This morning I read a NYT’s piece, The Dining Room Takes to the Streets. It brought many questions to mind about the distinction between public and private space, how a staged event needs an audience, and how can I turn this scene in my head into a short film.
I’ll begin with the crux of the article. As the title reveals, the act of domesticating public space, especially in New York’s white haze of summer’s heat is nothing new. Couches, tables, chairs, mattresses, and other furnishings can be found on many a porch stoop, sidewalk, stairwell, and really any available pocket of space. A growing trend in the city is to throw dinner parties, as the title suggests, in the streets, on bridges, and really, any public space available.
A couple of architects hosted a simple dinner party for ten on the Brooklyn Bridge. They brought their own wooden card table and dined standing while sipping iced tea or bloody mary’s from paper cups. Fried chicken, french bread, and manchego cheese. Pedestrians passed by and watched, it was for them an outsider’s view of unveiled privacy. What interests me more is a quote by another public dining host, Mr. Dada, “It feels eccentric and odd here in New York,” he said from his open doorway, “like something more typical of Paris. Americans are very uptight, but if you go way uptown here, of course, everyone is outside. It’s when the money hits the street that it goes away.”
While parties and celebrations spanning entire city blocks are regular events across the country, dining outside on several sidewalk squares or on the side of a bridge with family and friends is not. Displaced in undefined public domains, the everyday act of eating becomes grand. The very definition of public and private is thereby questioned as the private dwellers expose their personal lives in a theatrical way to a passing audience.
What private theaters typically reside in poorer neighborhoods or in those where the exposure of one’s personal life is the way one lives. An aging social contract where monetary value demands public stature — in other words, these “dinner happenings” or “personal enclaves claiming public nooks” are only political in specific neighborhoods where the personal is laid bare and exposed inside a crowded city.
Conversely, I imagined what it would be like to take over a public space in rural Massachusetts, where I live, and the significance of grandness is lost, or is it? Again, what makes a personal ritual political is an audience, the voyeur is essential.
Here is the film that ran in my mind. A pinch of Fellini and a dash of Greenaway.
Short Film: A long wooden table is covered with white linens, large silver candlesticks, and in the center, a large rack of deer antlers. Appetizers are served on silver trays by several waiters wearing white gloves, black pants, and very crisp shirts. Twenty guests arrive successively on horseback. They too are dressed for a formal event in tuxedos with tails and long silk gowns. After a champagne toast, the guests sit down on tree stumps for dinner. A seven course meal, including palate cleaners and finger bowl interludes, is served in succession. Each bite-sized course so is artfully displayed atop one of several stacked plates that the guests merely gaze at the food instead of eating it. Throughout dinner, the audience grows larger. It includes a local black bear, a family of deer, turkeys, foxes, fisher cats, owls, birds, and the long lost catamount. Somehow, the guests remain oblivious, talking and singing loudly over the din of the woodland creatures who quickly begin to crash their party.