Slow lane - Let the road guide you

Excerpted from New Slow City by William Powers, a memoir that this New York author has written based on his experience living a slow-paced life of leisure, far removed from Western society’s usual frenetic pace, for a year. 

As days pass, I keep travelling, intuition as guide, until the cramped, shared grand taxi I’m in rolls into the coastal city of Agadir.

Agadir is Morocco’s Miami—flashy and high-rolling—and as I check into one of its cheaper, on-the-surface cheesy resort hotels, I wonder if my intuition is on the fritz if it landed me in this town.

“Cheap,” in this case, merely means its ‘60s décor hasn’t been updated, but the place is clean and has a pool, and it’s filled with hundreds of German tourists. All of the signs, menus, and information packets are auf Deutsch. I speak German with folks in the lobby and at breakfast the next morning. It’s refreshing to connect with others in a language that is not your own. Memories of my studies in East Germany flood in. They say that with each language you have a slightly different personality. In Agadir I explore my German self, the cadence of my words a different tenor. It’s another aspect of Slow Travel: flowing freely with whatever the road brings your way.

In that light-hearted spirit, that evening I think: Why not put on my suit? It’s been folded at the bottom of my backpack since the conference in Fez. I pull it out—not too wrinkled. Feeling a little formal, I strut the boardwalk in my suit, enjoying a Slow walk alongside locals and foreigners, then I savour a fish dinner in Leblanc, overlooking the water. I blend. Travelling, nobody has any preconceptions about you, allowing you to play.

The next day, I awake to incongruity: sitting on an old waterbed in a dated Agadir resort, sunlight streaming in to my third-floor room, a highway rushing by beyond the swimming pool. I luxuriate in the sunlight, in the room’s frayed interior, in the smell of sea air, in the German still buzzing in my head. The texture of this moment is completely different from anything I’ve experienced in my life. When have I been in the north of Africa, thinking in German, smelling the ocean, hearing a freeway? Something extraordinary in this elicits joy.

It’s similar to the mystical feeling I had in the El Badi Palace in Marrakech, a recurring experience throughout the trip. I’ve been centered in the present moment and focused almost solely on connecting with the people and places I encounter. Rather than seek a particular experience, I accept whatever I find and suddenly realize that it’s precisely what’s not special about this moment—overlooking a highway in the morning sunlight—that’s special. It’s unstandard, unbranded, undefined and ephemeral. In the West, we market experiences like commodities; uniqueness and texture are nearly always a market niche. We think America encourages and allows for every type of style and taste, but commerce defines our style, our taste, our experience, and we are encouraged to keep buying that uniqueness again and again. I may love a certain type of video game, or mountain biking or paragliding, or I may prefer Goth style or ping-pong or a type of literature or Middle Eastern lounge music—whatever—but at root this has already been commodified into a niche, this desire has been socialized into me. Who have I been in my Slow Year? Prodigy Coffee, Golden Bridge Yoga, Pearl scallops, each of them, on one level, a commodity out of which I build an identity.

Agadir - Let the road gently guide you

Agadir

The only thing that defines this moment in Agadir is my experience of it. It embodies a way of living in which every momentreinvents everything. It’s the flâneur sensibility I’ve tried to cultivate, and I see it’s now in my travel DNA. Every moment incubates creativity. This feeling of timelessness and texture, elation and groundedness, defies commodification, has no market niche. As silly as it was to dress in a suit and go to a restaurant last night, it felt equally wonderful. So did scrunching, with six others, into a 1960s Mercedes grand taxi all day yesterday, literally leaning forward onto my knees for hours on end, sandwiched between several Moroccans, terrible music blaring on the tinny stereo, the smell of sweat mixing with the traffic fumes.

This sensibility is one I’ve seen in indigenous cultures around the world, and I’m finding it in pockets of Slow Living in New York City. Now, travelling in Morocco, I feel like there’s nothing greater in life that I could discover than this. It’s beyond ideology, politics, or anything that could be put into language. It is being present—fully present—in the moment, thereby allowing to flourish the extreme freedom of our creaturedom, which is far beyond society, the media, globalization, or anything else. More to the point, there is no reason this extreme freedom can’t be brought into the heart of the busiest city on Earth. I’ve already located a few of those non-monetized corners: Pier 45 idling, Rockaway waves, Tar Beach dove-watching, the Central Park Ramble. And while we’re creating urban joy and centeredness for ourselves, we’re also a spark that can reshape society.

Born and raised on Long Island, William Powers has worked for more than a decade in development aid and conservation in Latin America, Africa, Native North America and Washington, DC. He is a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute and is on the adjunct faculty of New York University. A third-generation New Yorker, Powers has also spent two decades exploring the American culture-of-speed and its alternatives in some 50 countries around the world. He has covered the subject in his four books and written about it in the Washington Post and The Atlantic. An expert on sustainable development, he is a freelance writer and speaker.From the book New Slow City © Copyright 2014 by William Powers. Reprinted with permission from New World Library. www.NewWorldLibrary.com
image 1: three warning signs via Shutterstock; image 2: City view of Agadir via Shutterstock

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