The Blind Café is essentially a simple thing—dinner, conversation, music. Funny, how simple things can sometimes yield profound joy. My mother used to find that feeling in a new pair of cushy white socks.
A truly beautiful experience, The Blind Café began with “Rosh,” a musically gifted 34-year-old who was touring country to country, playing original music when, one night in 2006 while playing in Iceland, he wandered into and was invited to join a party…in the dark. “I got really inspired by the idea and thought about how cool it would be to add music and food,” Rosh says. “I thought about how I am going to be of service to the world and I examined myself and realized that my two biggest gifts to give are music and creating a context for others to get together and relate with one another.”
Would that we all came up with such mind-boggling ideas upon introspection, right? This very simple sounding experience is anything but, and it brought a turn in the road for Rosh, who never thought he would be learning to run an event in cities from coast to coast.
So many people today are uncomfortable just going to dinner without an iPod in their pocket, a Kindle in their purse, or some kind of media accoutrement distracting us from being fully present. Would you be uncomfortable having dinner in the dark? Not dark as in soft candlelight making us look younger, but dark as in BLACK. No light. Zip. Nada.
This is the concept behind The Blind Café (hereafter, the “Café”). And maybe it begs the question: why? Rosh (Rocheleau is his last name) says that it’s not just about raising awareness about people who can’t see, but also about helping those who can see, to really see again. It’s about mindfulness, among other things.
Rosh has put together 10 Café events thus far, four in Boulder, and also in Portland, Cincinnati, and Austin. Aside from a small stipend to key planners, all proceeds from the Boulder dinners are given to the Boulder Guide Dog Puppy Raisers. I can get behind anything puppy.There were four adorable puppies dining with us and they had perfect puppy manners.
The event has three components:
To begin, a vegan dinner at a community table with a mix of friends and yet unmet friends, in the dark.
I pause here to offer felicitations to the culinary magnificence of Chef Marcus McCauley. I heard “vegan” and expected styrofoam with sauce dé mud. What he served was sublimely delicious. Polenta over pesto, fresh-picked kale salad and quinoa salad with zucchini, a fennel, cucumber, apple, and rose salad, shredded beet and parsnip salad, and peaches fresh picked from the Western Slope. Veggies were freshly harvested from a local farm. Dessert, served a little later, was a raw dark chocolate mousse that tasted like manna from heaven and was served in mismatched cups passed hand to hand down the table.
Dinner is on the table as guests are seated, and then begins the fascinating—and somewhat comic art—of finding one’s silverware in this new spatial awareness. Or lack thereof. I felt really good about finding my plate. An instant need to depend on each other is created. Parts of dinner are already on the plate, others are passed around (tables of about 9 or so) in bowls, family style. It was DARK. In fact, I don’t know if I have ever experienced dark like that, ever. Oddly, in that absolute complete and utter darkness, I kept my glasses on. So did the woman across the table from me. Or so she said, she could have been a Yak for all I knew. (And everyone knows Yaks don’t wear glasses.)
Even the servers were all blind, did I mention that?
The concept of dining in complete darkness is much easier than the actual doing of it. There is logistical groping and inevitable mistakes. I, for instance, came upon a little square of something that felt like a wafer or piece of chocolate next to my plate, and as I am wont to do when food is around, took a bite.
It was soap. I will say no more.
As dinner is winding down and before dessert, the second component of the Café begins: Q and A with guest speakers, Gerry Leary and Rick Hammond. Rick is a golden-voiced, spoken-word artist, and blind.The few pieces he performed were lovely and thought provoking. He is also the person who trains the blind wait staff to navigate their way through fairly narrow isles with cacophonous chatter and legs and elbows erupting erratically from any of a dozen tables.
