“Caviar fantasies and champagne dreams”: The imagined community of #DinerEnBlanc in Kingston

And behold: the imagined community of Diner en Blanc arrives in Jamaica…


EmanPark

That’s right…this was Emancipation Park in Kingston Jamaica on Saturday night…

enteringEParkmoet

On Saturday evening some of us began to notice that something white and wondrous our way was coming. It started with an irreverend tweet from Big Black Barry:

Which part di all white dance a kip? Mi buy a white gun mout bootie mi waan buss pon naiga.
a secret. Not even those attending know as yet but dem raid mi things to set up table. & iron out boasy white clothes. DWL, tweeted back @marciaforbes
marciaforbes
Soon our Twitter feeds were inundated with images such as the following along with the hashtag #DinerEnBlanc. The location had been announced; Kingston’s beloved Emancipation Park was being occupied by Jamaica’s One Percent, clad in white and brandishing bottles of wine and hyper-expensive loaves of bread (one lampoons them lovingly because by staging this event they were in effect telegraphing to the world that Jamaica isn’t so crime-ridden that it’s not business as usual–or should we say leisure as usual–when it needs to be):

DWL after the SOS call, I now have a #DinerEnBlanc story http://t.co/f0REgoFXJ8

moetmodel epicureans napkinwaving
Agape, we asked the Google what #DinerEnBlanc was and discovered:

The Dîner en Blanc was started by a man named François Pasquier, who invited a few friends to the Bois de Boulogne one day in June. To find each other in the park, they all wore white. The dinner was such a success that they decided the next year, each person would invite some other friends and the event grew organically into the 10000+ dinner it is today.

From a preservation perspective, I have always been impressed by the progressive view the Parisian government has on the usage of venerated architecture, permitting large electro parties to happen in the Grand Palais and other formal institutions. The police generally try to break up the Dîner en Blanc (hence the need for secrecy)

At the last minute, the location is given to thousands of friends and acquaintances who have been patiently waiting to learn the “Dîner en Blanc’s” secret place. Thousands of people, dressed all in white, and conducting themselves with the greatest decorum, elegance, and etiquette, all meet for a mass “chic picnic” in a public space.

From such humble beginnings Diner En Blanc has swelled to become a global event. The concept as described by a Canadian entrepreneur, Jordan Kallman, is :

Over the course of an evening, the diners enhance the function and value of their city’s public space by participating in the unexpected. Beyond the spectacle and refined elegance of the dinner itself, guests are brought together from diverse backgrounds by a love of beauty and good taste. Le Dîner en Blanc recalls the elegance and glamour of court society, and diners engage one another knowing they are taking part in a truly magical event. There are no disruptions: no car traffic, no pedestrian traffic, except for the occasional amazed and astonished looks from passersby at the scene unfolding before them. And we, as they, wonder whether it’s all not a dream…

Various goals are articulated: “Originality is encouraged as long as it stays stylish and denotes taste.” “Exaggerated dedication to white clothing is encouraged.”

What’s the actual appeal?

“It’s about co-creation. You have to bring all these items, which means you’re part of making it. And there’s so much creativity. Like people bring wild table centres. Or spend time cooking food that they share with friends and people they’ve just met. It has a joie de vivre feeling.”

 Thus “Who will walk away with the prize for the best dressed table?” was the question at #dinerenblanckgn. A suitable model to emulate was circulated on Facebook:

besttable
Look at the ingenuity from Sandi Spaulding as she prepares for her #DinerEnBlancKgn experience. Will she walk away with the Best Dressed Table @bestdressedja will celebrate those who have made an effort in bringing the most innovative and creative designs.
#wearwhite @dinerenblanckgn #dinerenblanc

As we examined the event’s Facebook page we realized that Kingston’s “first ever refined Epicurean pop up picnic” had been long in the making.

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Induction into the world of global pop up picnics employed a series of seductive images and exhortations:
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Picture yourself here! This was a scene from Dîner en Blanc – New York in August last year…a sea of white elegance! The waiting list for the first edition of Diner en Blanc Kingston is now open! Click the link in the About section of our Facebook and stay tuned! #savethedate #wearwhite #dinnerwithfriends

On March 7th Epicureans from all over will gather at a secret location for an event filled with Magic and Surprises #DinerEnBlanc #Kingston.

