Have you ever gone to a new place or tried a new experience and thought to yourself, “I’m never doing that again!” Tell us about it.
“So, what was it like, Aunt Sal?” Manda begged to know what it was like to dine in the dark.
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“Just that. I never did eat in the dark.”
“But you went, didn’t you?” She sits up abruptly, knocking popcorn from her large bowl onto the floor beside her. Now she’s getting frosty.
I sigh and lean back in my nice, comfy, floral arm chair. The fire’s roaring in the hearth, barely beating the chill of this brutally cold February day. Manda’s sprawled again on the sofa opposite, munching on her popcorn and waiting for me to begin. So, I guess I better get on with it.
“Well, let me begin from the beginning.”
“Sounds good,” she munches and slides her bare feet under the sleeping collie curled up at the other end of the couch.
“We had planned a trip to Paris several months in advance and I’d heard about this interesting dining experience where you eat in the dark.”
“Yeah …” She already knew this. Twelve-year-olds know everything.
“I checked with your uncle Bill and he agreed that it would be a novel way to spend an evening, so I made a reservation … for three as his daughter was going to join us.”
“You mean Mary?”
“Okay … then what?”
“You know, if you’d stop interrupting I could get on with my story.”
“Sorry,” Manda crunches contrition.
“Well, the much anticipated evening arrived. It was pouring rain as only it can in Paris, so we were pretty soaked when we arrived at the restaurant.” I take a sip of Malbec, a favoured wine I picked up on during a drip to Argentina, and then continue. “When we entered it looked like any other fine dining restaurant you might frequent. It was warm; inviting; had a bar, and ambient music … you know, that sort of thing. However, when we were greeted by the Maitre D, well, that’s when things began to look a little different.”
Manda finishes a mouthful of popcorn and sips from her glass of homemade lemonade. She’s all ears, and I’m grateful for a break from the crackling of corn. Then she grabs another handful.
“Do you think you could stop eating that stuff long enough for me to tell the story … please? It’s most distracting.”
Manda puts the bowl to the side and hunkers into the couch. She’s a smart, obliging kid, this one, not prone to arguing even if she can be a bit petulant at times. “So, what changed?” she asks.
“The Maitre D showed us to a wall of small lockers and assigned us one. Then he asked us to leave our bags, and anything we had that might emit any kind of light, inside it … you know, watches, cellphones, that sort of thing. Of course, it made complete sense that we would do that. It’s not in the dark if there are watches and cellphones lighting up all over the room.”
Manda giggles, as do I.
“So we did that, and then they gave us each a flute of champagne, reviewed the format of the dining experience and showed us the menu offerings. We weren’t going to be able to see our food, but we did have a say in the kind of food we would eat. For instance, as you know I’m not a fish eater, so they needed to know that. The point of dining in the dark is to get an amplified sense of taste for the food. If I don’t like fish by the light of day, then eating it in the dark would be … well, it doesn’t even bear thinking about.” I sip my wine.
By the quizzical look on Manda’s face I can see she’s chewing on this new bit of information.
“You mean you had no idea what you were going to eat?” she asks, amazed.
“I don’t know if I could do that.”
“Maybe we ought to do an experiment of our own at home, some time.”
“Maybe …” Manda responds with caution.
“Anyway,” I return to focus, “Next thing I know a blind waitress …”
“You mean vision-impaired,” corrects my politically-correct niece.
“Okay, vision-impaired waitress has us forming a congo line, one hand on the shoulder in front of us, the other holding the flute of champagne, and is guiding us through three sets of heavy curtains into a pitch black room. I mean, there’s not a stitch of light anywhere even though my eyes are searching for it. In fact, it’s so dark in there I can’t see my hand in front of my face.”
Manda gasps. “You mean you couldn’t see at all?”
I let her sit with this notion for a moment while I grab another sip of Malbec and reach for a handful of popcorn.
“So, how were you going to see your food?”
“How were you going to see your food?” The look of abject horror on Manda’s face is remarkable.
“Well, that’s the whole point, we weren’t supposed to see our food.” It’s then I realize that, like me at the time, she hadn’t thought the experience all the way through.
“Oh no, so what did you do?”
“Claustrophobia kicked in. I had a panic attack and was gently escorted out of the room to the bar downstairs. I ate there … alone … and wrote about my experience on a napkin. My notebook was in my purse which was in the locker, and Bill had the key. I felt like a colossal fool, to be honest, forgetting about my fear of enclosed spaces. Maybe somewhere in the back of my mind I thought I’d managed to let it go. Maybe.” I sigh and stare at the fire. There are lots of things I don’t do because of claustrophobia.
Manda moves to the other end of the couch and wraps her arms around Maggie’s voluminous, silky haired body. Comfort in an uncomfortable moment. I know her to be claustrophobic, too. She moves the moment along. “Did Uncle Bill and Mary eat in the dark?”
“Yes, and I understand it was quite the clumsy adventure. And noisy because, remember, all the other senses are heightened. So it’s not just about the food, the whole ambiance is altered as well. But they seemed to enjoy the challenge.”
“Would you ever give it another go, Aunt Sal?” Manda wondered aloud while giving the dog another squeeze.”
I drain the last of the Malbec from my glass.
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©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016