, do you not think that they did that already? I mean, come on, people. Cut the ladies some slack. They explored dozens of options. Trust me, I know. Some of the “I wish it were at” options just were not feasible due to size, cost, or logistics. Some venues that some people are tossing around as “better options” couldn’t even be considered because of permit and/or insurance issues. And let’s face it, Baltimore is not particularly a walkable city, so just about anywhere they chose would involve chartered buses as transportation. However, I digress. If you can tell the hosts how to get 1,000+ people to one of the “chic” locations you just knew would work much better than the Zoo, I invite you to send them an email and lay out the logistics for them. Obviously, you as an attendee that showed up 30 minutes before boarding the charter bus know a hell of a lot more about planning this event than the hosts who have been working for almost a year on it.

Criticize all you want, but take a moment and put yourselves in the hosts’ shoes. They sacrificed their own time, money and resources to fill in the gaps where they had to so that there would be a Diner en Blanc in the first place. At least give them some respect for that.

Some people had complained about having to haul their own trash at the end of the night. Pauvres bébés. No one told you to pack your food in carryout styrofoam containers or to wrap your fried chicken in aluminum foil. Diner en Blanc is a sustainable event. Don’t know what sustainable means? Then check out this post on The Afro Minimalist for a quick, informative primer. If you do Diner en Blanc right, you don’t have trash to take home. My husband, sister, brother, sister-in-law and I shared a meal and brought all of our food in reusable containers. We didn’t even have need for a trash bag, although we brought one. It was infuriating to see people disrespect the Diner en Blanc brand and the Maryland Zoo, hurling their garbage bags in or near the trash receptacles as they left. That’s not how Diner en Blanc works. You leave the area the same way you found it. Some people just don’t get it.

For those of you who enjoyed yourselves and are looking forward to attending next year, I look forward to seeing you in 2018! For those who thought it was a waste of time and money, thanks for deciding now that you won’t be back, and for so graciously making room for someone who will appreciate having the experience next year. I wish you well and hope you have a great time at your next white party!

 

 

Baltimore Baton Takeover this Wednesday!

The Baltimore Baton
The Baltimore Baton

I’m excited to share that I will be taking over The Baltimore Baton’s Instagram on Wednesday!

The Baltimore Baton was founded by the awesome Megan Soup (Have you checked out her Soup of the Day blog? Her engagement story is the sweetest!). Locals take turns with the baton, highlighting the people and places in Charm City before passing the baton to others.

As I am on staycation for a better part of the week, I’m looking forward to visiting some places, seeing some people and celebrating a special occasion with friends.

Be sure to follow The Baltimore Baton on Instagram. And you’re a local who loves Baltimore as much as I do, consider signing up for a turn with The Baltimore Baton. Email thebaltimorebaton@gmail.com to sign up!

Cicada Files Archives: May 25, 2004

Pure Terror

Tuesday, May 25, 2004 @ 2:05 PM

Today I am in tears.  I have to go to the store to run a few last-minute errands before I leave for Nassau tomorrow, and the cicadas are out in my neighborhood in full force.  I am too afraid to go outside.  There are literally dozens of cicadas flying into and out of the tree in my front yard.  One cicada is perched outside of one of my front windows screeching; another one is clinging to my bedroom window screen.  I am so afraid that if I go outside something’s going to land on me, or in my hair.

I just took a look outside my window again, and they’re still busy flying about.  I shudder to think what I may find if I open my door.  A couple of cicadas landed on my car to pay their respects to their dead comrade who’s still stuck in my windshield wiper.

Everyone keeps talking about the cicadas reaching their peak next week.  I cannot believe that all of this activity is just a prelude to even more heavy cicada traffic.

I just heard another male screeching in the window right where I am now.  Ugh.  I think the cicadas are getting back at me for my anti-cicada journal, and have decided to set up a protest and picket line around my house.  Who’s been leaking my journal to the cicadas?

Cicada Files Archives: May 21, 2004

Up Close and Too Personal

Friday, May 21, 2004 @ 10:20 PM

I braved the elements earlier this evening to go out to dinner with one of my girlfriends and her daughter.  When they came to pick me up, my neighbor was outside cutting his lawn.  BIG mistake.  As I opened the door, he smiled and waved enthusiastically.  “Hi!  Look, we’ve got cicadas!”  I looked down on the ground to see an entourage of cicadas eagerly following the lawn mower as my neighbor mowed back and forth like he was the Pied Piper or something.  My neighbor’s wife and little daughter were outside eagerly watching the cicadas zip back and forth following the hum of the lawn mower.  As the cicadas realized that it wasn’t a male cicada trying to put the moves on them, one by one, they flew off…and headed straight towards me!  As I ran to hop in my girlfriend’s car, my neighbors were chuckling.  “Oh, they’re harmless.   You should see our backyards!  There are hundreds of them back there!”  That’s when I told my girlfriend Yvonne to pull off.  I had heard enough.

