Eyes Wide Shut

Dark Table has been on my to-do list for way too long – bucket list, really- and I finally crossed it off.

What an experience.

It was everything I anticipated – but way more intense that I could have been prepared for.

Firstly, it was more than “dinner in the dark,” much more.  It was a true sensory immersion which ended up opening my eyes, mind and heart.

And on top of that – the meal was fantastic!

As you arrive, you are greeted outside the restaurant, where you choose your entrée and identify any dietary restrictions, etc.  In a 3-course meal, the appetizer and dessert are surprises, which certainly makes for an interesting test of your palette, (and cutlery skills.)

As you await your turn to be led inside, you begin to load your expectations –

How will we navigate the meal/ how will it taste without seeing it/ will I bump into the other diners/ what if I spill my wine/ or if I have to use the washroom?

Your turn to enter.  You’re introduced to your visually-impaired server, who will lead you to your table.  Suddenly, there is a realness to this experience far beyond the novelty of the concept.  This is the reality of a REAL PERSON, who is about to guide you through a tiny sliver of their EVERY day.  It’s also a meaningful opportunity to literally see the world without eyes, if only for a few hours.

Enter.

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The darkness hits you.

The black-out effect is intense.  There is no adjusting at all – a darkness so enveloping that it feels like its own entity – it took my breath away.  Literally.

I had to focus on my breathing, it felt heavy and strained.
I could feel my eyes widen, blink, strain, but all I could manage was a feeling of complete and utter nothingness.

Then, we had to walk.  In a world (and especially, city) where physical contact can sometimes be at a minimum, it was immediately essential to hold on – clasping hands, and clinging to the tiny body of our guide, moving our bodies close and tight for the journey… otherwise we would have been lost and alone.

Navigation was as hard as I had imagined, but it was the strange sense of being surrounded that was most insane.  The place was packed.  You could hear- and feel it.

We shuffled along, inches from a room full of other diners, secure only in knowing that they were also in the dark… occasionally bumping into the edge of a chair and feeling tight and fearful as we approached our destination.

We were seated in a corner- which was a huge relief.  In any other restaurant, it would have been the worst seat in the house! Jammed in a corner, facing the wall.  But we were grateful.  We each had a wall to stabilize us and only felt open to the abyss on one side.  The world had suddenly become much scarier.  I was grateful for a glass of wine to calm my nerves, but quickly realized I didn’t want more.  My equilibrium certainly didn’t need any further challenges.  The next two hours were mindblowing for me. We alternated between attempting to settle in, and making spontaneous exclamations about what we were each experiencing.

(Literally, too much to articulate.)

We were forced to listen and speak with intention and attention, no hand or facial gestures to allow you to interrupt or even react. There were no Instagram breaks to photograph the food, but only our imagination to remember, touch, smell, taste each component of our fig and goat cheese stuffed chicken, roasted vegetables, and gelato… (ever eaten gelato with your fingers?)  Cutlery was fairly useless and as we learned to become more gentle with our touch, I was overwhelmed with the effort it would take to appear ‘normal’ in a world where this was all real – but only for you.  All eyes on you.

Our consolation was that in just a few minutes, we could escape all of this and return to our own freedom of sight.

But our server, would not.
In fact, being that we were her last table of the night, she was getting ready to leave also.  So after we had settled the bill, she walked us out into the cold, dark night.  We continued to chat for a block or two, and she told us that she had only recently arrived in Canada, a refugee, from Iran… ALONE… and not speaking any English… and was so grateful to this restaurant, who gave her the opportunity that so many others don’t have – to work, to live, to become independent.  (Whaaaaat?)

As our eyes slowly adjusted to the world again, feeling all kinds of feelings… we watched her.  In amazement.  Her incredible story lingering in front of our wide-open eyes.

With her white cane, in hand, she crossed the busy street effortlessly and disappeared into the neighborhood, as our minds struggled to catch up.

I could write a book about the waves of thought, sensation and emotion that went through me, but I would instead encourage you to live it for yourself.

Not only is Dark Table an enlightening dining experience, but it is also a profound life lesson.  I guarantee that if you try and remain grounded and mindful, you will learn more about yourself and your perceptions than you ever have during a 3-course meal.

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