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This simple montage gives you an illustration of a signature Le Diner en Blanc evening… What surprises will the DEB Kingston team have in store for you come March 7th?
Phase 2/3 opens on February 6th…
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Kingston are you ready to experience the Global Phenomenon #DinerEnBlanc?
Phases 2 & 3 will be open on February 5th and persons on the waiting list will recieve their invitations.
Remember the number of places are limited and will be awarded on a first come first serve basis as we have a waiting list of 1600 and growing!

Kingstonians were more than ready as this playful photo demonstrates:

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And was Diner en Blanc ever ready for them!

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White on white! Thats the dresscode for #DinerEnBlancKingston No exceptions!

People will stare, Make it worth their while” :: don’t let them down! place your order for our #custom decor-in-a-box designs for @dinerenblanckgn . email info@pussbackfoot.com for details #beautyinabox #decorinabox #dinerenblanc #pussbackfoot #style #stylecaanspoil

The merchant community was well integrated into the dynamics of the event.

Having problems finding something to wear? Feel free to check out our clothing partners: @flirtboutiqueja @kerrymwh @ericasavvy @jasandalco @spokesapparel #Gaychel #Signatures #SoHo #Flirt #Elan #JamaicaSandal&co #StyleSavvy #Sabritru #MaxBrown #BossApparel #SpokesApparel #footcandy

sohokingston

For all you last minute shoppers don’t worry. We have partnered with Jamaica’s finest boutiques to ensure that the most elegant and chic attire will be available for #Dinerenblanckgn

sabrita scotiacard picnicbaskets

Even bougy picnic baskets were flogged at hefty prices.

Leading up to DEB day reminders were rife:

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Do you have all your tools for #DinerEnBlancKingston? Remember it’s 4 days away!

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whatnottowear

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The images above were circulated on Facebook to illustrate finer distinctions of the dress code to Jamaicans along with the following advisory: We have a host of clothing partners for you to choose from therefore there will be no exceptions to the dress code.

On the day itself and the 24 hours preceding it references to the One Percent’s Occupy Kingston moment escalated:

Its T minus 17 hours to #DinerEnBlancKingston. We’re putting the finishing touches on the secret location. Are you ready? Did you pack everything? Is your decor on point? Have you picked up that last item to complete your outfit? Are you bringing good cheer and that rock star party hard lifestyle that defines Kingston? If youve done all that and more. You’re ready to unleash the magic. #wearwhite @dinerenblanckgn #dinerenblanc

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getexcited

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The upmarket picnic had no shortage of sponsors. The imagined community of Diner en Blanc has deep pockets. Organizers of all floundering and struggling cultural ventures in Jamaica please note…money is available depending on how you incorporate your sponsors into your events and how ‘tasteful’ and simultaneously boasy you are…so get to it! See list below–

But…but…is this not a textbook case of conspicuous consumption you ask? literally eating and drinking as conspicuously as possible–or is it something else? You decide. This blog isn’t into glut-shaming. I’ve just filleted the event for you, that’s all. *Waves napkin*

#MoetandChandon
#WinningWines
#ScotiaInvestments
#BestDressedChicken
#Audi
#JamaicaObserver
#AcquaPananna
#SanPellegrino
#PureCountry
#GuardianGeneralInsurance
#MainEvent
#CafeBlue

Fly Jamaica…

plane-staff-sm

I flew Fly Jamaica on my recent trip to New York. I chose it because the return flight from JFK is at noon rather than 6 am like American Airlines or Jet Blue. AA even forces you to negotiate Miami’s vast and boring airport, it has no direct flight from Kingston to New York.

I had no idea what to expect with Fly Jamaica as its fairly new and is a collaborative venture between Jamaican and Guyanese interests. In fact i was taken aback by the number of Indian-looking passengers on board till i remembered that the flight originated in Georgetown, Guyana.

By coincidence the lady sharing my row also looked Indian. We both assumed the other was Guyanese till we started talking; she turned out to be Indo-Jamaican while I’m from the subcontinent itself, though resident in Jamaica for 25 years now.

