- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2009

LONDON - Pedestrians in London are said to be among the fastest walkers in the world. But for 11 days, Tessa Watt will try to get them to slow down and appreciate life.

Ms. Watt is one of three directors for the Slow Down London festival, a series of events to “inspire Londoners to challenge the cult of speed and to appreciate the world around us.”

The festival runs from Friday to May 4 and features more than 70 programs.

“Sometimes we get into this habit of rushing as an everyday thing,” said Ms. Watt, a former British Broadcasting Corp. producer who now teaches yoga and meditation. “There is an adrenaline rush that gets out of hand, and people are not actually enjoying their lives.”

The festival’s activities include a letter-writing workshop, meditation classes, a harp concert and guided walks through London. Also planned is a slow walk across Waterloo Bridge during rush hour. Practicing walking meditation, participants will stretch the normal five-minute crossing to 30 minutes.

Even if some of the events in the festival, such as a British Museum lecture about early Indian Buddhism, will not appeal to everyone, the festival aims to help people make simple changes to improve their quality of life, Ms. Watt said.

“We’re not a bunch of hippies suggesting that people should be wearing white linen outfits, floating around with a serene smile on their face,” Ms. Watt declared. “We want people to make a little more space so they can appreciate life rather than rushing through it.”

Going beyond the arts-and-crafts workshops and “slow food” sampling will be Bruno Contigiani, the president of the Art of Slow Living, an Italian group that promotes balanced living.

Mr. Contigiani will contribute to slowing down London by issuing speeding tickets to pedestrians deemed to be rushing.

But London commuters have given the festival plans mixed reviews.

“I think taking half an hour to walk across Waterloo is crazy,” said lawyer in training Nadia Young, who walked at a brisk pace while denying she was rushing. “There’s slowing down, and there’s just being slow.”

Some, however, supported the project’s goals.

“I think Londoners [going] to and from work are in a hurry,” civil servant Andy Jones said. “You don’t appreciate [London] like you would if you were on vacation.”

He said he probably would not participate in the festival but thought it was a good idea.

Ms. Watt said she expected 4,000 to 5,000 people to take part in at least one event. Success, for her, is turning the speed of life into a water-cooler subject.

This recession “is an incredibly painful time, but it’s an opportunity to look and see what we want to get out of life,” Ms. Watt said. “Let’s look at slowdown and turn it on its head.”

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