Even in complete darkness, 80 people in Boulder searched eagerly for their food and maybe even a little bit of enlightenment.
The Blind Cafe made its return to Boulder recently. The event is a dining experience held in a pitch-black room to simulate the blind experience. Diners are led into an unlit room by a team of blind servers, where they eat, converse and listen to performances, all without the benefit of seeing their own hands in front of their faces.
I want people to connect with themselves and with each other, said Brian Rosh Rocheleau, the founder and producer of The Blind Cafe. There is a sort of bonding that takes place when you go through these challenges of not being able to see what you are doing.
Rocheleau started up the Blind Cafe two years ago after experiencing a similar dining event while traveling in Iceland. Since his opening event in Boulder in February 2010, he has held Blind Cafes everywhere from Texas to Oregon. This go-around being held at the Integral Center will be his seventh in Boulder.
I have a crew of friends who are dedicated to being a part of it, he said. And its become sort of a movement.
Gerry Leary, who was born blind, has been with the Blind Cafe since its inception. Leary owns the Unseen Bean roasting house in Boulder.
I think they always find its easier than they thought, and they learn how to adapt, Leary said of the diners fumbling their way around in the dark. They feel good about themselves because they worked through it.
Leary also leads a question-and-answer session.
Its dark, so people arent afraid to ask some personal questions, said Harlan Bryant, who was there with Puppy Raisers to help socialize some Seeing Eye dogs at the event. People can ask any question at all.
As the question-and-answer session was taking place, people attempted to eat the food placed in front of them. While most of the diners came with friends, they were often seated with complete strangers who were also experiencing eating in the dark for the first time.
There is nothing quite like not knowing at all what you are putting in your mouth, said Stephan Van Der Mersch.
The senses are just so intense, said Alejandro de la Vega. The flavors just seem to burst.
Seated across from de la Vega, Ryan Wanger said that, without clocks or light, he was having trouble keeping track of time in the dark room.
It seems slower, he said. Not just time, but I normally eat pretty fast, and Im going pretty slow right now.
As people felt their way around their plates, the servers bustled about helping out diners where they could as well as guiding them around the room.
It literally was the blind leading the blind.
Even volunteers who have been flying around the room all day when it was lit, when the lights go out, they need help, said server Maryann Migliorelli, who also is the president of the Boulder chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. It sort of tilts the playing field. One element changes, and we are the ones with the most functional skills.
Migliorelli said she hopes eating a meal in her shoes will help give people a better understanding of the blind.
If people are willing to see it, they can learn how capable we really are, and all of us work and are successful, she said. Hopefully it gives them a different perspective.