The plane seemed much larger than the ones that usually ply between the Caribbean and North America. It was a Boeing 757. No wonder Fly Jamaica can afford to allow Economy passengers two check in items instead of the measly one almost all airlines now allow you. What’s the point of travelling if you can’t bring back all kinds of goodies with you?

And perhaps because they’re new and want to make an impression Fly Jamaica also serves a hot meal in-flight. On the way there it was delicious ackee and saltfish and on the return leg I had curry chicken. Good quality too. The film showing wildlife in Guyana looked fascinating but i’d forgotten to get one of the free earphones so couldn’t hear the soundtrack. The images were truly compelling, i couldn’t believe the wide variety of creatures you can find in Guyana. I’ll definitely visit now that there’s a direct flight.

Curry chicken lunch on Fly Jamaica
Curry chicken lunch on Fly Jamaica

Out of curiousity I looked up Fly Jamaica’s website to find out more about their background. I had heard that it was a former Air Jamaica pilot and a Guyanese pilot who started the airline. Here’s what the website says:

Fly Jamaica Airways began with a dream to create a truly regional airline, using local talent and with an emphasis on providing a truly local experience to its customers. A full-service, local airline that would bring the Diaspora, and the world, home to the Caribbean.
Fly Jamaica Airways is a partnership between Chief Executive Officer and Guyanese-born Captain Paul Ronald Reece, and Jamaican shareholders, including Chief Operating Officer, Captain Lloyd Tai and Manager of In-Flight Services, Christine Steele. The Company was incorporated in Kingston, Jamaica on September 7, 2011 and started with a Boeing 757 aircraft. We faced a rigorous start-up process, including meeting national and international requirements.
Through the stewardship of our experienced management and dedication of our amazing employees, we proved to aviation regulators that we have what it takes to be a world-class airline.
On August 24, 2012, Fly Jamaica Airways conducted its demonstration flight from Kingston, Jamaica to Georgetown, Guyana, as part of the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority’s (JCAA) approval process.  On August 31, 2012 the JCAA issued our Air Operators Certificate (AOC). Fly Jamaica Airways has also satisfied rigorous requirements for the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Department of Transportation (DOT), and Transportation and Security Administration (TSA), in order to operate as a commercial US-registered carrier. Now, we look forward to taking to the skies and sharing our passion for safe, reliable and enjoyable aviation with the world!

I generally don’t buy things just because they’re locally produced but if you give me local AND good you have my vote. The service on Fly Jamaica was warm, friendly and efficient. I would fly them again. And again.

Larger than life and twice as grand: Paul Robeson

The US Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica names its Information Resource Center (IRC) after Paul Robeson, someone who had previously been vilified and ostracized by and in his own country.

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I first heard about Paul Robeson in the mid 1980s when I acquired a copy of his autobiographical book Here I Stand. Reading this first person account from a veritable giant of a man filled me with awe; I was living in the United States then, actually on the campus of Rutgers University, the very university that he had won a scholarship to attend in 1915. Rutgers had only had two black students before Robeson.

At Rutgers Robeson became a national football superstar, and later, with his powerful baritone, an internationally renowned concert singer and actor perhaps best known for the song Old Man River. He was also an indomitable champion of equal rights for African-Americans as well as the oppressed anywhere, everywhere. Regularly invited to sing in different countries Robeson was the original citizen of the world, spending a lot of time in Europe, particularly in London and the former Soviet Union, a country he admired because it was a place “where coloured people waked secure and free as equals.”

Robeson would pay dearly for this during the McCarthy Era of the fifties when he was dragged before a congressional committee that grilled him about his ‘communist sympathies’. When the committee demanded to know why he had spent so much time in the Soviet Union Robeson retorted that it was because, “in Russia I felt for the first time like a full human being—no colour prejudice like in Mississippi, no colour prejudice like in Washington.“ Then why hadn’t he remained in Russia, why had he returned to the United States demanded a committee member.

Robeson’s answer was swift and impassioned.

Because my father was a slave, and my people died to build this country, and I am going to stay right here and have a part of it, just like you. And no fascist minded people will drive me from it. Is that clear?

