Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Blind leading the sighted...

Last weekend Lakshi and I visited Lucerne and Zurich. While I found Lucerne to be one of the prettiest towns I’ve visited with ancient bridges and churches and the world famous ‘Lion Monument’, the highlight of the weekend was our dinner at the Blindekuh (literally meaning Blind Cow and the word is also used for the game ‘Blind man’s bluff’ in German) Restaurant. The tagline you see as you enter the restaurant says ‘We’ll give you a meal that nobody has seen!’

The concept of Blindekuh started around 10 years ago in Zurich with the aim of giving sighted people the experience of being blind, and to create jobs for visually impaired people. You can find out more about the origins of the restaurant here. Currently the restaurant in Zurich is self-financing and you can see the popularity by the fact that we had to reserve 3 months ahead to get places in the weekend.

We had an unforgettable experience with the reversal of ‘roles’ and heightened senses. Here we were the ones who were led into the pitch black ‘space’ by our attentive blind waitress Cornelia(I call it ‘space’ as we have no idea how large it was or anything about it). She told our friend to hold on to her shoulders and we formed a ‘train’ one behind the other and followed her. She knew where to go while we were all just holding tightly to each other as we tried not to stumble and fall on our way to the table. Cornelia tried to talk and ensure that we were all fine during our long walk (I think it just felt long since we couldn’t see the destination) from the lighted reception to our table where it was dark to the point where it didn’t matter if you had your eyes open or closed. We were to call her by name when we needed anything.

Before entering into the dark room we were shown the menus and asked to choose. I had a lovely shrimp and Chinese noodles starter, sea bass with passion fruit sauce and rice and picked the surprise for the desert. It was fun as the desert had 5 different types and we had to guess what they were just by tasting and feeling it. The food was delicious and I noticed that my sense of smell was heightened. Initially had opted not to have a starter, but when I ‘smelled’ the starter the others in our group were having I just called out to Cornelia and asked for one too! It was great to observe how she could say from where the voice came from but for us we were often confused whether she was talking to us or someone else nearby. Eating with fork and knife was another challenge when we couldn’t see what we were poking! So sometimes I stuck an empty fork in the mouth without realising it! In the end I just decided to use my hands.

While dining we noticed how much of our conversation is around sight, even when we were trying to tell each other what we ‘feel’, without thinking we would say ‘I see there’s …’ or ‘It looks like…’. I noticed that my sense of feeling seemed to have heightened too when I felt a tiny thing drop on my lap to see (again I used ‘see’ when what I meant was feel) it was one of my tiny earrings. I’m sure I wouldn’t have felt it ordinarily. Even the famous saying is ‘seeing is believing’ it’s almost as if we don’t trust our other senses. We have to ‘see’ to know something, so it was especially interesting for me to immerse myself in a world without sight.

I left the dinner with a much greater respect to all those who are blind or partially sighted. It would be so difficult if I had to live in that darkness forever with no colour, no sight… but then, maybe they can feel and hear colour… their other senses are so much more acute to compensate for the lack of sight. Maybe we’re the ones who are missing something in our smell, taste, hearing and touch since the sight always overpowers them all. We will never know what we do not know…

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