Life in the Slow Lane

Dec 2, 2013

The Holidays are upon us, and I often wonder whether that word "holiday" is really an appropriate description of how we live at this time of year. The dictionary says that a holiday is "A period of rest and freedom" and "A day on which no work is done." Yet never are we so stressed and harassed by too many things to do as during the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year. The holiday comes later, when everyone has gone home and the decorations have come down.

We are not good at relaxation. To mis-quote Mark Twain, everybody talks about taking it easy, but nobody does anything about it. Most so-called "leisure activities" just add more stress and time pressure, and the mass media seem to take it as their mission to keep us in a constant state of agitation and anxiety. It was therefore encouraging to read about an experiment in Norway which we should probably imitate here. It’s called "Slow Television." The idea is very simple. The state broadcasting company has been putting on prime time programs designed for nothing but relaxation: twelve hours of a log fire, ten hours of views from the top of a train, and most recently a nine-hour show about knitting. Viewers love it.

Last week I spent the better part of eight hours watching clouds on a television screen. This was on one of those long-haul flights on which the airline offered a choice of video entertainment. One choice was a live image from a camera located in the tail of the plane itself. Once we climbed above the clouds there was nothing to see but an endless, slow-moving carpet of cotton wool. It was so captivating that I ignored the movie choices and stayed with the clouds until they sent me to sleep. It these anxious times this is exactly the kind of television programming we need.

For a dozen years now a "Slow Movement" has been growing in Europe .The goal is to slow down the pace of life, in the hope of creating a society with more time for fun and reflection, more sociability, more variety, and better eating habits. .

The Italians, who are famous for their fast cars and hyperactive politicians, have created Slow Cities. There are now about twenty of them, and there are even three in the USA although of course they are all in California. Slow Cities undertake to resist over development, to exclude motor traffic as much as possible, to preserve traditional local industry and agriculture against the global marketplace, to use technology only to improve everyday life, to reduce noise, and to educate young people in this revolutionary philosophy. A few years ago we visited one of the Slow Cities, the small town of Grêve in Chianti, and  immediately saw what a delightful place it was. Built in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries around a handsome, traffic-free market square, with a church at one end and the town hall at the other, Grêve had a wonderfully calm and relaxed air. You could almost feel your blood pressure going down.

Could we do it here? A slow suburb perhaps, with a slow television station, and perhaps even slow food in place of fast food? There’s no reason why not. But it would take a lot of planning and organization, and who has time for that?

Copyright: David Bouchier