I wasted an hour in Cherry Hill Mall on Saturday trying to find something special to wear to Diner en Blanc, the annual outdoor picnic where participants show up all dressed in white.
I walked out empty-handed, not that it mattered. I had plenty to wear already in my closet. I was all set for Thursday night, when hundreds of participants will wait to be told where to go before traipsing through the city carrying white picnic hampers, wagons loaded with food and elaborate table decorations for an evening of fun, fashion, and frivolity.
I was happily talking about it when my husband spoke up and said, “I don’t think you should risk it.” The fact that this was from a guy who never raised an objection about the many social events I attended pre-COVID really stopped me. What had I missed? Since it takes place in an outdoor setting, I figured that attending Diner en Blanc would be a lot less risky than an indoor event. Also, organizers expect only about half the usual number of attendees this year, which should make social distancing easier — depending on what secret location has been selected. Per tradition, the site isn’t announced until shortly beforehand, which adds to the drama of it all.
Anyway, the more I thought about it, the more I saw his point. Diner en Blanc is intensely social. I would probably start off the night with the best intentions of staying masked, but then all of the eating and posing for photos would start. Even when you’re fully vaccinated, there’s still a possibility of becoming infected with the virus just like those beachgoers in Provincetown, Mass., who made headlines earlier this summer. Same thing with Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R., S.C.), who recently tested positive for the coronavirus after hanging out on a yacht with fellow politicians even though he’d been inoculated.
The delta variant has been the pandemic’s most contagious coronavirus mutant so far and is to blame for the current surge in new infections. Its emergence is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently advised that even the fully vaccinated should start wearing masks indoors again.
Like a lot of folks, I’ve been behaving pretty much as though the pandemic is largely over. I’ve dined at restaurants several times recently, albeit al fresco. Once, I even found myself sitting at the bar at Rittenhouse Square’s Parc restaurant even though I had told myself I wouldn’t dine indoors this summer.
I’ve been a little starved for fun.
Seeing crowds at events such as Chicago’s Lollapalooza and hearing about the star-studded 60th birthday party on Martha’s Vineyard over the weekend for former President Barack Obama hasn’t helped. Watching those come and go and not seeing headlines about them becoming super-spreader events gives the impression that things really are getting better.
Besides, this was the year we were supposed to go back to the things we are used to, such as the Broad Street Run, which was rescheduled from May to Oct. 10 because of COVID-19. Regarding that 10-mile run, I checked in with health department spokesperson Jim Garrow, who said, “It’s impossible to say what any future events would look like at this point, but we are closely watching the situation here in Philadelphia, and will be sure to work with event organizers to make sure that their events are being held in a safe manner.”
Meanwhile, Diner en Blanc has a few COVID-related changes in store. “The nice thing about reducing the size is we can look at spaces we have not been able to use,” Natanya DiBona, a Diner en Blanc cohost, told me. “The location that we have we are thrilled to be at because it … is more spread out and not back-to-back rows [of tables] as much.”
The most dramatic part of the party is when thousands wave their white napkins to signal that it’s time to begin eating. As always, it will be a beautiful sight — but because of the delta variant, I will not be there to enjoy it.