From the Canyon Edge -- :-Dustin

Monday, April 4, 2011

Austin Blind Cafe

Kim and I experienced something truly unique, and entirely perspective-changing a couple of weeks ago...

Accepting an invitation from our friends Christian and Julia, we attended the first presentation of the Blind Cafe in Austin.

I had heard of something similar in London, where several of my colleagues attended a "team building" dinner some time ago.  But as far as I'm aware, this was a first for Austin.

We attended with a big group, I think there were 10 of us in our party (of which Kim and I only really knew one other couple).  We spent a few minutes in anxious anticipation in the hallway, and received a few instructions from our hosts.

Eventually, we were led through two ante-chambers of darkness by our blind guide, toward our seats in a banquet room, completely and absolutely devoid of all light!  You could open your eyes as wide as you could, and strain as hard as you wanted, but you would see absolutely nothing :-)  It took quite a while to get used to it, even after the immediate nervousness subsided.

Kim managed to put her hand directly into someone's salad as we made our way to our seats -- oops :-)  She sat on the end of a table, and had the security of a wall to her right.  I sat on her left, with the rest of our new friends to my left and across the table.

Eating in blindness was a distinct, unique experience.  Most of my friends and family know how much I hate salad, but here I had a huge salad sitting right in front of me :-)  Under normal circumstances, I might have been able to pick through and eat the "good" parts.  But here, I couldn't :-)  And I couldn't really tell how much I had left to eat.  I think that was the longest salad of my entire life!

Now the salad plate was already served for us when we sat down, but we had to help ourselves to the main course -- rice and curry.  We immediately dropped the rice serving utensil on the ground, never to be found again.  And so we improvised, with each of us sort of grabbing a handful of sticky rice, cupping it against our forks.  The curry was a little easier to serve, as thankfully we didn't drop that spoon.  The food was good, if a little bland for my tastes.  Everyone was served the same thing, which sort of necessitates a lowest common denominator of accessibility, so the food was vegan and not very spicy.  Dessert, though was absolutely delicious!  Vegan cuisine is exceptionally good at chocolate and dessert :-)  Mmm.

Okay, food aside, the experience was second to none.  It was particularly disarming in that most of our conversations were with people whom we had never really met (friends of Christian's and Julia's).  This was really interesting, talking and listening, without the aides of reading or displaying body language.

After dinner and still in the dark, we were treated to an excellent concert, mostly led by the organizer/producer of the Blind Cafe, Rosh.  He has sort of a John Mayer style, with a great voice and an acoustic guitar.  The additional acoustic instrumentation -- a pair of violins, a cello, and a viola, really filled out the ensemble.  As a musician myself, it was engrossing to listen, and only listen, to the music in the room around us.  With no visual distractions, the music just seemed to pour through me.

At the end of the evening, Kim said that she really didn't want to leave.  She was having a great time, and was still in the process of absorbing the experience.  The organizers lit one, lone candle in the middle of the room before we left.  The revelation of the room around us was mesmerizing, finally being able to "see" how the room was arrange, how big the space was, how far (or near) the next table was, and where that damn rice spoon went! :-)

Listen, if you ever get a chance to attend a presentation of the Blind Cafe in your town, don't hesitate -- do it!  Proceeds benefited charity and help with blindness awareness, and you'll enjoy an experience that will perhaps change your perspective entirely.  It seems that the event has been held in Portland OR, Boulder CO, and Austin TX so far, and there are events on the calendar for Cincinnati OH and Seattle WA.