LIFE­STYLE

THIS MOVE­MENT IS TAK­ING OVER THE WORLD – FAST. ARE YOU ON THE SLOW TRAIN?

Friday - - Editor’s Letter -

At a time when ev­ery­one seems to be in the fast lane, ease off, go slow and learn to savour life to the full.

The news­pa­per ar­ti­cle seemed like the ideal win-win. One-minute bed­time sto­ries: happy son hear­ing dad read to him, happy dad fit­ting his du­ti­ful rou­tine into a hec­tic life­style be­fore rush­ing onto the next thing, be­fore sleep – again rushed by the early-morn­ing alarm clock.

But this chance skim-reading of the ar­ti­cle while wait­ing to board a flight to cram in yet an­other meet­ing proved to be some­thing of a wake-up call in it­self.

Af­ter months of do­ing bat­tle with his lit­tle boy by skip­ping words, lines or even pages from his young son’s favourite book, The Cat in the Hat, Cana­dian jour­nal­ist Carl Honoré re­calls: ‘My first re­flex was to say, “Hal­lelu­jah – what a great idea! This is ex­actly what I’m look­ing for to speed up bed­time even more.”

‘But thank­fully, a light bulb went on over my head, and my next re­ac­tion was very dif­fer­ent. I took a step back, and I thought: “Has it re­ally come to this? Am I re­ally in such a hurry that I’m pre­pared to fob off my son with a sound bite at the end of the day?”

‘And I put away the news­pa­per and I sat there, and I did some­thing I hadn’t done for a long time – which is I did noth­ing. I just thought, and I thought long and hard. And by the time I got off that plane, I’d de­cided that I wanted to do some­thing about it. I wanted to in­ves­ti­gate this whole road­run­ner cul­ture, and what it was do­ing to me and to ev­ery­one else.’

The jour­nal­ist went on to write the best­seller, In Praise of Slow­ness, cel­e­brat­ing the (fast!) grow­ing in­ter­na­tional Slow Move­ment.

From Slow Food to Slow Cities, Slow TV to Slow Health and Fash­ion, the move­ment is gath­er­ing mo­men­tum around the world as peo­ple start to re­alise that not ev­ery­thing has a quick fix and by slow­ing down your pace of life, you ac­tu­ally achieve and ben­e­fit more.

‘I took a STEP BACK, and I thought: Has it re­ally come to this? Am I re­ally in such a HURRY that I’m pre­pared to fob off my son with a SOUND BITE at the end of the day?’

Carl said: ‘The world we live in now is a world stuck in fast-for­ward. A world ob­sessed with speed, with do­ing ev­ery­thing faster, with cram­ming more and more into less and less time. Ev­ery mo­ment of the day feels like a race against the clock. And if you think about how we to try to make things bet­ter, what do we do? No, we speed them up, don’t we? So we used to dial; now we speed dial. We used to read; now we speed read. We used to walk; now we speed walk. And of course, we used to date and now we speed date.

‘In the head­long dash of daily life, we of­ten lose sight of the dam­age that this road­run­ner form of liv­ing does to us.

‘We’re so mar­i­nated in the cul­ture of speed that we al­most fail to no­tice the toll it takes on ev­ery as­pect of our lives – on our health, our diet, our work, our re­la­tion­ships, the environment and our com­mu­nity. We turn ev­ery mo­ment of ev­ery day into a race to the fin­ish line – a fin­ish line, in­ci­den­tally, that we never reach. When I be­gan look­ing around there is a global back­lash against this cul­ture that tells us that faster is al­ways bet­ter, and that busier is best.

‘Right across the world, peo­ple are do­ing the un­think­able: they’re slow­ing down, and find­ing that, al­though con­ven­tional wis­dom tells you that if you slow down, you’re road­kill, the op­po­site turns out to be true: that by slow­ing down at the right mo­ments, peo­ple find that they do ev­ery­thing bet­ter. They eat bet­ter; they ex­er­cise bet­ter; they work bet­ter; they live bet­ter.’

The Slow Food move­ment was the fore­run­ner to this global phe­nom­e­non. The move­ment be­gan in Italy with food jour­nal­ist Carlo Petrini’s protest against the open­ing of a McDon­ald’s restau­rant in Pi­azza di Spagna, Rome, in 1986, and has now spread to more than 50 coun­tries.