Yvonne was cruising towards Route 40 past all kinds of trees with her windows down.  That’s a blatant invitation for a cicada to fly in and take over your car.

I was dreading the return trip home, so before we left the restaurant, I grabbed my keys, armed and ready to march straight to my front door.  Yvonne looked at me and asked me what I was doing with my keys out.  Apparently, she must’ve thought that I had forgotten that she drove.  I didn’t forget, I was just trying to be on the ready.

Finally, when we arrived at my house, I was very apprehensive about walking up to the front door.  I didn’t know if the cicadas were camped out in my yard, or chillin’ on the door frame.  I stood there for a good 30 seconds, not sure of what to do.  Should I run, open the front door and hope that there’s nothing close enough to fly into the house?  Should I walk slowly and cautiously, so as not to disturb the cicadas?   Or should I ask Yvonne to drop me off at BWI so that I could catch the first flight out of town?  Yvonne, concerned, sent her daughter Kyra to open the door for me.  I asked Kyra if she saw any cicadas on my front door; she told me that she didn’t, and then she waited for me to open the door.  She’s such a sweetie pie.

Later on, my sister Shani called to tell me that she read my weblog and thought it was hilarious.  She was laughing uncontrollably, which to me, indicated that she was laughing at me, and not at my journal writings.  I asked Shani how many cicadas had she seen thus far; she said she’s seen one cicada shell.  Okay, now she’s disqualified.  I’ve seen cicadas hanging from trees, flying around, landing on my shoulder, waving at people, chilling on lamp posts, directing traffic in parking lots, doing the cha-cha slide on the sidewalk, you name it.  I’ve seen a few dozen cicadas to her one…and she has the nerve to laugh at me.

And anyway, why is Shani perpetrating now like she isn’t afraid of bugs?  This is the girl who used to scream when she found a cricket in the laundry basket.  She’s trying to laugh at me?  That’s a shame and a half.

Wait until a cicada lands on her shoulder.  I bet she won’t be laughing then.

Cicada Files Archives: May 11, 2004

Gross Encounters of the X Kind

Tuesday, May 11, 2004 @ 9 PM

I had my first encounter with a member of the Brood X Cicada family.  I live on the outskirts of the Patapsco State Park, so I’m sure that the cicadas in my area will be rolling like P.Diddy’s entourage in a few weeks.  However, it’s still pretty early in the Brood X season, so I didn’t expect to see a cicada this soon.

On Tuesday evening, I stopped at a gas station on Security Boulevard to buy gas.  (I had to take out a second mortgage on the house just to fill up my gas tank…but that’s a whole ‘nother saga).  As I was walking towards the pump, it happened.  This huge bug landed on my right shoulder!  It looked to be about the size of a 4-year-old child…I kid you not!  Okay, so it wasn’t 3-feet tall, but it was way too big to be flying around!  I don’t know if the thing was lost and needed directions to the park, or if God was exercising his sense of humor, but it picked the WRONG shoulder to land on.

For a minute there, I tried to lay aside my fear of insects, and tried to play it cool.  I thought if I could simply brush it off my shoulder, I’d be okay.  My first instinct was to scream, but I was trying to handle it rationally.  So I started flicking at the thing, and then I proceeded to stomp my foot; the bug didn’t move.  I yelled at the bug; it didn’t move.  After exhausting all possible options, I had no choice.  I had to scream.  And you know what?  The bug still didn’t move.  It took a little twisting and turning, and a lot of screaming for the bug to eventually fall to the ground.

A couple of other customers at the gas station asked me if I was okay.  I think one lady was laughing at me as she was pulling off.  But trust me, that sister will have her day.  I was so freaked out by this bug landing on me, that I quickly put the cap back on the tank, hopped in the car and sped off.

As a result of my experience, I’ve come up with a few tips to help people cope with the Brood X Cicadas:

  1. Don’t buy gas from the Shell station on Security Boulevard. This is a cicada-friendly establishment.
  2. Don’t waste your energy trying to yell at, or reason with a cicada. Cicadas don’t understand English.
  3. Don’t move near a state park. Parks tend to have a lot of trees, and cicadas like trees. Hence, where there are trees, there will be lots of cicadas and mass pandemonium.
  4. If a cicada lands on your shoulder, you can easily get it off by turning in a circle twice counter-clockwise while screaming loudly. This will effectively make the cicada dizzy and will scare it (along with anyone within 30 feet of you).

In the coming weeks, as the cicadas sneak out of the Patapsco State Park and start roaming through my neighborhood, I’m sure I’ll come up more reasonable and rational tips to pass along.

Cicada Non Grata

 

I don’t know who told the Brood X Cicadas that they could just show up unannounced four years early. But whoever it is, they will have hell to pay. It’s 2017, and those beady-eyed flying terrors of destruction were not due back here for another four years. I needed those four years to come up with an escape plan.

