Vive la france/ katesmile on deviantart

French Retreat

In the war between my inner homebody and my inner party girl, the homebody is gaining precious ground.

I used to love to go out — dancing, dinner, theater — bonus points for any time I could dress up! Then somewhere around my thirtieth birthday, I started to do it less. I didn’t care as much about getting out of my house. My favorite moments were starting to happen at home, or maybe I simply started to value comfort and warmth over social interaction.

Determined not to lose track of the other, more energetic me, I still make plans to do things, see people, dress up. I often find I have to talk myself into going. I never used to have to do that! But once I’m there, I am usually glad I got out.

So when a friend asked me to attend Le Dîner à San Francisco — a “flashmob picnic party” — later this week, I thought maybe I would talk myself into going. Inspired by a Parisian tradition of organized picnicking in the most unlikely places (think the Louvre courtyard and Nôtre Dame), the 3rd Le Dîner à San Francisco will take place at an outdoor location to be disclosed just before start time.

I like performance art. I like picnics. I like popups. I thought that this flash-mob picnic and I could be a match. Besides, it was an excuse to dress up and get off the couch, and I needed to do that more, not less.

I pulled up the event site, which promised:

a night of magic to our city and community; an elegant dinner party that each guest has a hand in creating.

I started imagining the trés bon picnic dinner I would bring: Humboldt Fog with figs and honey, some sourdough baguette, Calvastrano olives and rosemary marcona almonds.

I clicked through the event gallery. White table linens graced the long banquet tables, decked with crystal candelabra and a paper maché Golden Gate Bridge. The tablescapes were so pretty! I couldn’t wait to see what magic decorations would await me.

A tablescape to die for. photo credit:

Then I read a bit further down that all of the decorations were brought in by the participants. So if I wanted a beautiful, white paper Golden Gate at my table, I’d have to bring it myself.

The website clarified:

We provide tables, CHAIRS!, entertainment, comfort amenities, and a spectacular San Francisco setting.

Well, I thought sunnily, at least the chairs and tables would already be there. And comfort amenities would be . . . portapotties? I heard homebody-me starting to grumble that it sounded like a whole lot of work. But I didn’t listen.

I like creative expression, and have been known to get a little crafty. And who doesn’t love a spectacular San Francisco setting? So what if I had to bring in my own table decor?

I remembered the DIY decorations I’d pulled off for my wedding: the glimmering tealights and the dark pink rosettes had been so pretty. I could organize with my friend, and we could pull something cute together. It might not be a paper machè bridge, but that wasn’t necessary, was it?

I kept scrolling through the pictures. It took seeing a few crowd shots before I registered that the participants were all dressed in white. The women looked a bit like thrift store brides: gussied in mismatched white separates, with downy feather fascinators in their hair.

The site explained:

Guests . . . are encouraged to dress elegantly in white.

This sounds like a lot, sweatpants-me protested.

But I shushed her up — boring old hag! I focused on a vision of chic me: my white dress, and large white sunhat. My white picnic basket under one arm, a baguette under the other. That was the me that had fun!

I wanted to be the lovely party girl in my imagination. Thirty-two is too young to become Grumpy McSweatpants. She didn’t worry about San Francisco’s foggy nighttime weather. Instead, she posed elegantly in a white flapper dress with an all-white hairdo and a pale, powdered face.

I like playing dress-up. I’m a former actress, for god’s sake; I like performing. I love instagram!

But even party-girl me had to pause at the ticket price: $34 per person? To sit at a folding table and bring my own everything?

I looked through the details again. I thought I had to be misunderstanding. Surely $34 per person went toward something? The gleaming white china, perhaps?

No, the site was clear about that. All guests are responsible for their own china and cutlery. And, “out of respect for the elegant atmosphere” the use of disposables was discouraged. As was the use of automobiles.

The event does not have parking, and so the organizers encourage the use of public transportation.

For one last moment, I imagined the party-going me, pulling on her all-white outfit, packing her picnic, her cutlery, her china, her tablescape, and her tablecloth into a large white basket, pulling a white hoodie over her thrift-store gown, tottering down fog-whipped 48th Avenue toward the N-Judah. I saw her desperately balancing her load in her lap, making space for the other Muni Riders . . .

It was just too many things. Some events are worth staying home from. Even party-girl me had to admit that.

And so she did.

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