I became blind

I can feel the wind on my face and my hair.  I can feel the sway of the boat and the surge as it hits the waves.  I can hear the engine and the sounds of the other passengers.  It’s comfortable and I feel safe.  I’m sitting next to Chiara.  She is beautiful. Well, when I say that, her voice is beautiful.  She has long, dark hair and a pretty face, although none of this I can see.  It’s not that it’s night, it’s total darkness.  Really.  Not a single iota of light.  I am blind.  She often grasps for my hand.  She has a delicate, slightly cold, hand.  Long fingers,  Sweet, like her.

We leave the boat and we’re on the sea shore.  We go into a fisherman’s cottage.  Filled with furniture.  With pictures on the wall.  But I can’t see them.  I can feel them.  There’s a portrait of a man and a woman.  I know because I touch them.  I feel the outline.  V thinks that there’s a picture of a monkey with a curly tail but, when I check, I know its a sea horse.

Giulliano takes my hand to another picture.  He asks if I see that it’s Italy.  ‘Hai visto?’ he asks.  It takes me a moment to translate what he says, but I do see it. ‘Si, ho visto’ I reply.   Or rather I feel it.  The coast, the hills.  But his expression of ‘Did you see?’ and my response of ‘Yes, I saw’ doesn’t, in any way, seem strange.  Only afterwards do I realise what words were used in the exchange.

We move outside to the street.  The noise is incredible.  There’s a market.  V smells fennel, but I can’t.  However, I feel the shape and the feather fronds and I know it’s fennel.’  And there’s some celery and something else, that’s, maybe, an orange, except my sense of smell deserts me and, although I bring it to my nose a couple of times, the actual round fruit (or is it a vegetable?) is lost on me.’

We’ve been through the garden or park in the early morning.  I didn’t smell anything there either, though many people said the smell was strong.  I knew it was morning; the birds were singing their hearts out.

Finally we enter a bar.  V & I have red wine, of course.  Chiara, who has been with us most of the time insists that she buys the drinks in exchange for her free English lesson.  I cannot make the man/girl take my money.  My Italian has gone with my sense of smell.  I am not in control here.  I can feel the bar, I can hold my plastic cup of wine.  We move to the table.  Maybe there is more than one, I don’t know.

We sit and enjoy our drinks.  Someone (Alberto, I think) asks if it’s good wine, but I am no judge; it tastes fine to me.  Giulliano, who has been blind from birth, gets asked lots of questions, of course.  He asks how long we think we have been there.  I lie.  I know it will be about an hour, but I say what is expected of me – half an hour.  Chiara translates.  Then she translates his response.  We’ve been there an hour.  I knew that, of course, but the time has gone very quickly, in any event.

I ask Chiara if she’s blind as well. She says that she’s not but she was very, very shortsighted and had laser treatment in December and now can see better than she has ever done.  I’m thinking she works there.  V does too, though we haven’t spoken of it.

>I’m not scared of the dark.  There’s nothing to fear.  There’s a safety in knowing that the whole group is blind and, with the exception of Guiliano, all for the first time.  The voices are, perhaps, shriller than they would normally be.  Alberto, whose voice I can hear often, asks many questions.  In fact, all the Italians are talking, all the time.  But I’ve been concentrating on Giuliano’s and Chiara’s voices to guide me.  That and the white cane they gave me at the start.  I try to swing it gently so that I don’t damage someone’s ankle.  Sometimes there are people just in front, sometimes no one, or a wall, or fence.

We comment on how dark it really is.  How the sound of Guiliano’s voice after he’s walked from the table means that, in a few seconds, he seems to be far away, but he cannot be unless he ran, which I doubt.  Sounds are the only way you can see what is happening.  Sounds become important.  The shouts from Chiara throughout of ‘Andy’, to get me to come to her, when we were in the cottage or the garden.  I have no sense of direction, one of my major assets.  It went from me the moment we were devoid of light.  Throughout, I find I can locate the source of individual voices above the din of all the other noises.

We are told that they will be starting a Café Noir in a couple of days.  You just go to the café for drinks and food.

We leave the blackness and the light seems too bright, even though it is muted.  I find myself with the people we saw in the waiting area before.  I’m standing next to a tall girl with long, frizzy blond hair and she is stood next to her ‘boyfriend’.  V arrives in the room and goes to her.  ‘Chiara?’ he asks.  She affirms.  I have to apologise.  I didn’t realise it was her.  I thought it was the girl who was smaller but with dark hair.  She hadn’t spoken so I didn’t know who she was.  She doesn’t work there.  She came for the experience in the same way that we did.

We sign the guestbook.  My words seem trite, but I have no way to describe such a thing.

On the way past the till, the girl, who spoke good English when we came in to get the tickets, asks if we had enjoyed it.  She suggests that, next time, we explain we want an English speaking guide.  She is sweet, as Chiara is.

We shall go again.  You should too.  If you’re not in Milan, you should find out if it is happening near you.  It will be one of the best hours you spend.

Of course, I knew that I was going to ‘see’ again.  But it will make me treat blind people differently.  To enter their world, even for a moment, is an experience that goes beyond words.

Thanks to Chiara, Giulliano, Alberto and all at Istituto dei Ciechi and at Dialogue in the Dark.  And a special thanks to Corpodibacco, who described it so well that it made me ring up and book.  Perhaps that’s the place that we should meet – like the blogs, there’s no discrimination or presupposition made by someone’s looks, by their dress, by their mannerisms.  All you have are words and the dark.  When you’re back from the States, maybe?

One thought on “I became blind

  1. Pingback: C’s visit, Dialogue in the Dark, Flamingos in a private garden, Danes, from camels to Britney Spears, handsome new boyfriend (I already have mine) and a couple of rants and clowney. | vandainmilan.com

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