Anyone who knows me know that I am not a cicada fan. And anyone who knows me well knows that I had a little blog called The Cicada Files back during the last Brood X invasion.

As I will be spending a lot of time indoors over the next several weeks, I’ll be sharing posts from The Cicada Files archives here.

Damn you, Cicadas.

Writing Outside the Fence Seeks Qualified Volunteer Teachers

Writing Outside the Fence seeks qualified, committed volunteer teachers. The program offers creative writing workshops for ex-offenders and the extended community through the Reentry Center in Baltimore. We launched in May 2006 and were the cover story in the June 6, 2007 issue of City Paper. In addition, the winners of our Inmate/Ex-Offender Writing Contest were featured in the March 2009 issue of Urbanite. In June 2009 two of our writers were featured on WYPR in Tom Hall’s segment of Maryland Morning. We’ve held readings at Enoch Pratt the last several summers. A podcast of our 2012 reading is available on the library website.

The program is currently looking for volunteers to commit to a month of weekly meetings — four consecutive meetings total per teacher — for late summer into fall of 2014. The workshop meets Tuesdays, 5-7 PM at the Reentry Center at 2401 Liberty Heights Ave. on the upper level of the Mondawmin Mall in Northwest Baltimore.Past instructors have been poets and journalists, playwrights and screenwriters, fiction and creative nonfiction writers. They have included instructors from BCCC, Coppin State, Goucher, Johns Hopkins, Loyola, MICA, the University of Baltimore, and elsewhere. No two have run their workshops quite the same way; all have found it rewarding.

If you are interested in volunteering for this worthwhile effort, contact WritingOutside [at] aol [dot] com.

Join Me on Tuesdays for Writing Outside the Fence

I know it’s been a while since I’ve last posted, but life happens.

Today, I started another volunteer teaching stint at the Writing Outside the Fence workshop at the Re-Entry Center in Mondawmin Mall. I’ll be there for the next three Tuesdays from 5-7 p.m., leading workshops on writing dialogue, free writing, among other things. The workshop is free and open to the public.

To learn more about the program and its community of fabulous and amazing writers, check out this feature article that ran on Examiner.com or this podcast from the Enoch Pratt Free Library:

Writing Outside the Fence Reading at the Pratt

If you are a writer in the Baltimore area, and are interested in sharing your love of writing, we’d love to have you join our dynamic team of volunteer instructors. Hit me up in the Comments section below.

Very Literary: A Night for Lunatics

Share you love of all things lunar with the Baltimore Chapter of the Maryland Writers Association! On Wednesday, October 17, bring your poems, essay and other literary masterpieces for an open mic event as a part of Free Fall Baltimore’s Literary Arts Week. The event starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Village Learning Place located at 2521 St. Paul Street.

Read more about A Night for Lunatics, Lunarians & Luna Lovers here.

Follow @promoandarts and @MWABaltimore on Twitter.

Thank You, Urbanite

Last week I was among the countless people who were shocked and saddened to read David Zurawik’s article in the Baltimore Sun about the end of Urbanite magazine. If you’ve lived in Charm City long enough, you’ve definitely seen Urbanite magazine’s imprint around town. Whether you picked up a copy in your favorite eatery or watering hole, or if you curled up with the latest copy during an extended visit to Panera Bread or Starbucks. Urbanite is broad, ambitious and it symbolizes what is right and what is possible in Baltimore. Each month’s issue focused on a theme that celebrated and explored the potential for change in Baltimore.

I’ve been an avid reader of Urbanite since it first hit the stands almost 10 years ago. I have a stash of dog-eared Urbanite issues in my I-cannot-part-with-this-just-yet pile of magazines. Urbanite is Baltimore, and Baltimore is Urbanite. It wasn’t slick and pretentious, but rather gritty and real. Its vibrancy reflected that of its readership, and that’s what made Urbanite more accessible than other local publications. I could open an issue and see familiar names –those of fellow writers, faculty and classmates from Hopkins — in the bylines.

I took the plunge in 2008 and submitted a piece to Urbanite’s “What You’re Writing” feature (using my maiden name). You can read it below. (According to Zurawik’s article, Urbanite’s website will be shut down any day now, so I wanted to capture it for posterity.)

Sun columnist Lionel Foster wrote fitting tribute to Urbanite magazine and its staff in the paper last Friday. Reading his piece reminded me of how deep the connection was between the magazine and the city, and how much of a void that will be left in its wake.

Urbanite publisher Tracy Ward told the Sun that the possibility that Urbanite might return one day does exist. Perhaps we should not say goodbye just yet, so I think it’s more fitting to say thank you, Urbanite.

And without further adieu my piece “Saying Yes” as it appeared in the August 2008 issue of Urbanite magazine…

Continue reading “Thank You, Urbanite”