INTERVIEW : COURTNEY MAZZOLA OF DINING IN THE DARK
Courtney Mazzola is a partially blind server working with Opaque : Dining in the Dark, a new dining experiencing landing at Ace Hotel New York this week. The organization hires all visually impaired and blind servers to use their expertise to guide diners through a sensual and inspiring culinary experience. Courtney is a San Francisco-based massage therapist with a growing somatic psychology practice. She volunteers at San Quentin Prison and is an accomplished horse jumper and jujitsu fighter. She took some time out of her busy schedule to talk to us about her experiences with Dining in the Dark, her love of travel and her advice for Dark Diners…
What’s it like working with Dining in the Dark?
On my first night at Dining in the Dark, it was pretty surreal. Having lived most of my life surrounded by almost all sighted people, this was the first time I not only felt equal to sighted people, but I actually had the upper hand. I realized this was the first time I felt I truly could be myself in the company of sighted people –- I wasn’t having to try to appear “normal.” Skills I’ve developed throughout my life suddenly became useful assets. An example is “listening around the room” (the equivalent of “looking around the room”) — my ability to listen for certain things, like the lack of silver wear clinking to signify that the guests were done with the course, or uncertain voices wondering how to get my attention…
Do you travel a lot?
I’ve visited over 15 countries, and there’s a sense of freedom that traveling provides me, being outside the somewhat limiting normality of daily life. As a blind person, travel means that I am much more dependent on sighted people but traveling takes me out of the box, and motivates me to get out and explore and find my way, continually showing me what I am capable of. I also find the ways in which different cultures relate to me as a blind person really interesting. Each culture seems to view and engage with me differently. The most impressive to me so far have been the people of both Cuba and Egypt, whom I found to be more observant of the fact that I am blind than most Americans, and definitely much more at ease with approaching and interacting with me than my fellow countrymen.
Do you have any tips for Dark Diners?
+ Don’t be afraid to explore your table –- follow along the edges to know how big the area is, feel over the surface to locate the position of utensils.
+ Don’t be shy to ask your server for anything -– including advice.
+ Place beverages above silver wear so they can be easily located by following the utensil to the top.
+ When passing an item to another person, try to make some sound with it to indicate to the other person where they should be reaching –- like gently rattling the ice in a glass, or quietly tapping on the edge of the plate with a fingernail.
Thanks, Courtney — see you in the dining room!