by Christine Ina CasillasSnowmass Sun EditorSnowmass Village, CO, Colorado

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January 31, 2012
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Embrace the darkness

For a few hours, explore your senses and discover how the simplest acts can create an impact.This Valentine's Day, leave the commonplace behind and spend an evening with the Aspen Blind Caf.Here, the Aspen Blind Caf opens its doors at the Sky Hotel in downtown Aspen and offers an experience unlike any other - a delicious three-course meal, a full concert and community awareness in complete darkness."It helps connect people ... not just with the self but with the people around them," said Mandaline Godown, spokeswoman for the Aspen Blind Caf. "People connect with their friends, a date, their family. It's not your typical dinner. The experience is so much more profound."You'll connect with those you love, meet new people and gain insight into life without sight. This is not just another dinner in the dark. ... It's so much more."Guests will be led into the dinner, where they will share their elaborate dishes with one another and eat in the dark, she said.The servers at the event are blind, and guests will have an opportunity to explore the darkness with keynote speaker Gerry Lerry, who will lead a question-and-answer session on life with blindness.Lerry has been blind since birth, but that's never been a limiting factor for him. He was a car mechanic for more than 40 years and then shifted gears to pursue one of his great loves: coffee. Lerry taught himself the roasting industry and opened his own coffee-roasting business and caf, The Unseen Bean, in Boulder."A window into someone else's life is a really powerful thing," Godown said."There's music, food, conversation," Godown said. "People don't know how much that can change the experience when you're blind."Dinner will be a delicious three-course meal that includes a decadent dark-chocolate dessert prepared by the Sky Hotel's star chef. Guests will get a chance to view the menu prior to the event, she said. And the tables also will be set up beforehand.Those eager to indulge their ears will get a chance to listen to a full set of live music by Rosh & One Eye Glass Broken. "It's a chance to truly experience music without the distraction of visual conditioning, social etiquette or cellphones," Godown said. Then there is the Black Box. It's something special for this Valentine's caf. While in the darkness, guests will open their Black Boxes. What's inside? To figure that out, they'll have explore their senses of smell, taste and touch."This isn't just for couples, but we constantly hear how visiting the Blind Caf helps to connect people in ways that they didn't expect," said Brian "Rosh" Rocheleau, the founder of the Aspen Blind Caf. "That's the beauty of testing boundaries and being part of this community. It's a powerful experience for people; you can't help feeling more alive, awake and connected to your world and the people around you." The idea sparked a couple of years ago when Rocheleau discovered a blind caf after wandering into one in Reykjavik, Iceland. He was captivated by the caf in the dark, which served people seven days a week. "There was a woman at the entrance with laminated cards that had Icelandic words printed in Braille on them," Rocheleau said. "I asked her what the event was about, and she told me it was a blind caf."The Aspen Blind Caf also is committed to giving back and improving the lives of sight-limited individuals and will donate 10 percent of proceeds to Challenge Aspen to help its efforts supporting the blind."This is a way to build community awareness and turn this into an event that's fun and meaningful and raises money to help with the blind," Godown said. For more information, click on

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The Aspen Times Updated Jan 31, 2012 04:26PM Published Jan 31, 2012 04:24PM Copyright 2012 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.