Darkness doesn't need to be such a foreign concept. Most of us are accustomed to using our vision as our dominant sense, through which we comprehend all that we do. When we think of being plunged into darkness we often think of horror movies, scary stories, or even the more mundane routine power cut. Either way, darkness is generally not seen to be a particularly good thing.
In Dans le Noir, a dining in pitch-black experience in Farringdon in London, vision is rendered obsolete and your other faculties are forced to pull the weight. Touch a good contender for centre stage. With touch you can get an idea of the weight of your fork or glass - loaded or empty. You can distinguish your wine cup from your water cup. And arguably most importantly of all you can unfold and place your napkin on your lap (it's a messy business eating in darkness!).
Next in line is hearing, without hearing you wouldn't be able to listen out for the particularities in a person's speech that indicate their emotions, or even something like sarcasm. With vision eliminated, speaking is pretty much the only form of communication possible between you and your dining partners. A funny observation by my mum was that the volume level inside the restaurant was notably high compared to in other restaurants. Perhaps an attempt to compensate for sight is to over-use speech and hearing?
The value of smelling senses cannot be underestimated either. We all know that sense of smell plays a key role in determining how we taste, but when you can't see what you're eating it's really put to the test. In darkness everything is smellier. Honestly! And the mingled smells of the food make it really tricky to figure out what you're eating. As myself and my parents ate our food it dawned on us just how significant a role our sight plays in understanding the process of eating. My dad was confident that the meat, which he was eating was lamb. My mum said she was sure that it was beef. I would have laid money on the fact that the tender juicy meat on my plate was goat. All three of us were eating from the same menu. Oh, and all three of us were wrong. How is this possible? you are probably asking. And you're right to ask. The fact is that without dining in the dark, you simply cant conceive of such culinary confusion. I'll add however, that despite differing opinions on what we were eating, the common consensus was that all of the food- starters, mains and deserts were incredibly tasty.
Yes, the occasion is unusual and yes, it puts you out of your comfort zone, but after about 15 minutes we adjusted to the experience and relaxed, and really enjoyed ourselves.
It was fun navigating our way around our plates, (wrongly) guessing what the food was, pouring water in the dark, 'cheersing' to my dad's birthday in the dark (one of us actually cheersed a pillar). By the end of the meal we had a real sense of how, given practice, those other senses could really become stronger, and eating in the dark would become less daunting.
There's an important concept behind Dans Le Noir. It is an admirable one, and has a big place in today's society where we aspire to be inclusive and modern. A large part of the workforce, notably the waiters and waitresses are visually impaired. Our Italian waiter Fabio told us that he was blind since birth He said that two of his big loves are food and wine (he is studying some kind of a wine specialist course presently). We laughed and chatted with Fabio throughout our meal as he helped us when we dropped things, lost things (yes!), and needed things (more drinks/toilet trip assistance!). He is a truly excellent waiter, and being blind was no impediment at all to him in this environment. In Dans Le noir the tables turned on those of us with sight as we realised just how reliant we were on it. These splendid waiters and waitresses saved the day and humbled us, demonstrating that lack of vision isn't a weakness at all, and it can be a strength above all else, in a context like the above. While we fumbled around, and dripped food all over the place like children, we laughed, but we also marvelled, and even now weeks later are left marvelling at how amazing humans are with all their differences.
Cheers to a world which makes room to accommodate people like those fantastic staff at Dans Le Noir. It's a movement in the right direction. Here's to hoping that this company paves the way for others to follow suit and aspire to have an inclusive workforce that provides equal opportunities to everyone.
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