Robeson’s defiance and refusal to bow earned him the revocation of his passport in 1950. Hard to believe that a mere 60 years ago such undemocratic behaviour was possible in the very United States that today champions human rights left, right and centre exporting so-called democracy worldwide at the tip of heat-seeking missiles if need be.  Not only were Robeson’s wings clipped, the powers that be also subjected him to slander campaigns and vicious disinformation so that his power to earn from concerts diminished and he became virtually invisible.

Lloyd L. Brown who wrote the preface to Here I Stand, ended by making the following observation:

…In Robeson’s case there can be no doubt that the ‘fascist-minded people’ whom he challenged did all they could to obscure the man and his message.

It can be expected, however, that the inquiring minds of the new generation will break through to the truth about him. Inevitably, like a mountain peak that becomes visible as the mist is blown away, the towering figure of Paul Robeson will emerge as the thick white fog of lies and slanders is dispelled. Then he will be recognized and honoured here in his homeland, as he is throughout the world, as Robeson, the Great Forerunner.

Remarkably that time seems to have come. As a recent press release from the US Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica detailed:

In early 2011, the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Kingston launched an essay competition among high school students to name the embassy’s Information Resource Center (IRC), in observance of Black History Month.  The aim of this competition was to have the IRC named after the historical figure selected in the winning essay.  The legendary Paul Robeson was the character highlighted in the winning essay which was entitled “The Soul of a Continent.”  The writer was Kathy Smith, then a Grade 13 student at Manchester High School in Mandeville, Manchester.  Ms. Smith is presently a first-year law student at the University of the West Indies.

On the morning of January 23, Ambassador Pamela Bridgewater, along with State Minister of Tourism and Entertainment Damion Crawford, Kathy Smith and Susan Robeson, unveiled at the entrance to the IRC, a plaque that bears the name “Paul Robeson Information Resource Center.  This was followed by a ceremony in the embassy atrium to officially name the IRC in honor of Paul Robeson.  The date for this event was set for January 23 because it coincided with the 36th anniversary of his death.  The occasion was also used as one of the many cultural activities to celebrate Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of independence.

The guest speaker was the award-winning U.S. documentary filmmaker and Chair of the Paul Robeson Foundation, Susan Robeson.  Ms. Robeson is granddaughter of the African American singer, actor, athlete and civil rights activist Paul Robeson.

Interestingly Paul Robeson actually gave a concert in Kingston on 19 November 1948. Unfortunately the sound system failed and the concert turned out to be a disaster with the stage collapsing from the crush of people who turned out to hear him and a few children getting killed in the melee. The occasion was documented by Edna Manley in her diaries:

Last night we went to hear Robson sing at the racecourse—the largest crowd we had ever seen. The sound system was hopelessly bad, and one could hear the words but the tone was hopelessly distorted—thousands of people heard nothing at all. The crowd was around seventy thousand. We were wading through the crowd to a spot where we could hear better, and the crowd around us, quite a small part of it, began to snowball behind us—so Norman stood still. It was terribly disappointing not to hear, and to feel the disappointment.

…went to the airbase to see Robeson go—he was in a terrible mood—savage over the failure of the ‘sound system’ and deeply hurt over the death of the child and injuries to the others. So typical of the Gleaner to headline the accident and give the type of presentation that almost made Robeson responsible for the tragedy.

Edna went on to note that Robeson subsequently phoned from New York asking Norman to contact the parents of the children who were killed and injured so that he could cover their hospital and funeral expenses.

Centre: Tayo Aluko with Barbara Gloudon, after performance of Call Mr. Robeson, Feb 4, 2012, Kingston

In celebration of Black History Month the US Embassy in Kingston put on two performances of “Call Mr. Robeson: A Life With Songs,” a one-man show written and performed by U.S. actor and singer Tayo Aluko.” I was privileged to attend the Saturday performance, last weekend, which was an intense and riveting enactment of one of the most extraordinary lives of the twentieth century. Aluko will be performing at Carnegie Hall on February 12th, 2012.

The Paul Robeson Information Resource Centre has the most comprehensive collection of materials on Robeson in the Caribbean, along with many other valuable documentary resources, and is freely available to the public.