The mes­sage is clear and sim­ple – we get more plea­sure (and health) from food when it is grown, cooked and eaten at a slower pace. The dra­matic rise over re­cent years in the pop­u­lar­ity of farmers’ mar­kets and sup­port for lo­cally grown pro­duce, prefer­ably or­ganic, is tes­ta­ment to the im­pact and in­flu­ence of the move­ment. It has en­tered the psy­che of many a Western shop­per – even those un­til now un­aware of its ex­is­tence.

To be des­ig­nated ‘Cit­taslow,’ or ‘Slow City’ a town must pledge to meet a raft of strict cri­te­ria, in­clud­ing re­duc­ing air, noise, and light pol­lu­tion; pro­tect­ing wa­ter qual­ity; pro­mot­ing pedes­trian- and bicycle-friendly in­fra­struc­ture; con­serv­ing and en­hanc­ing his­toric build­ings; and en­cour­ag­ing the sup­port of lo­cal farmers and pro­duce.

Cit­taslow was also founded in Italy in Oc­to­ber 1999, fol­low­ing a meet­ing or­gan­ised by Paulo Saturnini, the mayor of Greve in Chi­anti, Tus­cany. A 54-point char­ter was de­vel­oped, en­cour­ag­ing high-qual­ity lo­cal food and drink, gen­eral con­vivi­al­ity and the op­po­si­tion to cul­tural stan­dard­i­s­a­tion. By 2001, 28 Ital­ian towns were signed up to the

Even Google has recog­nised the value of DOWN­TIME for em­ploy­ees with ev­ery­one granted 20 per cent of their TIME to spend on per­sonal projects away from DEAD­LINES and tar­gets linked to their day jobs AS GANDHI ONCE SAID ‘There is more to life than in­creas­ing its speed’

pledge and that num­ber now stands in the hun­dreds across the globe.

To be a fully-fledged Cit­taslow, there must be fewer than 50,000 res­i­dents, but there are count­less Cit­taslow Sup­port­ers – cities with a pop­u­la­tion in ex­cess of that num­ber which are com­mit­ted to pre­serv­ing their own unique char­ac­ter­is­tics and cul­tures, mak­ing it eas­ier for res­i­dents to work less, build com­mu­nity, and en­joy nature, based on the Cit­taslow prin­ci­ples.

To date, these in­clude San Fran­cisco, Rome, Mi­lan and New York. In Tokyo, mem­bers of the Sloth Club fol­low prin­ci­ples such as eat­ing slowly, sup­port­ing lo­cal busi­nesses, up­cy­cling (re-us­ing some­thing that could have been thrown out), and walk­ing or us­ing pub­lic trans­port. One of the club’s main ini­tia­tives is a na­tional cam­paign call­ing for city res­i­dents to turn off elec­tric lights for two hours in the even­ing dur­ing the sum­mer and win­ter sol­stices to pro­mote an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of nat­u­ral light and min­i­mal use of elec­tric­ity.

‘Slow Health’ re­lates to the mil­lions of peo­ple around the world turn­ing to com­ple­men­tary and al­ter­na­tive forms of medicine, which of­ten fo­cus on slower more holis­tic forms of heal­ing than the quick fix tablet. While not all are uni­ver­sally ac­cepted as proven cures, cer­tain treat­ments such as acupunc­ture and mas­sage, and even just sim­ple re­lax­ation tech­niques, clearly have some kind of ben­e­fit and are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly widely used in ar­eas away from their orig­i­nal roots.

In the work­place, there has been a marked shift away from cel­e­brat­ing the long hours cul­ture to work­ing smarter and more flex­i­bly to im­prove the work-life bal­ance. Work­ing con­stant over­time ac­tu­ally makes us un­pro­duc­tive and ill – time away from the of­fice, mo­bile and lap­top ac­tu­ally boost our health and value to our em­ploy­ers.

Even global gi­ant Google has recog­nised the value of down­time for em­ploy­ees with ev­ery­one granted 20 per cent of their time to

spend on per­sonal projects away from dead­lines and tar­gets linked to their day jobs. Such time led to the cre­ation of Gmail and other fea­tures we have come to as­so­ciate with this icon – in­di­cat­ing that slow­ness and cre­ativ­ity go hand in hand.