Gerry, blind from birth, worked as a mechanic in his own shop for 40 years, and now owns “The Unseen Bean” coffee shop in Boulder. What a warm, loving man. Rosh speaks quite highly of Gerry. “There is something so special about Gerry. He can hold the space for people like nobody else.” There were lots of questions: Did you ever get to actually drive a car? Turns out yes, and in excess of 156 mph. (Some people have all the fun.) Gerry was asked if he cooked for himself, if he ever tried to imagine the world he could not see, and if he ever felt fear being blind.
I asked how he makes connections and friends without the visual cues we take for granted to start up conversations. “Sometimes people will bump into me,” Gerry laughed, “and we chat. Or if I hear a conversation going on about something interesting to me, I’ll butt right in. Sometimes a woman’s perfume will draw me in to conversation.” (Scent of a Woman, anyone?)
How do we make connections without those visual cues? It seems to me that when the lights are on and we meet new people, we see only fragments of them, yet we make instant assumptions. Typically these assumptions are derogatory. Thankfully there is a landscape larger than the one we see, or don’t see, and when the lights are off, we can better access that more loving landscape. We can be better people. We all start from the same place. We’re all bozos on the bus. At some point during the Café, 100 strangers began to feel like friends and I made a silent vow to remember.
It is a very small team that travels with Rosh when a Café event is taken to another city (Boulder being home). Most of the volunteers and even some musicians for the band are found in the city hosting The Blind Café. Phil Norman, or “The Master of Darkness,” as Rosh calls him, teaches these musicians their parts for the songs to be performed. Phil is a cellist in the band; he also creates scores for Rosh’s original sounds and helps to produce the event. (It does take a village, it seems; thank goodness for volunteers!) Phil takes care of sound for the event, as well, which includes the musical set up for the band.
Another invaluable person in creating the Café is the very capable Mandaline Godown, who handles the publicity with aplomb. She is that person donned with many hats who is usually behind the scenes, yet so essential, and likely too few know that she is a Café Goddess.
Rosh’s band is called One Eye-Glass Broken. Their performance was the final component of The Blind Café. Their music is unique and…just cool. I heard a cross between “It’s a Beautiful Day,” and “Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks,” two much-loved bands of the seventies. One sweet song in particular has lingered with me, click HERE to hear. One Eye-Glass Broken is almost impossible to label in a box, especially in the dark. When the music began a hushed and reverential air softened the night and people sat silently spellbound. I know I was spellbound.
The band consists of two violins, viola, cello, guitar, and the music, which Rosh makes a point of saying “is NOT background music,” is gorgeous, like a whole other feast. The vocals are perfect together and I enjoyed listening to one of the most unique female voices I had heard in a long time while they were playing…in the dark. It kind of defies understanding. I would think
that music is one piece where one would really need and depend upon visual cues. But this band played like it was second nature and each song was more beautifully poignant than the last. Not that we weren’t absolutely listening, but my friend and I took turns feeling each other’s faces in the dark, too.
Rosh is so unabashedly sweet: in the middle of the group playing he stopped…he was trying to express something he was feeling and after a couple of attempts he said, “I love you guys, I just love you.” He said that what he has realized about life is “that the quality of the rest of my life is directly related to how I nurture my relationships now.” And indeed, all the people involved with the Café, creating and attending both, seemed like family.
As we were leaving, and I was preparing to hurry home and allow this most extraordinary evening, The Blind Café, to pour (hopefully) out of my heart and through my fingers to the keyboard, I was thinking to myself “Wow, is there anything that could make this night any more magical?” We walked out from zero light to soft moonlight and I looked up. Sure enough, it was a full moon.
Find a way, if you can, to go and not see what The Blind Café is all about. And to all those who have or will dine in the dark: Viva la Black!
You can procure information about what is coming up for The Blind Café here. And if you want a caterer extraordinaire, I don’t think Chef Marcus McCauley would mind if I give you his email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, I found this very well-written article by Brian F. Johnson in Marquee Magazine, which tells about Rosh and the genesis of The Blind Cafe in more depth.