By Maribel Steel
Let me shed some light on how a vision-impaired traveller uses every sensory fibre of her being to delight in the history and culture of another country. I call the experience inhaling history, touching landscapes.
With my intrepid sighted companions, Harry my partner and Mike our teenage son, I can share the beauty I ‘saw’ without having full sight.
Our itinerary was impressive – starting with the gardens, museums and galleries of Paris. Why would someone with very little sight want to visit such visual places as an art gallery?
Because I am fascinated by art – and what I miss in the seeing is recreated by audio-descriptive Harry and observant Mike as they describe in imaginative detail the wonderful things before our eyes.
Since the French were extremely receptive when noticing my white cane, my companions encouraged me to tap the ground harder to clear our path as they guided me incident-free along the humming streets of Paris. With Harry on my left, Mike guarding my right, we weaved effortlessly through fragrant gardens, busy market stalls, paced briskly with the flow of Metro passengers, shuffled shoulder to shoulder in long queues, and always found a table for three to delight our taste buds with the sensations of French cuisine – bien sûr!
The Scent of Paris
Truly, Paris is a city of beautiful smells! From the moment we left Charles de Gaulle airport, I have noticed the fragrance of this enchanting city. It really is true – I can smell the warm tones of Chanel as we make our way to our friends’ house in the 15th Arrondissement.
The European perfume drifts gently on aromatherapy clouds as pairs of women trot by on fashionable clickety-heels. The scent lingers in the parched Parisian air ‒ after two consecutive dry summers, Paris is desperate for rain.
The scent of freshly percolated coffee catches in the warm summer breeze like an intoxicating spell, enchanting us towards the nearest cafe where waiters in pristine white aprons wave their hands like wands to produce a ready-made table for three.
Tempting – but we must stride on, three abreast, the middle one sweeping the ground with a white cane as she trots to keep up (on not so fashionable flat heels).
Out of Reach
Down dusty avenues under shady trees, my cane scatters puffs of creamy-dust like sifted icing sugar on to our shoes.
We stand with a throng of bodies, waiting for a gap in the manic traffic. My ‘minders’ hold my hand firmly as I hear mad drivers zoom by, even crazier scooters tooting horns, their two-stroke machines zipping past in daring style as they force their way between cars. My nose twitches as olfactory senses inhale the dry choaking tones of eau de petrol.
Down Rue Jules Dupré, we hear the deep solid chimes of several church bells. We are nearing our destination. With peripheral vision from my ‘good’ eye, I use the contrast of bright blue sky to see the dark outline of buildings, trailing behind my guides as I gaze dreamily, pulled along like a child looking back at a toy shop.
I want to reach out and touch the sturdy wrought iron gates or a Parisian tree or venture inside a souvenir shop – hey guys, let me touch something?
Wanting to keep moving onwards and knowing how long I take to touch everything, comes their unanimous reply, “It’s just a ‘Fish shop.”
“Come on, there can’t be that many fish shops in Paris?
“Yes there can.” Smiles Mike.
“Look, what is that shiney thing in the window?” I point with the cane.
I stare from one bored male to the other, “Smells like Chanel to me.”
“Yep. Chanel for fish” spouts Harry and we keep striding onwards to the mobile phone shop.
© 2013 Maribel Steel
Photos © 2013 Harry Williamson