By Stephanie Cavanaugh
AH, DINING in the night garden.
There are British shows, like Midsomer Murders, when dinner is always in bright sun, because the sun is still full out at 9pm, or later, in midsummer. There’s no romance in that, is there?
On this side of the pond, by 8pm in late July, the dark is falling like a theater curtain, and the stage is set . . .
Dinners on the porch or terrace, or in the garden, are served by candlelight. It’s a time when red roses are dimmed to near black and white flowers come into their own. Colorful flowers are so wasted in the dark—which is a thought for anyone who spends days in an office.
There’s a garden not far from me that is little other than white. There are roses and snowballs, hydrangeas and moonflower vines, jasmine and oranges tangled with white lights. The night is filled with ghosts of scent. Midnight in the garden of good and evil.* Beautiful, haunted, sweet.
It’s a pleasure to wander by of an evening.
On the day of the event, thousands of people wait for a last-minute call, telling them where the soiree will be held. Then, everything happens in a rush. Dressed all in white, schlepping picnic baskets, tables and chairs, tablecloths and candelabra—arriving on Metro—they’ll converge at the top-secret spot. Always somewhere iconic. Last year the dinner was on Pennsylvania Avenue, with 4,500 revelers smack dab in front of the Capitol, competing to over-the-top one another in dress, menu, and table.
The DC date is yet to be announced but is promised sometime in late August (Paris will be September 15, New York was last week, Philadelphia mid-August but sold out; find other cities here). You can only get in by invitation from a member, by being sponsored by a member, or languishing on a lengthy waiting list.
But you need not languish. Co-opt the idea for home use—so much more relaxing. Have guests wear white, mass white flowers and candles on the table, dust off the china and crystal, and set out a decadent, yet simple spread: cheeses and pâté, bunches of sweet green grapes, loaves of crusty bread. A giant antipasto. Boudin blanc would not be amiss (hot dogs would be). Sorbet and a crumble of meringues for dessert. Wash it all down with bubbly. Play Edith. Etta. Ella. Keep it simple, elegant.
Life and lightning bugs flickering in the moonlight.
Sniff the flowers. Dine slowly. Laugh.
* Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, John Berendt’s true-crime ode to Savannah. For heat, mystery, and a splash of voodoo, there is no more seductive a summer read than this mossy thriller.