Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fata Morgana, Trompe l'oeil, and other visions

Would you dine in the dark?  Complete and utter darkness?

You can.  I could have.  Dans le Noir, a restaurant you may already heard of, seats and presents food to you in total darkness.  In London (previous link) or in Paris (LA Times article here).  Cell phones confiscated, no luminous watches, etc etc.

Are you game?

I find myself saying "no way."  The sensualist in me is completely trumped by the Security Monster.  The same SM that says "no way" to things like skydiving, or bungee jumping over the Snake River, or attempting to reason with an angry teenager.  It's not that I am risk adverse; I cross busy streets on foot all the time, and this even though I was once hit by a car as a pedestrian.  I have participated in a water rescue.    Etcetera, etcetera.  It's just...and this is very important...I simply don't see why I should actively and knowingly significantly increase the odds of risk to my life with no meaningful reason.

The ability to say "I did it" does not qualify.  And I don't personally feel any rush of "feeling alive" by bringing the very issue of being alive into question.  Near death experiences?  I've had a couple.  No desire to go there by choice.

Hold, you say.  We're talking food here.

Precisely, I respond.  Ingestion.  You know, like the word on certain poisonous material containers:  "Do not ingest"?  Like in, say...botulism?  Whoops...people do inject that these days.  Let me stick with ingest...as in...food poisoning???

Am I being too cautious?  Perhaps worried to the point of pathology?  Maybe.  But I know this:  one of the things my senses do for me is tell me when there is danger.  And while YES my olfactive powers are quite important when identifying food danger -- reinforced every time I do a refrigerator clean out, or use the classic line "smell this milk..." -- I still rely on, and apparently give great weight to, my powers of sight.

It's not just the issue of seeing whether or not the food is blue.  There's the issue of being able to see the server.  Of how clean the room is.  Of whether my table mates are trying not to snicker.

Funny thing...I've had nearly orgasmic experiences with food.  When that happens, the functionality of my eyes approaches something like 0%.  But that is voluntary.

Control issues?  Maybe.  But I don't think so.

I was sitting on the lakefront with a good friend recently.  The friend is recovering from surgery for a detached retina.  The weather that week had been very hot, and very humid, with the high moisture content making for unusual sunny day "fog" swirling at the water's edge.  There we were, with the heat and concrete behind us, and what should have been a cool breeze in front of us.  Instead, it was hot.  And wet.  We walked and talked.  A cool breeze snaked onto the shore, then went away.

We sat down.  I waited to catch the cool breeze again.  I did...but then something even more impressive: a fata morgana.  One, then another.

The first illusion was the consequence of the air being dense enough to collect a shadow of a building from the sun setting behind us.  The second was classic, cause by a boat emerging from the thick haze.  I first saw it as a Viking longboat; my friend saw something else.  We both caught a second something, and then it took firm shape as the modern vessel it truly was.

It was quite the sight.  And richer for having been shared, both in the vein of human friendship, and in the way that it helps to have a fellow witness to an odd experience, so that you know later you weren't simply crazy.

When you look at the juice of a perfume and it is pink, or blue, you know that chances are it was aided and abetted in its color appearance.  When you look at it and see dark amber, the harder core among us are going to start wondering about issues of "turning."

Perfume is frequently colored to make it "palatable," or "attractive."  (Sometimes I wonder about gender coding, but am not yet ready to get into that.)  I have no idea what color some of these products would be if they weren't altered; given their opacity, there is probably no dramatic transition from pre-coloring to post-coloring.

I'd sit in a dark room and spray perfume and smell it.  Sure, my eyes could give me warnings that a given juice might have spoiled, might have mysterious "bits" floating about in it, could be the color and/or viscosity of anti-freeze.  But I remain open to the idea of smelling it "blind"... I think because in the end, I accept that I am smelling without really using my eyes whenever I smell a perfume.

That is one of the joys of it, of course; it forces primacy onto a sense that generally either takes a back seat to other senses, or is inextricably linked with another sense (taste).

I did almost lose my sight once.  I've written about it before.  Almost exactly two years ago, I noticed as I created the link.  It was summertime then, as it is now, and I'm guessing there is something about this time, when summer is poised both at its height and also with the first hints of the transition to come, that both temporally and figuratively remind me of that time.

I wondered at the time if somehow I'd develop a keener sense of smell as a result.

I think I've only developed a keener appreciation.

I'll take it.

Along with an appreciation for abiding friendships, for the concrete ability to visually discriminate, and for the magical ability to be transported by a fata morgana.

Woodcut image, "Fisheye," from Samantha Shelton.
Woodcut image of God's all-seeing eye found on this Crystalinks page.
Paris trompe l'oeil architecture photograph taken from this Archelogue blog discussion.
photo of a fata morgana from the CUNY Offshore New Harbor Project blog.

Morgan Le Fay
from Project Gutenberg

Morgan Le Fay perfume
available at Luckyscent


flittersniffer said...

Well, I had never heard of the phenomenon of fata morgana, so that was all very interesting. It must have been a great experience for you and your friend! I wouldn't mind catching the Northern Lights some time too, and a few more eclipses.

Dining in the dark would be a no-no for me too. If Mr B and I sit together on the same sofa with our tray suppers, there is not enough light for me to see my plate, as I sit at the opposite end from the lamp. So invariably I end up taking my tray over to the other sofa and sit directly under its lamp. For me the visual aspect definitely adds to my dining pleasure!

ScentScelf said...

Interestingly (to me), I knew of the phenomenon, but not the name. On one day, I sat on one side of the lake and looked at one. On the next day, I was conversing with a friend on the other side (this time via phone; as you know, the lakes are rather large), and she dropped the name in conversation. We both grew up with them, and she had just heard the label herself.

Funny you mention northern lights; I wanted to use an image of an arctic fata morgana, but couldn't get permission. Why that one? Because it reminded me of aurora borealis.

Good to know that I am not alone in the "lights on, please" school of dining. (Mr B, is it? Unpunctuated? I was fond of BOMB... :) )

ChickenFreak said...

I could not eat in the dark. Well, maybe if _I_ prepared or at least saw the food, and I were eating my own bite-sized somethingorothers from my own paper bag. (Hmm. Sounds like popcorn. Which is eaten in a darkened movie theater. OK, then.) But certainly not plated food that I'd never seen brought to me by strangers I'd never seen. Noooo.

ScentScelf said...

Oh, good point, that--movie popcorn. Which is made more interesting by the fact that I see it if I purchase it, so I am only eating it "blind" if I accept an offering from my companion. Hmmmmm.....

So far, it's you, me, and Flittersniffer, taking our meal out on the terrace. :)

Kim said...

back from hols and catching up- I've always quite fancied trying Dans Le Noir but I am concerned they would try and feed me tuna- which I hate. I might also like it when I didn't know what it was- and that would be very confusing! perhaps I should try...

I haven't seen any natural lights/ phenomenons! I long to see the Northern Lights. A British actress come present Joanna Lumley did a really lovely programme about her quest to see them and it was rather moving when she did finally track them down.

Rose said...

ooh realised I post here under my other name! no idea how I did that- Kim is Rose!