In single line, with a hand on the shoulder of the person in front, we are about to enter the hall of Unsicht Bar, the restaurant in the dark in Berlin. I knew of the existence of this type of restaurants, but I never had the opportunity to go there. Perhaps I had heard when I visited the exhibition Dialogue in the dark, in Milan a few years ago.
They’re all excited, nervous, a little tense. I do not.For me there is still nothing unusual with that. I walk with my hand on the shoulder of my friends whenever O walk through the city.The lights are dim, but I’m sure that everyone sees very well what is around them. Angela, the waiter, is at the head of the line. She has already given us some instructions: All mobile phones must be switched off. Glowing watches, cameras, lighters are all forbidden. It is obviously not allowed to smoke. .At his signal we start and wind on between the walls arranged in an irregular manner, in order to avoid that the light from the bar enters the dining room. Angela takes us to the table, we stop all one by one She is advising to touch the table and chair, to find the position.
I understand how we are sitting listening to the voices. I hear who is front of me and who is at my right hand. I do not hear the voice of Sandra.
Yes, I am here.
Next to Yana, on her right side.
WHo is in front of you?
Angela describes how cutlery is arranged and where are the napkins. While she put the glasses on the table she takes my hand to let me know exactly where it is. On the right the one for the wine, on the left the one for the water.
Pour the wine by putting his finger on the edge of the glass. When you feel wet the glass is full.
Angela repeats this instructions for each of the guests. I touch, seek the basket of bread, I listen. I can not quite understand how big the room is and how many people there are. In front of me there is a wall. I ask Andrè to touch It is wood. To my left there is another table with several people. Maybe there are people in couples, but they are too quiet and i cannot understand how and where they are placed. The chair is made of wood, with armrests. The table is made of wood. What color is the napkins? And the table cloth?I am tense. The neck forward, trying to hear. However, the acoustics is good. I thought worse. I knew that I could not read lips, but despite this I can hear almost everything.
Here come the dishes with starters. Angela asks us to wait before starting to eat. I can not resist. I touch. The freshness of a lettuce leaf. I do not know whatI am going to eat Before entering we chose the menu, but the choice was between beef, chicken, fish. The description of the food was deliberately unclear. Poems of taste rather than lists of ingredients. I try to stick a fork. I bite a piece of meat covered in a sauce that seems mustard. It ‘s bigger than I thought. I take it with both hands and pull with the teeth. I feel that others also have difficulties. Someone laughs. Embarrassed. Everyone is touching and taking the food with their hands, but no one has the courage to say it.We are all sitting at the same table but everyone hidden in his own darkness. It’ s a convivial yet intimate situation. You can do whatever you want, no one sees you. Others know what you’re doing if you say it. I lick my fingers, I take the salad with my hands. I found a mushroom. There are slices of a slimy fruit , but I can not recognize he flavor. Maybe it’s mango.We are all focused to guess the ingredients rather than taste the flavor. I drum ny fingers on the plate. There is no longer anything but a layer of cream that I collect with bread. I lick my fingers and wipe them on a napkin,
May i have the wine, please?
The bottle is on the other side of the table. It goes from hand to hand, in the end it is up to my right, I’m searching in the black void, slowly. I find hands, touch, they are around the bottle. Caress involuntarily, but I like it, I would like to touch them again.
I have it thank you.
Angela returns to the table and picks up the dishes. While we wait for the main course everyone shares their feelings and judgments about food.
It was actually very good.
I think the sight is changing the taste. If you see what you eat you can guess the flavor and perhaps create expectations in your brain, which is like to know the taste before you tasting. Only an ice cream in the shape of steak could mees up the taste and convey its true flavor. The taste of the food is a property that is passed through the mouth and nose. Eyes, perhaps, modify it, pollute it.
Here comes the next dish.
May also be made of plastic, there would be no difference.
I do not agree. The consistency, the temperature of the porcelain, the weight, are important qualities. They could be all different colors, no one would notice.
