I heard about Dans le noir a couple of years back from my daughter Clio. She had been talking about eating in the dark and I was game. But then the hotel that housed the restaurant closed and with it the restaurant. So when I found out that there was one in Paris, I had to go.
I have always loved the idea of being blind. Now I know that sounds odd, but having to maneuver without your eyes has always been intriguing.
When I was six both of my eyes were operated on. For two weeks I was kept in hospital all bandaged up and had to learn to get along with the advantage of sight. But I was six, and the first thing I did was crawl out of my bed and trotted down the hall looking for the toilet. The nurses of course were horrified and made me promise that I would call them the next time I needed the facilities.
I learned to play with the toys and to find the bathroom. It never bothered me, and I never made a scene. After all, how often are you allowed to be blind? I liked it, as I'm sure only a child could.
Then at the age of 12 I ran across a memoir of sorts about a writer who wore glasses she could not see through, and stayed blind for one month. She used a white cane and mingled with people. Her observations intrigued me. People always shouted at her as if she were going deaf. And she could see with her ears, because people are experts at hiding their facial expressions, but are not good at hiding the nuances in their voice. So she knew when someone was lying, when they were trying to control anger or when the person was arrogant or proud. And only from the way they spoke. Ah, if I could do that.
The idea of eating in total darkness sounded like a great chance, a wonderful unique experience. I
made the reservations for lunch on Saturday.
The restaurant is nestled in a little street called quincampoix just off the rue rambuteau. It is hard to find; we tried twice to walk there and got lost both times. You walk into a bar, where the lights are dimmed, to accustom you to the darkness, I'm told. The hostess, who is sighted, asks you if you are vegetarian, or have any allergies. You don't pick your food. And then you are given a choice of three menus. The cheap one is an entree and the main dish for 28 euros each. The second one is an entree, a main dish and dessert for 39 euros, both of these with tap water. The third one is the same as the second with three glassses of wine for 45 euros each. I wanted the second with one glass of wine. Dick didn't want the wine.
Then we line up hand to shoulder and march in. I have to touch everything and felt that the walls are covered with some kind of linoleum. I think what I would have done in their place is give a description of the room. It didn't have to be true, because who would know? I felt that I was in some nondescript room with a few folding chairs lined up along a long table. It sounds ridiculous I know, but make the client feel as if he's special. You're paying enough.
We sat down, and our elbows were too close to the next person. We kept bumping each other. I was at the end, and moved my chair down about three inches. Dick was caught and the guy next to him elbowed him every couple of minutes with his elbow. I always knew, because Dick would sigh that sigh the family knows so well.
The waiters brought the glasses for the water and showed us where our forks, knives and napkins were. We poured our water into the glasses ourselves which was easy for me. You stick your finger in the glass and fill the water until you feel the water on your finger.
The first course came. We were not told what we were eating. It was a fruit of some kind, probably pompelmo, because it was a citrus that was in large pieces and not very sweet. The other delicacy was bread with a gravy of some sort, which was hot. The second course was of course vegetables for me. But the only vegetable I recognized was a piece of salad and corn. It wasn't bad, but I have had better. The wine, however, was red, a bordeaux, chewy and the odor wafted up from the glass. But that was the only thing that I could tell by its smell. Nothing else had any scent at all. The desert was ice cream and bread with something sweet.
I never noticed that waiters make a lot of noise picking up and setting down the dishes until I sat in that room. Most of the clients were nervous and kept giggling trying to hide it. Everyone had said it would be easy to talk to your neighbor, but of course we were speaking English to each other, so we were not included in their conversation.
After our dessert, we were led out into the sun. I felt no relief, as I'm sure some did. I felt let down.
The bill came to 95 euros. That was a shock. I guess they added the 15% where normally it is included in the price. Who is going to complain when the money goes to help the blind?
But I was disappointed. I wanted to smell the food, eat dishes that were memorable. Everything was mediocre. There was no thought behind what the experience would be like, what it should be like. They showed us the menu after we were done, but of course it was a menu for meat eaters. And my menu, oh, she said, we just doubled the vegetables. So we not only paid $135 for lunch, but for food that no one cared about.
Afterwards, I tried to find some saving grace in what we had done. But I only felt depressed. And finally I had to admit it had been a very expensive mistake.