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A scene from Montreal’s “Slowness Day.” (Photo by Hugh Gilmore)

by Hugh Gilmore

Slowness Day in Montreal – La Journée de la Lenteur – takes place on the first day of the summer solstice. Its basic theme is that we should stop running around in our thoughtless daily tasks and slow down, for at least a day, and relax. There’s a kind of hippy-happy, first-streaks-o-gray-in the-beard, pot-smoking Barney look to the goings on up there. We first happened on it six years ago and had so much fun we’ve begun timing our annual trips to Quebec Province so we can attend.

Slowness Day takes place in the Mont Royal neighborhood, in the Parc La Fontaine, near the circle and statue dedicated to Félix Leclerc (a French-Canadian poet, singer-songwriter, actor and political activist). The basic idea behind la Journée was stated on a small sign hanging from a clothesline strung over one of entrances to the Leclerc Circle:

A Manifesto for a Simple Life:

Eat Less, Move More

Buy Less, Make More

Stress Less, Laugh More

Feel Blessed, Love More

find a quiet spot

every day and

breathe

As usual, La Journée began around 10 a.m. and went on into the night. As you might expect, it proceeded at a less than breathless pace. Workshops included Slow Cooking, Slow Movement a la Bollywood, Facial Therapy, various kinds of yoga, music relaxation, design, tall-tale telling, Qi Gong Dance, Didgeridoo, Laughter, Group Polarized Hug Therapy, Slow Sensory Gym, Bath Workshop, Living Sculptures, several choral groups, folk music, Swedish massage, Tarot readings, and dozens of other happenings similar to the ones mentioned, many of them simultaneously.

Usually I walk around tacitly approving of the whole thing, but never participating. Instead I stand back with a reticence that I hope passes for cool and offer everyone an amused grin. I take lots of pictures. Last year, however, I joined a large chorale ensemble at its farthest fringe and mimed singing while kind of humming. I can’t carry a note and feared embarrassment. Nonetheless, as I heard the sound of the group rise up I felt the great joy every choral member knows: having contributed to something grander than myself.

That feeling carried over to this year and I actually sought a workshop I could join (this is a “Life First” for self-conscious me) so I could get a “participation high” again. Laughter Yoga seemed too contrived and massage therapy too indulgent, so I stepped into a circle of Falun Gong and played Follow the Leader while a tape of Chinese Music played. I’m sure I would have looked stupid, phoney, and awkwardly “white” if anyone who knew me came by. But guess what? I enjoyed it. And the sky didn’t fall in and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

My less inhibited wife, Janet, went for a relaxing massage after participating with all her existential heart in a writing workshop conducted in French. She loved it when she read her writing samples aloud and the other Left Bankers applauded.

Sadly, she was doing that when I wandered over to witness an original drama being played out on a grass circle nearby. I think it was called Polarité. Amidst a lot of strewn household symbols a woman walked around in circles ripping off her dress’s coned messages as a man covered in baby dolls crawled after her. She held a megaphone through which she breathed loudly. That was the dialogue. After about five minutes they both left the circle and everyone drifted on to other events.

I’m still left wondering what the heck was that all about? Was it a parable of modern marriage, but one where the man has responsibility for the babies? A tale of fem-domination? A portrait of the ideal marriage? The abuse of women? Someone with a video: please send me a copy, together with your doctoral thesis analysis. Needless to say, it was my favorite event of the day.

I’m looking forward to next year, thinking about doing a similar skit with my wife and son – as soon as we all get clear on who will play what role(s) in our performance, i.e., Who wears the dolls in this family anyway?

Hugh Gilmore is the author of two beach reads. “Malcolm’s Wine” is a noir mystery set in the world of old and rare books. “Last Night on the Gorilla Trail” is a twisted, tragic romance set in rural 1920s Tennessee and Virginia.

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