There is something hot in front of me. I feel the warm scent. It ‘s a big piece of meat. I’m touching it with the fork and the knife.There are other things. I need to know what. I touch. They are small potatoes cut in half, bit peeled. The meat is covered with a sauce. I touch it with my finger and lick it. It ‘a new taste. I can cut the meat without too much difficulty, I eat it slowly, tasting it with every bite.While we eat everyone imagines that there is an infrared camera that film us. Images would be hilarious, perhaps, for some, compromising. I seem to be one of the characters of Blindness, Jose Saramago’s book. I do not feel sad, maybe this is what awaits me. Some of the actions that others consider as an experience, something different and unusual for me are normal. I always have to try touch with my hands, I need to know where they are located.
How does Angela put the dishes in the right place? How does she moves in the room?
It ‘ sa matter of training
Probably she has built a three-dimensional map of the space. She knows where the furniture is.Voices are placing people. Maybe she touches the chairs, napkins, to know the position of objects. In our house, we could also move in the dark. Turn on the light to drink water in the middle of the night is a reflex action. In fact we could find the tap without seeing it. I move into the house with my hands in front of me to avoid to clash against half-open doors. For me there is not much new except for the fact that for two hours we are all equal. All blind.
To keep the eyes open without seeing is tiring. Maybe having the eyes open implies that we should see something but we do not get any visual information. It ‘s a contradiction in which we are not accustomed to. There is always a little light in the night. Maybe for them, they can see the stars.
Even the dessert is indecipherable. The plate is long in the middle there is a glass that seems glued to the plate.
I touch, it’s all creamy and cold. There are pieces of fruit and a cube of chocolate, another of marzipan. Perhaps the chef made sure that everything is beautiful. Beautiful for him because so it is also for those who eat. I believe that the senses are all connected in some way and if the dish is nice to see, it is even good to eat, regardless of the fact that those who eat it are able to see it or not.
With an espresso experience in the dark comes to an end.
Angela instructson how are we going to get out. All standing behind the chairs. We turn 90 degrees and put the hand on the shoulder of the one who stands in front of us. We walk to the labyrinth walls like a Chinese dragon and we’re back at the bar.
Everyone rub their eyes. We sip another drink at the bar before going out and we exchange some impressions. One says he feels guilty because he can now see, Angela back in and continues to be a waitress and both inside and outside the room, she will never see. But why one should feel guilty about it? What do you call this feeling? Compassion? Pity?Honestly I do not agree with that way of thinking. I do not want to feel guilty about the things I have. It’s not my fault the illness of others. As it is not anyone’s fault if I have Usher Syndrome.
It ‘s time to go.
I approach a friend, grab his arm and I ask him to drive me to tje exit.
One comment from the community
I’ve heard a couple times about dinners in the dark and the exhibition “dialogo nel buio” from friends who attended. They were amazed about that experience, but I’ve never been so eager to try. I think because I don’t mind to have an experience with myself in the center. Walking, eating or drinking in the dark would help me to understand blind people or I would merely have a clue of my own feelings if it occurred to me to lost my vision? Once in the bright light outside the restaurant I would probably have two kinds of reaction: the “how lucky I am!” one (me, who is safe!) or the “how lucky they are!” one (they, who understand the real meaning of life). Useful? Not a lot. Cynical? Maybe. Sarcastic? Me, for sure.
But, in my opinion, the meeting, the understanding between two people is something totally different. I don’t want experience your feelings, I’d rather share, if you like (I use you as case in point, hope you don’t mind!), our own feelings together. Yours, Dario would probably involve your loss of vision and hearing. Or not. Mines, would probably involve my struggles about not having children or my religious issues. Or not, who knows? And, more to the point, how much time and talk we would need to share such intimate feelings? I’d say at least more than one dinner in the dark, with me trying to reach my glass without splashing wine all around instead of listening to you.
“Ho sceso, dandoti il braccio, almeno un milione di scale” wrote Montale, an Italian poet, speaking with his dead wife who was VI. Maybe through that million steps walked together with all the chatting, arguing, crying and laughing that got along with that steps, they truly shared their feelings and not only her darkness.
I hope my English is understandable. I don’t know why I choose to write in English this time …
Once more time, thank you for all the food for thoughts.