Yesterday at the PuSh Festival I went on a blindfolded tour that awakened in me an extraordinary new sensory experience of my city--and my body.
Do You See What I Mean?, the brainchild of Martin Chaput and Martial Chazallon, of France's Projet in situ, begins at the Access Gallery on Georgia Street, just east of Main. After checking in at the box office, you are greeted by Martial, who explains a bit about the concept of the piece, before placing a blind fold around your eyes and introducing you to your guide. In my case, I was paired with Mariana, and while over the course of the next 2.5 hours we chatted only briefly about ourselves and our lives (neither of us being big talkers), we nevertheless experienced what I am certain was for both of us an incredibly intimate social and physical exchange. In my case, not only did this involve placing my life literally in Marianna's hands, but, in taking hold of her right elbow and beginning to walk alongside her, shifting the whole kinespheric axis of my body in her direction.
The experience was uncanny and disorienting and exhilarating all at once, as guided only by Marianna's voice and the pace of her movements and subtle shifts in direction was I able to do what under any other circumstances I automatically take for granted: walk. And what a walk: so immersive, so sensual, so loud! Take away the visual sense, and suddenly you realize just how noisy your city is: car horns and engines accelerating; music from storefronts; the click-click-click of heels on sidewalks; shouted greetings. The snippets of overheard conversation provided an audio track all their own as I assembled different bits of information--and different languages--into a running narrative.
Then there was the heightened haptic sense: the texture of the sidewalk or road underneath my feet; the warmth of the sun on my face; always the nubbly fabric of Mariana's sweater at my fingertips. In a thrift shop I'd like to say was still somewhere in Chinatown (although I can't be sure) I was delighted to discover in my felt explorations of the wares a horse's stirrup: so unexpected amid all of the coats and leather goods and knick-knacks, and such a joyful surprise for that. This was the first of several stops that Mariana and I made on our journey: a pastry shop where I got to taste an orange-blossom macaroon; an apartment where our host Stephen gave me a motorcycle helmet to hold and told us the story of his ill-fated purchase of a vintage Vespa; an indoor-outdoor pool where Jimmy, himself non-sighted, tested my sense of smell and touch; and finally what I would discover later (once my blindfold had been removed) was the Roundhouse Community Centre, where I got to dance in the dark with Ziyian Kwan as I discovered new centres of gravity I never knew I had.
As I said to Martin afterwards, the whole experience was one of the most stimulating and emotional of my life. I'm still processing all the feelings (physical and affective) it produced. But one thing I know for sure: even if I never see Mariana again, I have some other sense that a part of her will always remain beside me.