food / travel

In Paris, Eating Without Seeing Opens Diners' Eyes To Gifts Of The Blind

Eating in absolute darkness, or getting a massage without being seen, can change your perspective. From Paris to London and Barcelona -- and coming to the U.S. and Russia -- institutions run by the blind are also sharing their vision of life’s experiences

'Dans le Noir?' offers a pitch-black experience for the diners' senses
'Dans le Noir?' offers a pitch-black experience for the diners' senses
Jacqueline de Linarès 

PARIS – People go primarily for fun, or for the experience. They're curious, sometimes a bit tense. In couples, groups, or families, they enter the room, single file. Like the broken faces of the Great War, each one walks carefully with a hand on the shoulder of the person ahead of them. After crossing several awkward barriers of heavy black curtains, they sit down to dine "in the dark," in the eponymous restaurant Dans le Noir ? located in the heart of Les Halles in central Paris.

The darkness is complete, total, impenetrable. Without even the glimmer of a light from a cell phone to guide them – those are left at the entrance – 18 diners sit elbow-to-elbow, blind for the duration of their meal.

For two hours, they test their senses. For one diner, the smell of his neighbor's beer is overwhelming. Others mistake duck for beef. Strangers must introduce themselves in the dark, and everyone speaks louder than they normally would. Diners use their fingers to fiddle with their food, much to the amusement of those watching over the restaurant with infrared cameras. And conversations open up as guests lose their inhibitions - "my god! I would have never said that in the light."

Then there are Yamen and Rada, the restaurants blind servers, guides in the dark. They are considerate, caring, and forgiving of the diners' clumsiness. On subway platforms, guests would rush to help them. Here, they call for their help, shouting their names across the crowded room. "The roles have been reversed here – we are the ones with disabilities," says one guest, surprised to suddenly find herself so helpless.

This strange restaurant, Dans le Noir ?, has been quite successful, and has opened locations in London, Barcelona, and this month in New York's Times Square. It's planning to expand to St. Petersburg and Kiev.

Not just an extreme foodie experience

And this is not, like some chic dark dining locales that have opened in recent years, just about getting guests to appreciate the flavors of the food more. The restaurant belongs to Ethik Investment, created by Edouard de Broglie, a 49-year-old former sailing champion who earned his fortune in the tech industry. Half of his employees are disabled.

"I wanted to show that the company can benefit from the qualities of the disabled. For example, the blind have excellent memories and adaptation skills," he says.

Broglie believes that these strengths are especially suited to the wellness industry. Not far from the restaurant, the group's spa offers ultra-relaxing massages in total darkness, led by a team of seven blind beauticians. All have had to face enormous difficulties in the job market. "Nobody ever wanted to hire me, despite my psychology degree," says Christine, a mother of two.

The director, Didier Roche, 40, is an entrepreneur who himself is blind. He has also found a school willing to prepare his future employees for a career in aesthetics – the Thalgo International Beauty Salon. "We're proving that the disabled have their place in ordinary businesses, and not just in sheltered environments," he says.

For Edouard de Broglie, the restaurants and spa serve as a showcase for the group. Ethik Investment also advises companies on how to integrate disabled employees in the workplace. It offers all kinds of programs, including experiments in total darkness with employees, "silent cafeterias' that require only non-verbal communication, and even ping-pong tournaments between employees who can't walk and other young professionals -- who find themselves having to cope with being beaten by someone in a wheelchair.

Read more from Le Nouvel Observateur

Photo - dans le noir ?

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Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]


Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos


• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.


"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.


$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.


What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️


"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."


An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!

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