Schools and uni­ver­si­ties are tak­ing a leaf out of this book with many big names, in­clud­ing Har­vard, en­cour­ag­ing stu­dents to do less but take time to en­joy them in or­der to get the most from their cam­pus ex­pe­ri­ence.

‘Wher­ever you look, the mes­sage, it seems to me, is the same: that less is very of­ten more, that slower is very of­ten bet­ter,’ said Carl.

Slow Fash­ion fo­cuses on pur­chas­ing fewer, bet­ter qual­ity, clothes less of­ten and sup­port­ing smaller fair trade and lo­cally pro­duced items over mass-pro­duced ranges.

Other prac­tices in­clude buy­ing sec­ond­hand or vin­tage cloth­ing and do­nat­ing un­wanted gar­ments and choos­ing cloth­ing made with sus­tain­able, eth­i­cally-made or re­cy­cled fab­rics.

Slow TV is the lat­est as­pect of life to join the move­ment. While Scan­di­navia has been at the heart of re­cent small screen suc­cess sto­ries, grip­ping in­ter­na­tional au­di­ences with their gritty and of­ten gruesome plots, it is the same part of the world lead­ing the new al­ter­na­tive view­ing cult.

Nor­way in­vented Slow TV and has fea­tured a seven-hour train trip from Ber­gen to Oslo and 12 hours of knit­ting. No sound­tracks, no voiceovers – just the ‘ac­tion’, leav­ing the viewer to sim­ply watch and re­flect. The UK fol­lowed suit with the BBC’s two-hour show, All Aboard! The Canal Trip ,an unedited me­an­der through the Bri­tish coun­try­side on a nar­row boat.

In a re­view of the pro­gramme, Carl said: ‘So much tele­vi­sion nowa­days is too fast for its own good. It’s fran­tic, shal­low and dispir­it­ing. Slow TV is an an­ti­dote to all that. By serv­ing up an un­fil­tered, real-time, high-def­i­ni­tion win­dow on the world, it en­cour­ages us to no­tice and savour the de­tails, tex­ture and fine grain of what’s around us.

‘Slow TV can spur deeper re­flec­tion. Be­cause there is no nar­ra­tive, it’s up to the viewer to search for mean­ing in the images and sounds on the screen. Slow TV be­comes a back­drop or a can­vas upon which to weave our own sto­ries.’

Carl de­scribes the Slow Move­ment as ‘a cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion against the no­tion that faster is al­ways bet­ter. The Slow phi­los­o­phy is not about do­ing ev­ery­thing at a snail’s pace. It’s about seek­ing to do ev­ery­thing at the right speed. Savour­ing the hours and min­utes rather than just count­ing them. Do­ing ev­ery­thing as well as pos­si­ble, in­stead of as fast as pos­si­ble – qual­ity over quan­tity in ev­ery­thing from work to food to par­ent­ing.

‘In our he­do­nis­tic age, the Slow move­ment has a mar­ket­ing ace up its sleeve: it ped­dles plea­sure. The cen­tral tenet of the Slow phi­los­o­phy is tak­ing the time to do things prop­erly, and thereby en­joy them more. Much bet­ter to do fewer things and have time to make the most of them.’

As Gandhi once said: ‘There is more to life than in­creas­ing its speed.’

‘This is where our ob­ses­sion with go­ing fast and sav­ing time leads: To road rage, air rage, shop­ping rage, re­la­tion­ship rage, of­fice rage, va­ca­tion rage, gym rage. Thanks to speed, we live in the age of rage,’ Carl says.

He stopped wear­ing a watch and switched off his email alerts dur­ing the longer, re­laxed bed­time story rou­tine af­ter adopt­ing his new life­style – earn­ing him a card from his son for be­ing ‘the best story reader in the world’.

SCREEN LEG­END MAE WEST FA­MOUSLY OB­SERVED ‘Any­thing worth do­ing is worth do­ing slowly’

24

Carl went on to write the best­seller, In Praise

of Slow­ness, cel­e­brat­ing the (fast!) grow­ing in­ter­na­tional Slow Move­ment

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