I chewed on what I thought was a ball of mozzarella, but it very well could have been a soft provolone. The darkness, however, didn’t discriminate. I didn’t know what kind of cheese I ate, let alone the label of wine that followed. Cheese was cheese and wine was wine, and they were both delicious.
For possibly the first time in my travels, I turned my vision off. Buenos Aires is a dizzying whirl of visual entertainment, and it’s easy to stifle the other four senses.
Buenos Aires surprises me every day with creativity and talent that make the city their home. Art pushes limits in naked tangos, crass graffiti, unassuming Subte performers, and edgy design. The art here feels less like a hierarchy and more like a public necessity or an addiction — it’s Buenos Aires’ serving of education or cocaine. So with little effort, I encountered Teatro Ciego, or the Blind Theatre.
The theatre is nestled between several other small venues and tango cabarets on a cobblestone pedestrian street in the Abasto (or Balvanera) neighborhood. Every weekend, Teatro Ciego offers a dinner and performance — in complete darkness. Mammoth cave darkness. Center of Dante’s Inferno darkness. Bottom of Muammar Gaddafi’s heart darkness. Whichever you prefer.
The waiter gingerly guided three of my girlfriends and me into the dining room in a congo-line fashion, with hands on shoulders. A black curtain closed behind us, and we each stepped into separate worlds of our own creation.
Judging by the acoustics in the room, I imagined a high ceiling, perhaps a stone courtyard, and the sound of trickling water painted the image of a fountain in my mind. My eyes searched frantically into the darkness for a spark, a flash, a glimmer… but only blackness reflected on my retinas. I reached for my wine glass but grabbed my friend’s finger instead. This accidental touch, however, was reassuring. I could have been sitting next to the Diego Maradona or Cristina Kirchner, but the darkness rendered faces irrelevant.
Although I knew I was in a controlled environment and I could hear the voices of my friends, the darkness presented a deep sense of doubt that was difficult to confront in the beginning. Honestly, I felt alone.
As our nervous conversation progressed from “I found the bread!” to more profound topics and the nameless red wine absorbed into my bloodstream, I began to forget about my eyes.
I reached down for something mushy and crunchy on my plate and brought it to my mouth. I smelled fish, and chewed slowly onto a salty tuna bruschetta. But it could have been mackerel or salmon. I moved on to a tarta (quiche), skewered steak, and some mysterious fruit drenched in chocolate.
While I was enraptured in my culinary orgy, the performance ensued. The actors, dancers, and opera singers played around the dining hall — maneuvering between tables and resting hands on the “blinded” audience members. A woman with a robust opera voice sent a tune my way, and I could feel the changing vibrato tickle the hairs in my ears. Her voice was warm and dense, and it felt like an embrace in the darkness.
For each scene, actors sprinkled the room with different aromas. The dining room became a bathtub, a jungle, a cafe, and a busy street. I felt a motorcycle pass by, and a trail of exhaust pervaded the room. A mother bathed her child, and a spray of bathwater landed on my face. The performance forced me to use my imagination and to create my own reality.
On the closing melody, the opera singer lit a candle and brought it to her face. She was ghostly pale and very thin, much unlike the voice that represented her. She solemnly continued to sing and paced around the room.
Our waiter placed a candle on each table and opened the windows. The actors and musicians bowed and parted, leaving the diners alone in moonlit stupor.
And for a few moments, my eyes couldn’t believe the reality. The dining room was stark, and fairly small. Reality was somewhat disappointing — but my eyes graciously observed that my glass was still full, and I was still with my friends.
However, I didn’t need the light to see. I preferred the darkness, as it served as a canvas for the life and vibrancy of my imagination. Lines of race and class didn’t exist, and cheese was just cheese.