Sunday, May 25, 2008

An extract from Androgyny #4 - Beyond Sight

Dinner in the Dark

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be blind? Of course you have. Everyone has closed their eyes and tried walking straight or around a corner, scared of bumping into something or someone. After only a few steps you’ve opened your eyes; the feeling of not being in control wastoo much. You thought to your self:Thank God I can see! But what if you can’t. What if your eyes are constantly closed and life is one long walk, trying not to bump into something or someone. Every single and easy movement that sighted people take for granted turn into a challenge and problem. A blind person gets used to it I suppose, finds ways of coping, ways of seeing without using their eyes.

Androgyny Magazine went blind one evening to experience food with other senses than sight. Dans Le Noir is a restaurant concept with branches in, except for London, Paris and Moscow and it allows guests to dine in complete darkness. The idea is for people to enjoy the experience without seeing; you eat without knowing exactly what you put into your mouth, you don’t know who is sitting next to you (unless you recognise the voice). And to complete the experience, you are waited upon by a blind guide. Our host for the evening, Takashi, couldn’t see more than I but, thanks to his experience, safely led the Androgyny party from a lit lobby, down a darkish hallway and into complete and utter darkness. In a long line we walked, with our right hand on the shoulder of the person in front of you. The first thing I did was step on what I assumed was a piece of meat on the floor. Skidding onwards, we were seated at a table for six.

In darkness everyone shouts, presumably to compensate for people not being able to see you. There is a need for oral confirmation in a room where no one can visibly acknowledge you. Dans Le Noir’s dining room takes 60 guests, but it sounded like double that amount. This is also partly because Dans Le Noir is the kind of place where large groups of people – work colleagues, teammates, Christmas or birthday parties – come to bond around an unusual experience. Someone at the Androgyny table (without doubt the most stylish group attending that evening, but who cared. No one could see us!) wiselypointed out this was as much an exercise in team work as a culinary experience. Another one even told me about a couple going there on their first date, which takes the concept of blind dating to a whole new level.

The editor was in charge of allocating wine and faced the challenge of pouring it with zero visibility. She did a fine job and shortly afterwards I was wondering if the alcohol had a stronger effect in the darkness. I was not the only one complaining about dizziness and maybe the wine had a soothing effect on the team, because everyone confessed to being a little nervous before entering the room. The Creative Director decided that the best way to tackle his newfound blindness was to get drunk. More wine was ordered. Takashi also brought water, which for some reason came in miniature bottles.

The reason everyone hits the bottle in Dans Le Noir is because alcohol is one of the few things you can be sure to identify. Beer is easy to differentiate from wine. What caused more of a fuss for the brave attendees was the food. What is this? Is it alive or dead, meat or fish? Two stubborn diners couldn’t agree if they ate steak or chicken. A vetted fashion assistant pointed out that it’s common knowledge that most things taste like chicken anyway. After that I wasn’t even sure about my own dish, supposedly fish. It’s weird how suspicious you become when you can’t see. My starter was fish related, smelt of vinegar and contained things I still, to this day, don’t know the true origin of. I did recognise the flavour of rocket salad. Just a shame I don’t particularly like rocket salad. One member of staff was lucky enough to get a baguette-and-cheese starter, another munched away on sausages. I had more wine.

All of a sudden I could hear music. It’d probably been there all the time but in the dark and new environment, I had failed to notice it. Only later on, when I was (slightly) more comfortable did my ears register the sound. So what do you talk about while dining in the dark? Androgyny Magazine went through our normal chatting routines: Britney’s latest antics, would I see better if I took off my prescription glasses, the new Prada perfume and the pro and cons of being colour blind in darkness.

Takashi was called upon to serve dessert. Only one was ordered and it was dutifully shared among the gathered. The problem was that by the time the spoon, apparently containing chocolate pudding, reached me it was empty. The pudding was nicely parked somewhere on the table, possibly crowning the leftovers of my fish dish. What can I say about my main course? It consisted of two things; over cooked fish and roasted parsnip. Perhaps not the “truly sensational culinary experience” that the restaurant’s leaflet promise. We ate with our hands and everyone was petrified of leaving the room with food all over our faces. But it was easier that way; at least I could feel what Iate. Using a fork and knife would have been too daring; no control what so ever about what you put in your mouth.

The practically minded Creative Director of Androgyny made everyone wear napkins around their necks. When I afterwards saw what state mine was in, I appreciated his attentive manners. Androgyny was led out the same way it came in. The piece of meat that nearly killed me earlier had been removed and the exodus went well. Outside, after our eyes had adjusted to the light, the experience was analyzed. All in all it was an interesting experience. Some of us were happy, others disappointed. The food wasn’t great but the wine was good. Fair enough for me. Then we went to the pub.

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