The NYTimes had an article a few weeks ago about how beauty is making scientists rethink evolution. It started with a story of the male bowerbird, a bird of paradise-like little guy whose plumage has an incandescent beauty that I’m sure David Attenborough dreams about. The bowerbird’s mating ritual involves creating an elaborate stage area complete with architectural twig structures carefully arranged to frame him as he does his mesmerizing dance in hopes of attracting a female.
He spends hours meticulously creating the perfect mise-en-scene, putting together objects by color and size. Artistically, it’s nothing to scoff at and seems to have an understanding of geometry that we humans didn’t get until the 15th century. Scientists keep coming back to the fact that there is no evolutionary reason behind it at all. He’s super extra just for the sake of being super extra. The conclusion scientists have come to is that life is more than just a constant attempt to reproduce — there’s beauty to it too, and beauty is an end in of itself, not just a means.
Enter the White Dinner. So it’s not exactly a mating ritual but it’s definitely the best example I have in my life of beauty for beauty’s sake — extra for the sake of being extra. Every year on our last night of the Feast, all attendees adorn themselves in their finest whites and we host a blowout dinner. Our chefs stay up the entire night before putting together a seven course dinner complete with pairings and there end up being more teary eyed toasts than most weddings.
In the Yucatàn, our white dinner was in the ancient courtyard of the hacienda, papel picado waving lazily in the breeze. At the abbazia in Sicily, the white dinner featured 300-year-old candelabras and hundreds of candles illuminating the 17th century hall.
The white dinner, yes, is an opportunity to have an amazing meal and celebrate newfound friendships, but perhaps more important is just to be a wee bit extra and say to the universe that this life isn’t just about paying bills. There’s unexplainable beauty in this world — why not have fun with it?
Even the stray cats we find get to be a part of it all. (We ended up taking this stray cat home and naming him Nesto. It feels like juuust the right amount of extra to also bring home animals from every retreat).