The meetings started in bitterly cold January.
The objective: coordinate in six month’s time a pop-up art installation involving hundreds of people and just as many portable tables, white table cloths, fascinators and candelabra.
For three years now, Salem has participated in a growing global movement of pop-up picnics in white. Diner en Blanc started some 20 years ago in France as a simple gathering of mutual friends who didn’t necessarily all know each other. They wore white to identify each other in the Bois de Boulogne. Today, tens of thousands of Parisians gather in some of the city’s most prominent locations each summer.
Salem’s engagement with the spectacle began with a New York Times article and a simple question: “Why not?”
One question of course begets another: How to navigate the logistics? How to communicate the expectations? How to achieve effortless elegance with a great deal of needed planning?
That first year we really had no idea what to expect. Would people show up to our Salem Willows locale? Would they follow instructions? What would we actually do once we got there? And would any of it even be fun or beautiful or worthwhile?
How lucky I think we all felt that first year to have taken a risk, done the work, and created something unspeakably beautiful with not quite fifty of our closest and newest friends.
Now in our third year, we’ve learned and grown. On the Sunday closest to Bastille Day, 200 of us gathered on the Axelrod Walkway at PEM in our summer whites, carrying everything required for an elegant evening picnic.
For our spontaneous outpouring of beauty, we seek surprising and unexpected locations. PEM’s Axelrod Walkway curves alongside the museum with its manicured lawn, swaying bamboo and special allure. It’s not usually a place to linger and is normally used as a route to pass through from here to there.
But linger we did.
- over hors d’oeurves of deviled eggs and popcorn;
- over dinner inspired by white: chickpea salad, lobster orecchiette, white lasagna;
- over the turning of the day to the night.
And over a Polynesian blessing published by the Peabody Museum in 1957:
“May I be eloquent of my wisdom
May I be prodigal of my outpouring knowledge –
so that all things to be shall hearken!”
Songs and tales of the sea kings; interpretations of the oral literature of Polynesia. By JF Stimson. Published by the Peabody of Museum of Salem, 1957.
Originally from Kansas City, Mo, Jonathan Simcosky came to Salem by way of Brooklyn with detours through Siberia and El Camino de Santiago. Today he edits food and craft books in his professional life and cultivates social practice in his leisure.