Thank You Verdi

“They’re playing our song.” Music has a way of transporting us to a certain time in our lives that was especially happy or especially tragic. Happily, whenever I hear the Grand March from Aida, I have good memories.

I heard it played on the radio just the other day, and a friend of mine just recently mentioned how much he enjoys it, so the irony of hearing it twice in the same week inspired me to write about it. I don’t imagine it’s ever been on the top 40, not in my lifetime anyway, but in opera theatres, it brings down the house.

My introduction to this magnificent piece of music was at the summer series of the Cincinnati Opera, many years ago, held at the Cincinnati zoo. Yes, the zoo. My mother and I attended several operas there. It was one of the many gifts she gave me. It was so amusing when during a beautiful aria, a seal would bark, or an exotic bird would screech, and the audience would suppress a little giggle. At the end of the intermission, a trumpet player would come out where people were milling around and play a few notes of the upcoming music in the next act. It was like a little tease to get us excited to come back and get seated. Then, as the Grand March began, it was thrilling to hear those trumpets announce the beginning of one of the most stirring and absolutely gorgeous creations of all of opera.

Apparently, my daughter was moved by this piece as well, because she chose it for her wedding procession. The grandeur of this music was so appropriate for how I felt, watching my daughter walk down the aisle on the arm of her father.

2 wonderful memories come to mind each time I hear it or think of it. 15 years ago this month, my daughter glided down the aisle in her splendor. 50 years ago, I heard it for the first time in the summer air of an outdoor pavilion. These memories swell in my heart and make me so thankful for the gift of great music.

Movie Time

Let’s go see a movie. Yes, I said “see” a movie. In previous posts, I have pointed out the usage of some common words, such as see, watch, and look, so I’m not going to talk about that today.

Last night, my friend Anna and I went to see Gone Girl. Many theaters these days are equipped to provide audio description through a special device for patrons who can’t actually see the screen. Audio description, also called video description or descriptive video, works like this. When you buy your ticket, you pick up a receiver that is about the size of a deck of cards, with a headset or ear pods. While the movie is playing, you hear a trained describer tell you what is happening in the scene that you can’t tell just by listening. You hear the dialog, but you also hear what the other people in the audience are seeing. For some movies, you can kind of get by without the audio description, but for this one, I would have been completely lost. Even if Anna had been able to lean over and whisper what that spooky music was about, or what that crash was, or what happened in that gruesome scene near the end, she would have had to have been talking the whole time.

Last night’s experience was good, from the moment we stepped in the door. There was no line, because we saw the 4:05 movie, with about 8 other people, and the guy behind the counter knew what I was talking about when I asked him for the descriptive video device. Actually, he didn’t even wait for me to ask. He asked me if I wanted it, although he didn’t know what to call it. In just a few minutes, he appeared back with it, and he assured me it worked, because someone had called yesterday and wanted to make sure it was working, because they were coming today. Hee hee. That was me. The system works well, but often, you have to be proactive and think ahead about what can go wrong. Several times, I’ve gone to this theater, and the equipment did not work. So there I sat, through the whole movie, without the benefit of any description. When this happens, my friend either has to whisper to me throughout the whole thing, or he or she has to run back to the office to get a manager to fix it. By that time, my friend has missed the first 15 minutes of the movie. But last night, it was perfect.

We chose a seat in the top row, where nobody would step on Dora, and she could sprawl out in comfort. I laughed at the humorous parts and gasped at the horrifying parts, just like everybody else. At the end of this intense film, Anna said, “I’m exhausted.” I knew exactly what she meant. I experienced it all, just like she did. There are still a few kinks to work out in the system, like not having to call ahead and speak to 3 different people to make sure it will really work, and to make sure that they don’t give you the headset for hearing impaired people, but we’re finally on our way. To read more about descriptive video, visit

Use Words

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but they would be wrong when it comes to helping a blind person get oriented in a new place. I have a new mantra, whenever a well-meaning sighted person tries to get me to a chair by pushing me, grabbing my dog’s leash, or worse, the harness, or says right over here. I try to freeze, stand perfectly still and say “Please use words”. I’m surprised at how effective this practice can be. The first impulse is to try to steer me. I know they want to be helpful, but in my mind, that’s manhandling. Using words like “to your right,” turn to 9:00” or “straight ahead about 3 steps.” There is also a tendency to “help” me find a seat by physically turning me around, hands on my shoulders with a little push, toward the chair. I never sit down until I have found the chair with my hand or the front of my knees. The most effective way to help, especially if the chair is not against the wall is to discretely place my hand on the back of the chair. This way, I will not only be aware of exactly where the chair is, but also, I will no which way the chair is facing. I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve sat down, only to realize that it’s not a bench with no back, but that’s I’ve sat on the chair facing sideways.

