Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Aspen Blind Cafe

What a unique experience.  We were led through multiple layers of heavy draping into a completely dark room in a line, each with a hand tightly fastened to the shoulder of the person ahead, a blind guide (not a guide for the blind but a guide who is blind!) at the head of the line.  Together, we all followed along as each person was led to his/her chair, until, one by one, we were all seated.  Our food was already plated and served but due to a miscommunication, I had Kim's vegetarian plate which in and of itself wasn't easy to figure out in the dark.  "Does the chicken feel like a piece of chicken?"  "I don't have anything that feels like chicken on my plate."  We figured out how to gingerly swap the two plates by lifting them up high above the table and gently reaching out in the dark until our fingers made contact with the hovering plate.  Finding food on the plate with the fork and knife was a challenging prospect and many opted for eating with their hands.  The food, prepared by the Sky Hotel's star chef, was all fantastic, a three course meal consisting of

Since I couldn't quite bring myself to plunge my fingers into the polenta but also didn't want to sweep my food off my plate in the dark, I developed a strategy of holding my left hand at the edge of my plate at about 7 or 8 o'clock and using the fork in my right hand to push the food in that direction.  Many times the fork was lifted to my mouth in anticipation, only to encounter the empty tines.  Oh well, dig in again.  Cutting the chicken in the dark was difficult to say the least and as I found myself stuffing too large pieces of meat into my mouth, I was aware of how ridiculous I must look, appreciative of the darkness which meant that no one could see me and in awe of every blind person who manages to eat in public without looking like a slob.  The scene from The Miracle Worker where Patty Duke as Helen Keller runs around the dining room, helping herself from everyone's plates and stuffing food into her mouth was on all of our minds.  Wine was identified by smell and taste and, while the majority of us had white wine, we're still not sure if some of us at the table had red wine.  

While we were eating, Rick, our server who has been blind since birth, and David, another gentleman who went blind at age 37 due to a viral infection, answered questions from the diners.  All of the questions were intriguing, although some were presented less pretentiously than others.  It struck me that being in the dark removed the ability to judge the questioner in terms of looks, age or attire.  A particularly good question regarded dreams.  Rick dreams aurally with no visions since that's how he experiences the world.  David dreams in 20/20 and often wakes up disappointed to find himself still blind.  Rick also recited a love poem that he had written at the beginning of a relationship.  I particularly liked an image he created about encouraging his girlfriend to venture outside rather than staying inside to talk on the phone with her mom who had waged a "war on her confidence."

I was for the most part very comfortable and calm sitting there in the dark.  The only time I got anxious at all was when there were a series of unidentified noises immediately behind me at the edge of the room.  Objectively, I knew that I was seated near a door and another room so also knew that the noises were likely emanating from kitchen workers or some such but I still experienced a quickening of my pulse and a rise in my anxiety level exacerbated by the uncertainty of the darkness. 

As dining wound down, the musical performance by Rosh & One Eye Glass Broken began.  Curiously, during the short musician warm up, I felt a strong urge to check my BlackBerry (cell phones were absolutely verboten due to the light they cast).  Once the music began, sitting there in the complete blackness, I was irrationally irritated by any extraneous noise, even resorting to kicking Kim under the table when she persisted in rustling chocolate wrappers.  In an effort to remain as self contained in my own personal space as possible, I found myself at various times during the performance sitting with my arms draped over my head or holding my glass of wine with both hands to my forehead, again acutely aware of how ridiculous I must look and appreciate of the fact that no one could see me. From that perspective, the darkness was liberating. The music, a mix of guitar, violin, cello and vocals, was very much intensified by the absence of any visual cues.  There were a couple of opportunities for audience sing a longs and I was impressed with how I was able to pick out Brad and Rachel harmonizing with the musicians.  The performance included a wonderful cello solo by Phil Norman entitled Paintbrush, which you can hear at or via direct link at ReverbNation.

With the entertainment coming to a close, we were split on whether we wanted to be led out in the dark or if we wanted the lights to come up so that we could see our surroundings.  The latter occurred and we discussed how the realities of the space differed for each of us from what we had pictured in our mind's eye in the dark.  Some thought the room was larger, some thought the ceiling higher and some thought the room smaller or differently shaped.  We were all pleased with how well we had done cleaning our plates or avoiding whatever food we didn't want to eat (absolutely nothing for me, it was all so good).  Rachel, not being a fan of bleu cheese, had tried to shake it off her salad on its way to her mouth but had been unable to avoid it entirely.  She noted how in combination with the other flavors in the salad, the bleu cheese wasn't as offensive as she finds it when she has tasted it alone and I was pleased that the darkness had forced her broaden her experience.

When I had originally seen the flyer for the Aspen Blind Cafe, I was immediately excited for the opportunity to engage in such a unique experience and I am happy to report that it absolutely lived up to my expectations.  For more information on Blind Cafes in other cities, visit

I dragged my family along and then prevailed upon them to write up their reactions.  Rachel's thoughts are at Giggles and Musings  and Steve's thoughts are at Americonoclastic.

1 comment:

Olson Seth said...

Wow, that sounds like an intense experience! It's important to put effort to understand other people. Sounds like you had such a great experience except for the vegan food miscommunication. I think you might find this gadget interesting. This camera attachment is helping partially sighted people to "read". It can be snapped on any eyeglasses frame and can read any text to its wearer discreetly. Whether it be an email, a newspaper or a street sign. Artificial intelligence and computer vision is the innovation behind this gadget which is for visual disability.