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Monday, July 18,2011

Boulder Blind Café’s opening night a success

Event offers an eye-opening, sightless experience

By Sara Kassabian
Photo by Susan France
Gerry Leary and his guide dog, London

Dining etiquette is rewritten at the Boulder Blind Café to include one unspoken rule: Utensils are unnecessary when eating in the dark.

Rosh Rocheleau's Boulder Blind Café aims to provide sighted people with an evening in the life of a blind person, hosting a dinner party with the lights out. While the event took the sighted world out of their comfort zone, it is important to acknowledge the event did not necessarily simulate blindness, nor did it aim to. Individuals who are blind don’t have the luxury of forgoing utensils in a crowded restaurant.

The Boulder Blind Café begins in the reception hall of the St. John’s Episcopal Church on Thursday around 7 p.m. Visitors are assigned a number and led to an area where they can mingle with the people who will be seated at their table. At table nine’s reception, conversation followed general social convention, or in other words, people remained genuine but nonetheless disengaged — sharing excitement and anxiety over what they are about to experience, but generally talking to the people they came with.

There was some chaos when it came to organizing the groups and seating them, but the extra time did nothing to hinder the continuity or impact of the experience. Gerry Leary, the charismatic keynote speaker and owner of local coffee company, the Unseen Bean, guided the first half of our group into the darkness.

Holding the shoulders of the people in front, we all dove into darkness. Despite initial feelings of disorientation and dizziness, the sightless climate became familiar and even comfortable by the end of the night.

For many patrons, Thursday evening was the first time they have experienced the world without vision. While the event itself does not simulate blindness, it deprives visitors of one sense while providing the opportunity to experience the world through touch, taste, sound and scent.

Local farmers and food merchants provided the makings of a tasty, vegetarian meal. The plates were filled with flavors including fresh polenta, kale, beets and ginger. In my dining space, forks were quickly forgone in favor of fingers. While the meal itself was tasty, the portions were unsatisfying.

Nonetheless, the experience of touching the food instead of conforming to proper etiquette was as freeing as some of the conversation at our table. Across from me was Pamela, who came across as a multitalented and experienced individual — having had careers in the floral industry, as a massage therapist and now a yoga instructor. Further down the table was Nelson, an 11-year-old who was attending the event with his mother.

Keynote speakers Gerry Leary and Rick Hammond served as guides throughout the evening. Before delivering dessert (which was a decadent dark chocolate mousse with coconut), Leary answered some of the audience’s questions about being blind and dealing with money, dating and the pesky task of keeping one’s desk organized. Leary spoke with confidence and an entirely good-natured sense of humor. (To learn more about Leary’s story, check out Boulder Weekly’s article chronicling the Boulder Blind Café’s origins.)

Hammond is a spoken word poet who shared some of his words with the audience. His poems elicit frustration and hope about love — the most desired and devastating human experience. His talent and bravery shone through as he bared his soul to a room filled with strangers focusing entirely on his performance.

Soul-baring was a common theme throughout the night. It took on a new, musical form when Rosh & One Eye Glass Broken took the stage.

In an interview with Boulder Weekly, Rocheleau said the live music portion of the event is not directly related to the blind awareness element of the café, but nonetheless represents the intention of the Boulder Blind Café: to create community while also facilitating individual mindfulness.

Cell phones were forbidden, as was light. While fortunately no cell phones sounded in my area, some light peeked from behind the curtains, creating shadows but no visual cues or dimension.

For myself, and likely many individuals in the audience, this was my first (and sadly, probably last) time experiencing live music without distraction. Rocheleau’s performance started out strong with emotional harmonies and accessible lyrics, but progressed into darker lyrics that bordered on masochistic, if metaphorically so.

He shared the stage with a guest female vocalist who complemented his music with such ease; anything else would feel unfamiliar or out of place. Some strings contributed to the ambiance of an honest and heartfelt performance. Rosh & One Eye Glass Broken was able to take the classic Beatles love song “Something” and make it its own, crafting the melody in a distinct and beautiful way, while maintaining the authenticity of the original record.

The two-plus hours in darkness moved quickly without feeling rushed. When Rocheleau and Leary flicked the lighter, it was shocking to see that our table was a rectangle, the floor space was open and that my plate was licked clean with no mess whatsoever (a feat I’ve never mastered while eating with sight). The Blind Café is a treasure that Boulder is fortunate to have in its community, and should be a bucket list event for anyone who has ever been curious about the world or is looking to experience a refreshing perspective.

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"When Rocheleau and Leary flicked the lighter, it was shocking to see...that my plate was licked clean with no mess whatsoever (a feat I’ve never mastered while eating with sight)."

How was it "shocking"?  Did the author lick it clean herself or not?  If so, then to be shocked by what she herself did is moronic, and if someone else licked her plate in the dark, that's just plain scary.

Fortunately, I don't really expect high quality writing from a free publication.