I am blessed to have a few savvy friends who make finding a place in a restaurant as smooth and efficient as possible. When we approach the table, they will say, “Take the chair to your left,” or they will say, “the table is on your right,” and when I touch the table to my right, I then can slide into the booth almost gracefully. With a guide dog to get settled as well, it might take an extra minute or 2, especially when your dog is like mine, feeling a compulsion to clean up the floor with her tongue before she settles in. But once you’ve practiced this a couple of times, it becomes quite natural and does not draw attention. I love it when I stand up after a meal, and someone says, “Oh, I didn’t even know that dog was under that table.” We who are blind don’t want to make a scene when we enter an establishment, a meeting, or a church service. We want to blend in, be regarded as any other patron, participant, or worshiper, and the best way to accomplish this is to use words.

Dora Learns Her Way to Giant Eagle

There’s a Giant Eagle grocery store 1 mile from my house. It’s mostly a straight shot, once you get out of my neighborhood, except for the very end of the route. This is where it gets a bit tricky for a dog, and it’s the place where my previous dog never got it. For that reason, I’ve been very careful to introduce this route well after Dora and I had established our relationship. I also prepared myself better this time for success with the training session.

First, I asked my friend Eve to help me with this project. Before we left the house, I engaged Dora in a short clicker session, while Eve observed in amusement. It is pretty funny to watch a dog get so excited about dinging a bell with her nose and then getting a treat, which in this case was just a piece of kibble. But a kibble out of hand is even more exciting than out of a bowl.

Next we drove to a spot about 2/3 of the way, since Dora already knows that part, and we left the car there. The first part of the new route is to cross the interstate on a bridge. It’s terrifying to me, but a wall prevents Dora from seeing the traffic below us, so she marched on fearlessly. We then have to cross 2 side streets, not a problem, but they need to be observed with a full stop and a wait until I give her the command to cross. Now here comes the first really tricky part. When we turn toward the parking lot, we have to cross 2 islands. In order to execute this route to the door of the store, the dog needs to not wander into the parking lot but to stay on course and take me to each island. I have absolutely no vision, so it is essential for the dog to do this right. On our training session yesterday, I came prepared with treats for each success. Before I asked Dora to guide me to each island, I took Eve’s arm, and I heeled Dora and treated her when we got to each island. Then it was her turn to do the guiding. It took a few tries, because she remembered that once upon a time, we had parked in that section of the parking lot, so she probably was looking for the car. Just a guess, but dogs do remember even one occurrence of an event. After mastering the 2 islands, we strode ahead to the door. Again, I took Eve’s arm, and she led us to the customer service desk, which involved making a wide left turn around a display and then another left turn to the counter. Then, I pulled out the clicker gear, and we practiced targeting that counter. Soon, a little group of onlookers had gathered to watch this process with fascination. No problem. Dora was focused on those kibble treats, and she was determined to please me. Finally, it was time to start from the door and find our way to the counter on our own, with Eve trailing behind my right shoulder. I have to congratulate Eve for not interfering with Dora’s learning process. On this final trip, I suspected that she had gotten distracted and was way off base, but I hung in there with her, and Eve never said a word. In a couple of seconds, Dora zoomed around to the left and came to a screeching halt at the counter. As if it had been planned, there was a cart in the way so she had to take a detour, but she got us there.

The last part of this training trip was to navigate back across the parking lot, crossing both of those islands. Because the first one is a little offset from the sidewalk in front of the store, it’s a little trickier. We have to cross at an angle. Here’s where my shoulders have to be exactly in the right position, before I give her the forward command. After we’ve done this a few times, she’ll do it on her own, but for right now, everything has to be just so, for success. After a few more practice runs, I’ll be able to say, “Let’s go shopping,” and I’ll have to hold on for dear life.